Apple TV’s 4K future

“On June 8th at the Apple World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), CEO Tim Cook will reportedly introduce a new and improved Apple TV,” Robert X. Cringely blogs.

“But this new Apple TV — the first Apple TV hardware update in three years — will not, we’re told, support 3840-by-2160 UHD (popularly called 4K) video and will be limited to plain old 1920-by-1080 HD. Can this be true? Well, yes and no. The new Apple TV will be 4K capable, but not 4K enabled,” Cringely writes. “This distinction is critical to understanding what’s really happening with Apple and television.”

“What I think will happen at the WWDC is Apple will announce a spectacular new Apple TV — the most powerful streaming box the world has ever seen — wow developers with its potential and beautiful user interface, but will for the moment limit the features to not much more than the old Apple TV could provide, though with the addition of true streaming,” Cringely writes. “Then, in 2016, will come a surprise software upgrade with the switch to H.265 and 4K. Apple has to beat to 4K the cable companies and broadcast networks if they have a hope of displacing those industries, which — along with day-and-date streaming of 4K movies — are Apple’s ultimate goals.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Any lack of 4K (or 5K, see full article) would go largely unnoticed with the Apple TV SDK and the Apple TV App Store announcements. And we’re writing that while sitting here in our palatial headquarters looking at a rather gorgeous Sony 4K TV.

52 Comments

  1. >Any lack of 4K (or 5K, see full article) would go largely unnoticed

    Lol, MDN, you must be new here. Lack of 4K will be harped on endlessly by tech bloggers, analysts and internet commentators as though they all have 4K-capable TV sets at home. Lack of 4K will be treated like a personal affront to these people who have never even been in the same room as a 4K television. They’ll consider it a slap in the face by Apple, they’ll say that Apple’s days of innovation are over, and that Tim Cook should be fired.

    1. People who don’t have 4K TVs and wouldn’t buy an Apple TV if it cured cancer will claim that the reason they won’t buy this one is because it doesn’t have 4K.

          1. Clearly I’m in the wrong social circles, don’t know anyone with one but as I have only been an Apple customer since 1987 I’m clearly not, by your reckoning of any remote importance to Apple anyway. I do hope Stephen Fry has one or we are all likely doomed to fail your snob test.

            1. I agree with you, not everyone who cares about tech needs the best of the best in ALL the ways. I still have my old Loewe CRT tv and I will not trow it out before it stops working properly.

    2. I disagree. The 4K home theatre wave has started.

      Comcast announced it will ship a 4Kset-top box this year. DirecTV and Dish Network are working on expanding content. The DirecTV Genie DVR set top box is already 4K enabled. Netflix already supports 4K but as always with Netflix, new content is a bit scarce.

      the Ultra HD BluRay specification is complete and you will see discs and players in late summer this year. Panasonic had its first UHD-BR player on display at this year’s CES, and it was stunning to those of us who like quality video.

      And as anyone shopping for a TV knows, every decent new model supports native 4K resolution.

      Maybe Apple needs to stop thinking about delivering real time streaming and just put a sizeable SDD into its next Apple TV. Then when you select a movie, you can go make some popcorn, and when you return the movie will be ready to roll. I don’t see why anyone would want Apple to be slow to support 4K in the home theatre.

      1. Then Apple can introduce a 4K AppleTV next year for $69 once people have the content to watch on it and a television set that can display 4K content, two things with are very scarce right now. Why not wait until 4K televisions and content are abundant before releasing a 4K device?

        1. $69 is the blowout price for the last of the current ATVs.

          The rumor is that Apple will finally announce its next generation TV service at the WWDC this year. If Apple actually updated its AppleTV more frequently, then perhaps it could afford to wait for its competition to prove out the popularity of UHD video. But I doubt Apple has a plan to start updating its ATV more often than it does today. It really is just a hobby to them. So if this year is the update, then you would think it would be a very forward-looking device.

          I wouldn’t be surprised that Apple may choose to ignore the 4K users, but early adopters of high quality stuff SHOULD be Apple’s core market. As it is, ATV is a joke. The average Blu-Ray player can do more. It’s really disappointing that Apple hasn’t ever put much effort into making Apple TV hardware or software truly great. It’s not a great device for discovery, it’s not inexpensive to rent video compared to services that offer better selection, and the quality of the video files isn’t consistently as good or better than the competition. The ATV interface is clunky, search is underwhelming, the remote is poor, and most ATV services still require subscriptions. Apple TV still has no apps, no games, no native game controllers, and no DVR functionality. Will Apple impress us with a new ATV? Well, 4K is just one of many things necessary to make it attractive again. Who knows, since so many people on this forum seem convinced that the 720p resolution of most iTunes videos are adequte, maybe Apple should just do nothing and drop the ATV price to $39 next year. Nobody really needs retina displays either, right?

