Apple TV and the 4K Ultra HD conundrum

“If you watch a 65-inch 4K TV from eight feet away, you’ll approach the minimum size/distance ratio to deliver a discernible improvement. But just barely,” Gene Steinberg writes for The Tech Night Owl. “So unless you’re accustomed to sitting up close, which may be useful for gaming, the value of 4K is essentially non-existent for smaller sets. So you’re better off paying less and getting 1080p if the only improvement is display resolution.”

“There is more to 4K, but not all sets offer the feature, and these are the elements that will improve picture quality noticeably even on smaller sets. That is, if they offer a wider color gamut and HDR, short for high-dynamic range,” Steinberg writes. “The result is brighter and more detailed pictures, such as extremely inky blacks and brilliant whites. If a set offers HDR, that’s one half of excellence. The other half? Well, source material that contains HDR content.”

“Into the mix comes the 2015 Apple TV, which is expected to hit the stores later this month. As you may know, the new Amazon Fire TV and the Roku 4 support 4K. But not the new Apple TV,” Steinberg writes. “But neither the Fire TV nor the Roku 4 support HDR, and it may well be that streaming 4K fare won’t even be available in HDR because it will obviously consume more data and thus use a higher bit rate. Indeed, for most people, 4K streaming video is little more than a boast, not something that will offer a genuine improvement to the picture quality of your set.”

“So the answer may well be that Apple wants the Ultra HD/4K situation to stabilize more before adding the feature to an Apple TV. Indeed, it may well be that the new model already contains the hardware to support those technologies, and merely needs a firmware update to turn them on But that’s just a guess, and not an educated one. It’s not something Apple is apt to reveal, although there have been published reports that the A8 chips are perfectly capable of supporting 4K,” Steinberg writes. “So ideally, Apple will turn on that feature, and maybe even add support for more advanced HDMI technologies, in a future update.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: You can definitely see the difference between 1080p and 4K video on our 65-inch 4K Sony Ultra HD TVs from farther away than a mere eight feet. You can see ridiculous detail (dust floating in the air, makeup streaks on faces, etc.) with the 4K content that just isn’t there in 1080p. That said:

Obviously, Apple has the capability to offer and deliver 4K video. Certainly, they have their reason(s) not to offer 4K support immediately. Perhaps they will flick the 4K switch in software after they have signed deals with the content providers? If Amazon’s hardware is capable of 4K, the new A8-powered Apple TV hardware certainly is, too. And that would be just like Apple has always been with Apple TV: Under-promise and over-deliver. For the life of the product, Apple has constantly improved existing Apple TVs via software at no extra cost to users. If not, there’s always next year, but the new Apple TV offers much more than simply streaming video and 1080p is perfectly acceptable even on 4K Ultra HDs.MacDailyNews Take, September 17, 2015

Amazon embarrasses Apple with new 4K Fire TV box or something – September 17, 2015
Amazon unveils $100 Fire TV box 4K video support, Alexa voice control – September 17, 2015
With the all-new Apple TV, Apple changes the game, yet again – September 14, 2015
Analyst: Apple TV streaming service on the way, could cost at least $40 a month – September 14, 2015
Local media streaming app Plex coming to Apple TV – September 14, 2015
What Apple got right in Apple TV’s user interface – and what needs work – September 11, 2015
New Apple TV has the potential to do for television what iPhone did for mobile phones – September 11, 2015
Apple preps to conquer living room with all-new Apple TV – September 11, 2015
Hands-on with the all-new Apple TV – September 10, 2015
Gruber: Apple TV will define how all TVs will work in a few years – September 10, 2015
Here’s how much RAM is inside Apple’s iPhone 6s/Plus, iPad Pro and new Apple TV – September 10, 2015
New Apple TV sounds great, but where’s the 4K? – September 10, 2015


  1. MDN, you are incorrect in your statement. Apple CANNOT flip the switch via software. The new AppleTV is using HDMI 1.4 which cannot deliver 4k. Only HDMI 2.0 and up can. HDMI 1.4 is 6-year old, prior-generation technology that Apple has put in a 2015 product (2.0 has been out since 2013). That is why it is hard to get excited about it, even to an avid supporter. Apple certainly has more than enough means to, but seems to no longer be pushing for the next great standards, and is now pushing legacy hardware on us instead. That’s the true reason loyal Apple fans like myself are upset and looking for potential next-gen alternatives.

