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Things to consider before choosing Apple TV storage size

The fourth-generation Apple TV comes in two different storage capacities. Here are some things you should consider before choosing a storage capacity.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Like any streaming device, the latest generation of Apple TV is a great addition to an entertainment system. It brings Siri into your living room, provides a source of casual gaming and places all sorts of digital streaming options at your fingertips.

It also forces you to choose. Unlike previous models, the latest Apple TV comes in two storage capacities: 32GB and 64GB. But which size is right for your needs?

Here are some things you should consider before picking an Apple TV storage capacity.

Cloud-based media

For a device of this nature, 32 or 64GB definitely seems light on storage space. My music library for years before I started subscribing to Spotify exceeds even 100GB. But even the most avid user of Apple's digital content will struggle to fill the 64GB Apple TV with media.

For starters, Apple TV is most prominently a streaming device. It supports tons of different streaming services, such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go and a host of individual networks (MTV, Discovery, A&E, etc.) which allow access with a cable subscription.

Each of these applications that you download will take up some space. HBO Go, for example is 30.8MB, Netflix is 15.9MB and Discovery Go is 7.7MB. Even if you download dozens of streaming apps to the Apple TV, you will be left with plenty of storage, regardless of which model you choose.

And if you stick with Apple's first-party media for video or music, you still aren't going to be using a ton of storage space, even for the content you own. Music and movies or television episodes must be streamed.

However, movie rentals will be downloaded, as will individual episodes of any podcasts you are subscribed to. But even then, once the rental period has expired or a podcast has been listened to, the files are deleted.

Hands-off storage management

Another reason you will struggle to completely "fill" the storage on the new Apple TV is because tvOS manages storage and resources automatically using a on-demand system called App Thinning. In fact, Apple TV doesn't even show you storage usage information, so you never really know how much is free or available at any given time.

App Thinning ensures that when you download an app on the Apple TV, you only download the resources necessary for the Apple TV (meaning resources specific to iPhone and iPad are not downloaded). It also downloads the data in chunks. The initial application download is limited to just 200MB. After the initial download, an application can download up to 2GB of additional resources. For a game, this might be the first five levels. As you progress through the game, the resources for played levels will be removed from the device's storage and new levels will take their place, seamlessly.

In total, a game could be up to 20GB, but in practice, it should only take up a few gigabytes at a time, meaning you can load the Apple TV up with games and you may never encounter a low storage warning.

Application and game selection

Currently, the selection of applications and games available to Apple TV is well-rounded -- there are thousands of applications to choose from.

Still, when compared to the iOS App Store, the offering is paltry. The number of available applications is somewhere in the low thousands -- 3,600 as of January -- compared to over 1.5 million applications in the iOS App Store.

Paired with App Thinning, such a limited selection of applications, especially games, makes it much more difficult -- albeit not impossible -- to fill up the storage on any Apple TV. However, as more is added to the store, the accumulation of games and apps may force you to pick and choose down the road.

Future proofing

As with iPhones and iPads, there is no option to expand storage on your Apple TV later on. So if you're unsure what your personal usage will be like or if you plan on enjoying tons of apps and games, it's wise to go ahead and spring for the larger storage capacity upfront than to deal with storage constraints later.

That said, if you primarily want to use the Apple TV as a streaming device for Netflix or your iTunes library, the lower storage capacity should serve you just as well. And if you don't plan on playing games, using apps or queueing up Siri on your television, you might want to consider saving yourself even more cash and opting for the third-generation Apple TV, which currently retails for $69.

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