With its support for a wide range of apps, along with its new role as a HomeKit hub, the fourth-generation Apple TV has become a more central device for many users than ever before. Since the device supports both wired (Ethernet) and Wi-Fi networking options, you may be led to believe that you’ll get the best network performance from your Apple TV by going with the wired option — after all, wired connections have traditionally always been faster and more reliable than wireless connections. Oddly, however, this isn’t necessarily the case with the fourth-generation Apple TV.
Apple included 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO in the fourth-generation Apple TV — a networking protocol that is capable of performing at speeds of up to around 400-500 mbps in practical applications. Somewhat ironically, however, the wired networking port on the fourth-generation Apple TV is only 10/100BASE-T Ethernet, limited to maximum throughput of 100 mbps. This makes the Apple TV one of the relatively rare devices that can actually – in theory at least — perform better over a Wi-Fi connection than a wired Ethernet connection.
Of course, while this means that you shouldn’t automatically assume a wired connection is better, as with all things in wireless networking, your actual mileage may vary. Firstly, to gain the maximum wireless performance from your Apple TV, you’ll need to have a relatively modern access point capable of supporting 802.11ac, otherwise you’re limited to considerably slower 802.11n wireless speeds that will likely be more or less on par with the wired connection. Further, since Wi-Fi performance is affected by factors such as range from the access point and interference from other devices, if your access point is on the other end of your house from your Apple TV, you might find that running a wired connection may provide better performance. Then of course there’s the obvious question of whether you’re looking for maximum speed for its own sake or whether you have a reason for needing it — if you’re only streaming video over the Internet and operating with a typical sub-100 mbps Internet connection, the additional speeds offered by 802.11ac aren’t going to matter much at all, but on the other hand if you’re streaming uncompressed high-definition videos from a local Plex server, you’re going to want the fastest connection you can possibly get.
The good news is that with the Apple TV App Store, apps like Ookla’s Speedtest can now be run directly on the Apple TV, taking much of the guesswork out of figuring out which way is the best way to go. If you’re concerned about getting maximum networking performance from your Apple TV, you can easily load up this app and do some performance tests under different conditions to figure out which way is the optimal way to go — if you find that your wireless performance is below 100 mbps, then it may be worth switching to a wired Ethernet connection, or at least tweaking your Wi-Fi settings to see if you can improve performance.