          If Apple TV isn’t 4K, no problem. We can get our movies elsewhere.

      2. You may have a 4K TV, but realistically, the technology is far from mature.

        There is no broadcasting 4K (UHD) TV standard, and there are NO channels broadcasting in 4K anywhere. At present, there is only ONE traditional linear TV channel available in 4K to cable operators, and not a single cable operator is carrying any content in 4K yet.

        Let us not forget the mess of so-called 4K standards (between compression codecs, conflicting resolution definitions and lack of physical optical media to purchase/rent); there is still a long way before 4K becomes as clearly and precisely defined (and commonly adopted and supported) as 1080 and 720 are today. And first HD broadcast was started some 17 years ago, just some three years after HD standards were adopted.

        I don’t see 4K becoming a meaningful mainstream standard in at least 3 – 4 years. Today, you’d be better off buying a 3D TV than 4K TV; at least mainstream premium cable channels (HBO and Stars) already carry 3D content (and have for a number of years now). So does Netflix (and YouTube, and Amazon Prime).

    3. I have a 4K tv, and I will never buy another device that is not 4K. You are a cheap ass who thinks hd tv is good enough, and your not buying anything anyway. So, shut up!

    1. So what then about the 5K iMac? Do you dispair because the pics on your iMac are too good?

      Anybody who has seen an IMAX movie knows that larger screens and ultra high resolution makes for an amazing immersive experience. The day that Apple decides that it doesn’t want to bother offering the best user experience is the day I stop buying Apple products. 4K is current SOTA, so get on with it Apple.

      1. Until there is content in 4K, there is no point. If I had a 4K TV, I would have to sign up with Netflix or something similar in order to even see any 4K movies. The little 4K content that’s available out there is mostly up-scaled standard 1080p HD anyway, so that makes owning a 4K TV a pointless waste of money.

        Most importantly, no cable operator currently offers 4K content. That by itself is enough of a deal-breaker for everyone with half a reason in their brain.

        1. By the same logic, you should never buy a vehicle with seats for other people. After all, who needs the extra capacity now? Better to be more efficient now and not plan ahead to have the capability for future needs.

          1. Precisely. I have never seen a college student buying a minivan. After all, a few years down the road (s)he will get married and start a family, so why not buy a minivan right away (even though he’ll mostly drive around by himself or with his girlfriend; although this last one not very likely in a minivan…).

            This is mostly a chicken-and-egg situation, and while there will always be early adopters, vast majority of reasonable people will always do a reasonable thing: wait with the purchase of new technology until there is sufficient content for it in order to use it.

            Today’s common manufacturing philosophy of planned obsolescence results in electronics that can rarely live beyond an average five-year lifespan before breaking down. I have personally experienced this with several devices over past twenty years (three TVs broke down roughly at the same mark; a receiver started misbehaving after about six years).

            Buying a 4K TV now would likely result in its owner watching almost exclusively ordinary HD (and even occasional SD) content for the most of its useful life; by the time 4K becomes mainstream, that 4K TV will have very high chances of breaking down.

        2. Ummm, have to disagree about 4K content. There is plenty of content, whether or not it’s getting delivered to you in 4K is the issue. Many major motion pictures have been shot on 4K for the past 6 or 7 years. Any film shot on 35 mm can also be scanned in to 4K content. I attend NAB every year and I know about production trends and available camera gear. Heck, even my GoPro Hero 4 Black shoots 4K. We went through the same thing with the transition to HD. Many things were produced in HD before there was any ability to realistically deliver it to the home. It’s called future proofing your work.

          1. I have no doubt that production companies are doing exactly that — future-proofing their work by shooting, editing and mastering in 4K, but an average American consumer is still not getting any of that content, and will not be getting it until majority of cable operators begin offering it in 4K.

            HD had a relatively easy transition time, which was pushed along quite aggressively by the government mandate to turn off analogue broadcast. When broadcasters and consumers were forced to switch, they went along and migrated to HD. Thanks to the availability of free over-the-air HD broadcasts, as well as movies on physical optical media (Blu-ray), HD adoption rate was reasonably rapid, and in less than ten years, majority of Americans were actually watching HD on their HDTVs.

