Before Apple event, the last time the Apple TV got an update was in 2012, a lifetime in the tech world.
The new Apple TV is loaded with features the previous one lacks, but it comes with a higher price tag—$149 for 32GB of storage or $199 for 64GB. Meanwhile, Apple is still offering the old Apple TV for $69, so you have plenty of options.
What Can You Watch
The old Apple TV has a decent selection of media, thanks to its iTunes video and music support and its access to Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and a handful of other services. However, now that every major media streamer and most connected HDTVs are app-driven, the old Apple TV's options are limited.
The new Apple TV will support all of the services of the old Apple TV, along with broad potential for additional apps through its iOS-based tvOS platform. A full list of software for the Apple TV isn't available yet, and you can't just use any iOS app. Those apps have to be ported to tvOS, like Android apps have to be ported to Android TV to work on certain devices. But there will be many, many more choices on the new Apple TV than on the old one.
Apple led the pack here early on, too, thanks to AirPlay. The old and new Apple TVs support AirPlay, Home Share, and various other ways to stream media to your HDTV through iOS and OS X. The new Apple TV will likely have the same screen-mirroring, video-streaming, and music-sharing functions as the old one, which (as long as you used an iPhone$659.00 at Groupon, iPad£309.55 at Amazon, or Mac) were already excellent. However, in this category, the new Apple TV doesn't offer anything particularly new.
Apple TVThe new Apple TV adds Siri to your HDTV, thanks to voice commands and a microphone built into the remote. You'll be able to search for movies, shows, and music, control playback, and get information from your Apple TV just by asking it. This is completely absent in the old Apple TV. We won't know how useful this will be until we can test it ourselves, but it seems like a very handy feature that catches up to the voice search features in the Amazon Fire TV and Roku 3.
Apple has assembled a compelling pitch for gaming on the new Apple TV. Thanks to tvOS, it will be getting an exclusive multiplayer version of Crossy Road, plus Disney Infinity, Harmonix's new Beat Sports, and even Guitar Hero in various incarnations. Since Apple isn't offering a first-party gamepad with the Apple TV (it's promoting the Nimbus Steelseries Controller on its website), we'll have to see how well these games work with the remote or iOS controls. It's important to note that the Apple TV's tvOS won't have access to the full selection of iOS games, of which there are many very good ports of more serious titles, and the selection will depend on how many developers release games on this platform. Either way, the old Apple TV doesn't have any games.
The old Apple TV wins, hands down. It's now available for $69, while the new Apple TV starts at $149.
Which Should You Get
The new Apple TV offers a slew of features the old Apple TV does not have, and it clearly looks like a superior device. However, we can't recommend it until we get it in to PC Labs to test, which will happen in the next month or two.
For now, if you really want a media streamer, the Roku 3 and Amazon Fire TV stand as the best devices currently available. They have many of the features found on the new Apple TV, like app support and voice search, and can be controlled with iOS and Android devices. They're also just $99 each (the Amazon Fire TV Stick$39.00 at Amazon and Roku Streaming Stick$46.99 at Amazon, scaled back versions that lack voice search but still have plenty of apps, are even cheaper), which is significantly less than the new Apple TV. We'll see how all three devices really stand up against each other closer to the new Apple TV's launch later this fall.