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Sorted. What Is Apple TV? Is Apple TV A Smart TV? What's The Difference Between A Smart TV And A Set Top Box? How Do I Tell The Difference?

Released: 8/25/2022

Author: Aaron Di Blasi, Publisher, Top Tech Tidbits

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Apple TV Set Top Box on the left. LG Smart TV on the right.

Here at Tidbits we monitor many different BVI listservs and the following questions were recently asked and answered in a somewhat fragmented fashion, so we thought that it might help to sort these questions out here, in complete detail, once and for all. And I believe the very best way to do that is to simply answer the questions that were asked in the most straightforward manner possible. One by one. So here goes.

What is Apple TV?

Apple TV is a "Set Top Box", also referred to as a "Streaming Box," "Streaming Bar," or "Streaming Stick." Examples of other "Set Top Boxes" are Amazon Fire TV Stick or Cube, Roku Streaming Stick or Bar, Google Chromecast and NVidia Shield TV.

Is Apple TV a Smart TV?

Apple TV is not, semantically speaking, a "Smart TV" because it includes no screen. When you buy an Apple TV you receive a small box that measures 3.9 inches on each of its four sides, and is 1.4 inches tall. That's it.

How Do "Set Top Boxes" Connect To A Television Screen?

All "Set Top Boxes" connect to a TV screen via HDMI. So you must already have a TV screen if you wish to utilize a "Set Top Box" such as Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick or Cube, Roku Streaming Stick or Bar, Google Chromecast or NVidia Shield TV.

What's The Difference Between a Set Top Box / Bar And A Stick?

The difference here is minimal but a stick is what you'd imagine; a stick-like device that plugs directly into your TV. Designs have changed a little over time so some, like the Fire Stick, have a small cable and tend to be called dongles. Streaming boxes like the Apple TV are, well, boxes and they tend to sit underneath your TV and then connect via an HDMI cable. There are no huge benefits to either unless you have a wall-mounted TV and have nowhere to sit a box. In this case, get a stick so it can be hidden behind your set.

How Do "Set Top Boxes" Connect To Your Television Provider?

All "Set Top Boxes" connect to your internet either via Wi-Fi or direct ethernet cable. Direct ethernet cable recommended for best performance. From there you can connect to your television provider through their dedicated app, which will in turn grant you access to those TV networks included in your television subscription plan. You can also access other non-TV providers like Netfix through their respective apps as well.

What's The Difference Between A "Smart TV" and a "Set Top Box"?

A "Smart TV" comes with both an actual television screen as well as a built in "Set Top Box." The built in "Set Top Box" is what makes the TV "Smart". "Smart" here means that the TV can access the internet and run apps through its own interface. Something that "Non-Smart" TVs cannot do. So you can think of a "Smart TV" as a television screen that comes with a built in "Set Top Box."

Now it has been said by some that the interfaces utilized by the built-in "Set Top Boxes" contained within "Smart TVs" leave much to be desired. And this has indeed been my experience as well. And this is why many people opt to completely REPLACE the built-in "Set Top Box" that comes inside their "Smart TV" with an external "Set Top Box" (such as Apple TV) that has a superior user interface.

So I Can Still Use A "Set Top Box" With My "Smart TV"?

Yes you can. You simply connect the external "Set Top Box" of your choosing to the TV via HDMI and voila. Your LG, Samsung or Sony TV is now an Apple TV! What it really boils down to is your personal preference for user interface while watching television. Whether those preferences are born from a need for accessibility or simple personal preference this information gives you the ability to choose the interface that you wish to use on your television. And I sincerely hope you use it.

Additional Questions?

If you have additional questions related to this topic that were not answered here please feel free to reach out and I will update this article accordingly.

Thanks so much for reading, we look forward to keeping you informed.

Aaron Di Blasi, PMP (2006 - Present)
Publisher, Top Tech Tidbits
The Week's News in Access Technology
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