            As I said, without over-the-air broadcast standard and optical media standard for 4K, the actual adoption rate will likely be much slower. Ironically, on the consumer side, I can see it not too far behind SD -> HD transition. After all, with planned obsolescence, all those HDTVs purchased 10 years ago or earlier will be breaking down very soon. The logical next step for a replacement will be a 4K TV. There was a time during the SD-HD transition that many ignorant people bought HDTVs, hooked them up to their existing cable boxes and ended up (cluelessly) watching stretched SD image. This is going to be much more of a problem this time; they’ll hook up their new 4KTV to their HD cable box with a HDMI cable and happily watch HD content believing they’re watching 4K. And because there is no government mandate, nor a deadline, cable operators really have no incentive to start providing 4K content, which requires much fatter pipes and more data.

            You can already buy plenty of cameras that shoot 4K; even some mobile phones can record 4K video (crappy kind, for sure, but in 4K resolution). These devices are becoming cheaper and cheaper, as manufacturers keep trying to one-up each other with specs and quality. But none of that will matter unless cable operators begin offering 4K as a part of their standard tier, optical 4K format is standardised (and studios start releasing movies in 4K). And even with that, it is extremely unlikely we’ll soon see a 4K broadcast standard, let alone actual broadcasters adding 4K over-the-air channels. And thanks to cord-cutters, OTA usage has been rebounding, from the low of about 7% to close to 20% of all US households. For these folks, 4KTV will do little good if they can’t watch Modern Family on Channel 7 in 4K.

  2. If it presents information as well as iTunes does now Apple is doomed. I shudder at the thought of what they will come up with these days. IMO all they would have to do to the current interface is add trackpad support and it would be fine. But I’d guess that will still leave it too thick for Jony. Maybe the new remote will help. Also, why can’t I add a whole series, like from HBO, to the Watchlist, instead of just individual episodes?

  3. What is up with you Apple apologists?

    Practically every new home graphics or video product from here on out is 4K or better resolution. Saying that Apple doesn’t need to offer it immediately is akin to saying that no personal computer needs more than 64 MB of RAM. Are you advocating that Apple stop producing premium products and start slumming it with second-tier electronics makers?

    Consumer grade cameras, TVs, computer monitors, NetFlix, YouTube, and soon BluRay too all offer UHD at least as a user option. Pros work at even higher levels. For Apple to be this far behind is ridiculous. Just because you are happy watching teeny pics on your Apple Watch doesn’t mean that photographers and videophiles don’t already enjoy 80″ flat panels or sometimes 10 foot screen projectors in their homes and offices. They want 4K resolution because it matters.

    Apple would embarrass itself if it chooses to not support the current state of the art immediately. “Good enough” seems to have been the Apple way of doing things for years now. Longtime Mac users like myself would really like Apple to step up beyond their meagre and slow “hobby” efforts.

    1. The issue here is that this isn’t a 10-year device. I’m perfectly happy buying a new Apple TV (or a bag full for the houses) now that is optimized for the current state of technology, especially if it has an SDK, game controller, etc…, and then buying another Apple TV when 4K is more practical.

      What is missing/wrong from the article is that H.265 would be done in hardware. While the latest A series chip can do H.265, it’s not optimized for it, and it will probably be the next A series or maybe even the one after that which has H.265 embedded.

      So we could wait and pay a premium as that chip will be maxed out in production capacity for the iPhone and iPads, or we could have a non-4K Apple TV today and wait until an H.265 A series is less expensive and available in large quantities… along with content to match a greater base of users who are even capable of viewing it with their equipment and connections.

      1. Or Apple could innovate. There’s nothing that limits the Apple TV to only use current A-series chips, nor anything that says the next Apple TV couldn’t offer multiple chips. Apple was able to offer a 5K resolution iMac, so apparently someone in Cupertino sees there is a market for high resolution monitors. If Apple expects its core market of high-end consumers to plug their next 1080p Apple TV into their new 4K resolution TVs and be happy, then Apple is smoking something very unhealthy.

        1. The fact that there’s a 5K iMac isn’t really relevant. Besides the obvious cost difference defining the product category, the iMac doesn’t have hardware based H.265 decoding either. That’s the issue.

          Sure, Apple could rebrand the Mac mini and call it an Apple TV, but that’s missing the point of bringing in a low-cost STB that does what the Apple TV is intended to do.

          That’s why throwing more chips at the problem isn’t going to work, nor is using the next-Gen A series today going to work (because it will be supply constrained to provide for the next iPhone and iPads).

          It’s not that 4K on a STB isn’t possible, it’s that it’s not practical today in terms of what the Apple TV is intended to be.

          “If Apple expects its core market of high-end consumers to plug their next 1080p Apple TV into their new 4K resolution TVs and be happy…”

          No, I think Apple will expect its core market of buyers of a consumer device to plug their 1080p Apple TV into their 1080p TV and be happy streaming over their connections that barely support 1080p from content providers who are mostly only offering 1080p.