    1. Thats actually not a true statement. 1.4 can handle 3,840×2,160 pixels at up to 30 frames per second (and 4,096×2,160 at 24 frames per second. Now it can’t handle HFR….which is good for sports. But, can it handle “4k” yes.

      1. muddy, while it can handle output in theory, in practice no modern-day protected content can be played over 1.4 because the content requires HDMI 2.0 and more specifically HDCP 2.2, which HDMI 1.4 doesn’t support.

        1. yeah, but your original statement was “The new AppleTV is using HDMI 1.4 which cannot deliver 4k.” Which is just not true. 1.4 can handle 4K video. Now, because there is this protected content that won’t go over 1.4 cables is besides the point. I have successfully played 4K content on my 4kTV and it was over 1.4 HDMI, so it’s not really a theory.

  2. Videophiles are moving to 4K screens larger than 65″. If Apple chooses to not serve the high margin end of the market, that’s their choice.

    Rather interesting the MDN makes a point of slamming non-Apple phones as being cheap junk for the unwashed masses, but then gives Apple a free pass for releasing obsolete hardware that doesn’t even support the latest video standards shipping right now. Apple TV just went from being a hobby to a has-been.

  3. I will repeat this again!

    All these devices, roku, chromecast, amazon fire and…they rely on streaming of 4K…which means most of your content will be coming from the inter-webs.

    You are ultimately tied to the bandwidth that your ISP will give you, and something tells me they are not going to let 4K get streamed for more than maybe 10 minutes. I have heard from a pretty reliable source that a node for an ISP provider can handle over 75 1080 streams, but for 4K they can get around 5 to 7 streams. I don’t know how many houses a node services, but I would probably guess about 25 to 50 houses. Now, when these higher bandwidth fiber cables are finally put into place, then i think we will see reliably streamed 4K from our ISP, but sadly they are installing that stuff at a snails pace.

    That said, would it be nice to have 4K in the apple tv. There are reasons why I would want it…to name a few:
    1. better quality airplay from iPhone or iPad to apple tv (higher than 1920×1080).
    2. The slow moving videos that apple will provide in the apple tv could be 4K.
    3. If iTunes would finally sell 4K video, you could home-share 4K movies onto the Apple TV. (as long as you had Wireless 802.11AC).
    4. The menus could be in glorious 4K.
    5. The apps people make could have their layout and text in 4K quality. The ATV is not only going to be used for video, but for apps as well, so lets not forget we could benefit from that.

    1. 4K-capable equipment will still play 1080p content if that’s what you choose to buy. In most cases, it will actually improve the content by fixing jaggies and color levels beyond what lower resolution video files would offer.

      But that’s only half the story. Most of the Apple TV competitors undercut the price of the Apple TV. So why pay more to be limited to 1080p? The Roku 4 does everything that the new Apple TV can do, and then some. It’s future-proof.

      I really don’t see why the usual fanboys are defending the Apple TV as a superior investment when the Apple TV clearly costs more to do less.

      1. I’m sorry If I confused you. I wasn’t so much defending apples choice of not doing 4K, I was just trying to explain that the chances of anyone getting 4K streaming video is really slim. In fact if you read my list at the bottom of my statement I think I give enough reason for Apple to have released the ATV in 4K. But I also won’t jump the ship of what I know and like about the ATV because others are doing 4K, and I own a 4K tv. And when they come out with a 4K Apple TV I’ll probably sell the one I had and buy the new one. I honestly believe the apps that will be on the ATV will be more functional, better designed and be larger in numbers than the other brands. It hasn’t been that case for the past 3 years, but I’m sure that will change now that they have opened it up. That would be why I would invest in the Apple TV, not because it doesn’t have 4K compatability. It’s not like 4K will be mainstream by next year, it will probably be 5 more years. And by that time there will be a roku 6, a chromecast ultra, and a Amazon flamingo.

