The release of the Apple TV has caused some confusion among consumers because of its name. The name suggests that the device is a standalone smart TV manufactured by Apple, but this isn’t exactly the case. With that said, you may be wondering if you need an “Apple TV” if you already own a smart TV.

You don’t need Apple TV if you have a smart TV unless your smart TV doesn’t support the Apple TV app. If your TV lacks support for the app, then you’ll need an Apple TV device if you want to watch exclusive Apple productions or want a decent streaming box in the vein of Roku or Fire TV.

If you own a smart TV that supports the Apple TV app, then you’ll have access to Apple TV+, which is a subscription service—like Netflix or Hulu—within the Apple TV app. If you own an Apple TV box, you’ll have Apple TV+ within the Apple TV app, Apple TV. Did you get all that? It can get very confusing but, we’ll try and break it down.

Apple TV vs. Smart TVs

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll start at the top with the Apple TV Box—which comes in two variations of Apple TV and Apple TV 4K—and work down from there.

If you’re looking for the pure Apple experience, then you’ll want the Apple TV box in either standard HD or 4K. Here are just some of the features the box has that the normal Apple TV app lacks:

  • Airplay 2
  • Siri voice commands
  • HomeKit smart hub
  • Apple Arcade
  • 12,000 + apps
  • iTunes

Also, you’ll have the Apple remote with its own unique set of features.

The problem that Apple has with the app, and therefore the same problem the consumer has, is redundancy. Airplay 2 mostly eliminates the need for the Apple TV box, and smart TVs mostly eliminate a large aspect of the Apple app. The Apple app—available on select smart TVs—gives you access to Apple TV+, the subscription service. But, Apple TV+ contains a conglomeration of all your potential premium apps, such as Netflix.

The standard smart TV already has a preloaded set of premium streaming service apps with the option to download more. If you download HBO Max on your smart TV, you’ll find that HBO Max is already available when you open the Apple app. In other words, due to the features and streaming services available on a standard smart TV, you may not even have to purchase an Apple TV device.

It’s easy to get confused if you subscribe to a streaming service through Apple and accidentally open that same streaming service on your smart TV without first opening the Apple app since it will require you to login again.

The Apple App

You can download the Apple app on your smart TV and essentially gain a second hub for your premium streaming services, including Apple TV+.

It’s essentially like switching web browsers from Internet Explorer to Google Chrome. Everything is still there, contained within the same operating system, with an overall cosmetic change and some different features.

If it were just a comparison between the Apple TV app and an Apple TV box, it would boil down to the simple decision of whether you want all of the features of the Apple TV box or just access to the Apple TV + subscription.

Thanks to Airplay 2, that decision becomes more complicated.

Airplay 2 Turns Your Phone into Apple TV

Airplay 2-supported smart TVs allow your iPhones and iPads to mirror everything onto your TV. All of the Apple TV box features listed above can now be mirrored to your TV directly from your iPhone, eliminating the need for the Apple TV box.

This is simply another redundant feature since Airplay 2 is available for the Apple TV or Apple TV 4K boxes. The only possible exception would be the smart home hub. But, you can do a lot with your smart home setup right from your iPhone.

Whatever Apple is going for, they made sure to cover all the bases, even when the bases cover the bases. It’s like looking into a mirror with another mirror behind you.

So, What Do You Do?

Various smart TVs support the Apple TV app, or Airplay 2, and that catalog is growing as manufacturers upgrade older models.

Your choice of whether or not to purchase an Apple TV box comes down to what your smart TV supports and what it doesn’t.

Roku TVs and LG TVs—2018 and up—support almost every Apple feature, with Fire TV and Samsung catching up. Vizio supports none of the above and would likely be the only TV where an Apple TV HD or 4K box purchase would be the most reasonable option.

You will find a list of smart TVs that support the Apple app here and a list that supports Airplay 2 here. Ultimately, your decision will be based on the age and brand of smart TV that you own, what it supports, and what it doesn’t.