          And in a couple of years, things will upgrade to 4K. In part, because of H.265, which isn’t ready in hardware yet, nor are there enough 4K TVs, etc…

          There’s precedent here…

          Remember, it took over 5 years before the Apple TV was upgraded from 720p to 1080p

          1. Remember, in the five years that Apple TV was resting on its laurels, many streaming services were launched and Roku took over as the most user-friendly set top streaming TV box. Either Apple gets with the times or it will continue to fall further behind.

            1. Right, I’m not suggesting that Apple should take 5 years to implement 4K, but rather I highly doubt they would now due to pretty significant technical constraints versus available ready consumers. And just pointing to how long it took to go from 720p to 1080p as an indication of Apple’s priorities.

              IOW, as much as I’d like 4K now, I would bet money that we won’t see an Apple TV delivering 4K content within the next two years.

            2. Precisely.

              Apple’s first move into HD was in 2005 (When Steve Jobs famously proclaimed that the year 2005 was the “Year of HD”, while demoning iMovie 5 with HD capability). That was seven years after US TV stations started broadcasting in HD, and some ten years after HD standard was adopted.

              Today, we still have some confusion about 4K naming and standard, there are NO terrestrial broadcasters in 4K, there are no cable operators who offer 4K content, there is no content on physical optical media available for purchase / rent, and the only way to get any content onto that 4K TV is to connect it to broadband internet and use YouTube or Netflix, or some similar internet-based streaming video service. Considering that majority of American households get their TV entertainment from cable operators (or for free, from terrestrial broadcasters), their 4K TVs would be showing only HD for the foreseeable future.

              Apple NEVER blazed any trails. They usually came in when they were ready to offer vastly better product to a large consumer base. The iPhone first came with only GPRS (EDGE), when other handsets had 3G. Same with 4G / LTS; others had it for some time before iPhone got it. Same with HD 1080 on Apple TV.

              Apple TV will probably eventually get 4K, but it won’t happen until there are enough people out there with 4K TVs and enough 4K content to actually make it worth it.

              As I said above, today, it’s more worthwhile to get 3D; there are several premium cable channels offering 3D content on-demand (as do Netflix, Youtube and Amazon…).

    2. Mike, I’m nowhere near being an Apple apologist – but you need to apply what you wrote for the general public.

      Yes, cameras, monitors and such offer 4K recording and viewing, but for what? To view mostly on your smart device, or maybe a computer monitor? Sure, you can watch homemovies of Junior messing up that sax solo at the school concert on your 70″ 4K TV. Awesome.

      4K is nice – but mostly just a selling point right now. Cable TV is limited to 1080i – and more than half the channels are still broadcast in SD. Local commercials are still shot in 4×3 standard definition – where is the push to get broadcasters to realize it’s the 21st century?

      Netflix and Youtube? Netflix offers a very limited amount of 4K content – compressed to the point where it may look better than 1080 depending how good your internet can handle it. Youtube – again we’re back to watching homemovies or endless loops of nature videos. More awesome.

      Yes, soon Bluray will offer UHD – early cost estimates for a player are what? $500 to $800 that I’ve seen reported – which means normal consumer will have to wait for prices to come down and be sold on the idea that 4K is so much better than 1080p.

      Oh and CNET still calls the 1080P LG OLED TV the best picture ever. Beating out all the glut of new 4K TV’s. Even the high end Plasma TV’s beat out the UHD TVs picture. Higher resolution doesn’t always mean better – color accuracy, contrast, shadow display, levels of blackness – these matter as well to photographers and videophiles.

      And before you think I don’t know what I’m missing – I own a 55″ 4K TV that I absolutely love. But it would be nice to have something worth watching other than 4k images of waves crashing into the shore. Bring on 4K cable and movies, then we can harp on Apple for being behind.

      1. Apple waits several years between updating its hardware. The current Apple TV is over 3 years old. If Apple intends its next generation box to be competitive for the next 3 years, then there’s no question the hardware and software have to be ready this year. 4K TVs are here now, 4K content is available and growing now, and by the end of the year BluRay, cable, and streaming distribution in 4K will all be available. If Apple misses the boat on 4K this year, then its hobby will be lapped by the professionals.

        1. Today, 4K is practically nothing more than a selling bullet point for BestBuy salesmen.

          Contrary to what some would love to believe, for an ordinary average consumer, there is NO 4K content out there (no cable operators offer it yet, no terrestrial broadcasters offer, since there are no broadcast standards for 4K), so for an average American, there is no way to get 4K (most don’t know or care to know about online video streaming services). Nobody buys a minivan while in college because they know they will one day have a family and would need that minivan. Nobody bought HD TV in 1997 because they were expecting cable operators and broadcasters to eventually make HD available.