  4. I had a couple of friends over last week for a get together. Both of them had recently bought new large 1080p televisions (within the previous 2 months). They were both amazed at how much better my 4k TV looked, and this was just streaming highly compressed 4k content via netflix and amazon. When I showed them some native 4k footage their jaws dropped. This is with a 65inch tv from 9ft away. They noticed the difference and asked me about it before I even informed them about it being a 4k tv (then of course I gave them the full demo). It’s amazing to me that people claim there is no difference. That’s like saying there is no discernible difference between the macbook air and the macbook retina’s displays. The difference is dramatic. I have 2 apple TVs currently and i’m disappointed that the new apple TV will have a worse picture than the native apps built in to my smart tv. oh well…

  5. When the second-gen Apple TV came out, it only supported 720p, remember? And there was the same howling and whining: “Why no 1080p?!?” Despite that, the little box was a success. Seems most of the market just isn’t that hung up on video specs.


  6. It’s hard to know whether 4K will catch on. Sure, it might look better on the demos at Best Buy, but they never show movies in the demos, only stuff that is shot in 4K so they are sure it looks gorgeous. I want to see how my Blu-rays look on a 4K. And since there is still resistance to Blu-ray, with a lot of people clinging to DVDs, I wonder how fast people will shell out money for a 4K TV and 4K discs. Sadly, retail space that was moving to Blu-rays seems to be swinging back to DVD at places like Wal-Mart and Target. And studios such as Fox that were putting out TV shows on Blu-ray have gone back to DVD.

  7. I’m ordering 3 the day they come out, very excited about the new version. With that said, what makes anything think that Apple cares about what videophiles want? I’m an audiophile and I’ve been waiting a long time for high quality music purchases. The possibility is that we could be waiting a long time for 4k download or streaming support. I hope I’m wrong.

    1. I doubt you can blame Apple for the limited lossy compression quality of their music downloads. My impression is that the music companies have dictated the quality.

      Note how rarely even CDs offer lower than ideal digital sampling quality. 44 KHz does NOT perfectly represent high frequency audio. (And no kiddies, I’m not going to bother to argue with those who disagree other than to say you’re blatantly wrong). I always enjoy when I can buy an album that was sampled at 96KHz. Today’s happy purchase was David Gilmour’s ‘Rattle That Lock’, which features a Dolby 5.1 stereo 96KHz sampled version of the album. That’s what ALL albums should be these days. It’s the music companies who stop it from happening. 96KHz recording is THE STANDARD in music studies these days. So fork over the full mixer quality music, dammit!

  8. 4K looks really nice, but HDR will blow you away–whatever the resolution. I’ve seen some HDR demos at trade shows and it’s really stunning. Colors can really be saturated, gradients are smooth and black is BLACK–none of the dynamic contrast management that you see in current sets. If I had to choose between HDR and 4K, I’d take HDR. Having both is better. Apple TV has neither.

    There will be some that argue that there’s no content. It’s currently limited, to be sure. But DirecTV just announced a new bird, with 4K being mentioned as one of its strengths. The other providers will surely follow suit. And with H.265 (also missing from AppleTV), there’s really not much more bandwidth needed than with 1080p.

    One additional benefit this isn’t frequently mentioned is that 4K can support passive 3D at 1080p resolution. None of the active shutter stuff and ghosting that makes you want to heave with current systems.

  9. Thank you Gene Steinberg!

    “Officially” in the art world, the distance of the diagonal of a picture is the ideal viewing distance. In this case with the 65″ TV, that would be 5.5 feet away. But I don’t know anyone who’s going to watch a whopping huge TV that close up.

    4K is meant for big screen projection. I seriously don’t get the point of 4K in the home. I always get flames when I make that statement. But it comes down to knowing the point beyond which the human eye cannot detect any further detail on a display monitor. Cramming in extra pixels becomes meaningless on typical home TVs.

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