          If what you are saying true regarding the beginning of availability of 4K content later this year, then we can expect Apple to consider 4K in Apple TV some 3 – 4 years from now, when enough people had actually bought their 4K TVs, and enough 4K content is available through AppleTV. I’d be surprised if it happens any sooner than that (and would be happy for people like you who already bought their 4K TVs and are anxiously awaiting content).

    3. Apple has been dumbing down and removing features from hardware and software so that Buffy and Biff will not be too confused. Sealed up bullshit like the new Mac mini and the Black Trashcan HTPC masquerading as a Mac Pro and the castration of Aperture and degrading of Final Cut shows what happens when stylists get to be the boss of engineers.

      1. And for that I (and many others) are profoundly grateful. FCP X is infinitely faster, more intuitive and easier to use than FCP 7.

        As for sealed-up “bull$h!t”, much like I never needed to swap a battery on my mobile phone (and I had about dozen different ones before my iPhones), I never needed to swap batteries on my MBPs, nor did I swap / upgrade RAM or HD on any of my Macs over the past 20 years. My Mac replacement cycle is usually around 4 – 6 years. I went through about 10 of them, and not once did I upgrade anything. It is much easier to just anticipate what you’ll need and get it a bit beefier out of the box, rather than starting with little in order to have to upgrade soon after.

        I haven’t used Aperture, so I can’t tell what happened to it.

    1. I have to agree, 4k will come but most people don’t yet have 4k tv’s. I’ve had a 1080p tv for 6 1/2 yrs now and 2015 is the first year I could get any internet speed greater than 9mbs in my area, I was paying for 18mbs with AT&Crap and most of the time getting 1 to 4mbs, 9 when I was lucky. I switched providers and now finally can get 40mbs fairly consistently and finally both Amazon instant and Netflix stream consistent 1080p content. Sometimes though Netflix’s stuff is poorly encoded crap with banding and noise. Then I have Hulu plus which most of the time is descent 1080p but again not always. If and I say if Apple can provide a new TV service(that’s better than what’s available now) with a updated Apple TV box with 4k in the future I will be ready to jump into the Apple TV bandwagon and then eventually a 4k tv. I’m cautiously hopeful Apple can do this right but we’ll see what they show at WWDC next month.

    1. So silverhawk, are you writing this from a non-retina Mac or an old 3.5″ screen iPhone? Inquiring minds want to know.

      Perhaps the benefits of UHD are too hard for you to understaand because you don’t know what you’re missing. Even if you don’t play 4K content, a new 4K TV will make your old 1080P set look pale and washed out.

      4K ushers in significant advantages besides more pixels — better video dynamic range, black gradients, wider color gamuts (REC-709 hadn’t improved in 25 years before the 4K standard was announced). Color accuracy is obiously better.

      Next, with the potential of OLED, you will soon see displays that are applied to the wall in a thin film, and as easily rolled up as today’s movie screens. LG already is showing the proof of concept of this. It makes it possible for your viewing room to have a screen that takes up the whole wall when you want it — and at those sizes, 4K is essential. I have several friends with projectors and they can’t wait for more 4K content, which is arriving every day.

      But you seem to want Apple to skate to where the puck was, is that it?

      1. BTW an true OLED display is around 2k for a 24 inches now.

        Like mentionned, the ‘forevever alone’ in your next level stuff is getting you out of the reality.

        Until 4k goes broadcast. Nothing will change overnight.

        I trust Apple. They never skated where the puck was even when all of us thought otherwise.

        Don’t get me wrong , I love technologies. Especially display technologies, it is my bread and butter.

  4. I just hope 4K comes to iTunes. That would be what truly ushers in the higher resolution standard.

    I also hope my existing 1080p movies can be upgraded to 4K without paying the same full price again. Maybe they’ll have a $3.99 fee per movie, a one time $100 for your library, or perhaps it will just be free.

    But I hope it’s not “the 4K version is a totally different product and you pay full price even if you own it on 1080p”.

  5. Until H.265 is ready for prime time, for Apple, there is no urge.

    Unless you are a ‘forever alone’ gasping at your 4k screen and thinking you’re on top of the world because you are at next level. Meh…

    BTW, it is a minority of television studio and other facilities that are even thinking at upgrading to 4k now. They haven’t finished paying the cost of their HD upgrade yet.

  6. 4k is not a big issue, the bandwidth is just not there on a widespread enough basis for it to be usable as any sort of day to day basis. Most people would struggle watching 1080 streamed content let alone anything bigger.

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