Why Apple TV doesn’t need 4K Ultra HD video

“For those of you not in the know, 4K, also known as UHD (Ultra-High Definition), is a resolution that is 4 times higher than that of traditional 1080 HD TV set or display. There is just one little catch to the promise of 4 times greater image quality — it doesn’t really matter,” Mark Reschke writes for T-GAAP. “Unless you are looking to purchase a 65″ set or larger, 4K will not make a hill of bean of difference, even if you pay an extra $400 – $800, versus purchasing a 1080 HD set. And it certainly won’t matter if your new Apple TV is 4K or not. Beyond the near complete lack of 4K gaming and video content, here is why.”

“To make this easy, let’s examine a 50″ TV set to reach some understanding as to why 4K really does not matter. Stand roughly 12-inches away from a 50″ 1080p set, and you can clearly see individual pixels. But stand back 6 feet and the pixels will have disappeared into one smooth, good looking image,” Reschke writes. “With 4K, dots are also visible at extremely close range, and it is immediately recognizable at just how much higher the resolution in a 4k set is versus a HD set of same size. Backing away from a 4K TV the pixels quickly dissipate into a brilliant image. In fact, according to THX, at just over 3ft from the TV, the dots will blend into one single image. And that right there is actually the reason most consumers will never need 4K.”

Reschke writes, “Viewing a 1080p HD or 4K 65″ set from 8ft away, one cannot tell the difference.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: So much apologizing with so much misinformation. It’s not about discerning individual pixels, it’s about the level of detail. Owners of 4K Ultra HD displays know that you can quite easily see the difference between one and a 1080p HD display because you are simply presented with more visual information and you can see the difference in the detail.

To see for yourself, watch the following video fullscreen and in the highest resolution possible:

On our 65-inch Sony 4K Ultra HDs vs. a 65-inch 1080p TV, the difference in clarity and detail is stark. The only people who claim you can’t tell the difference are those who don’t yet have 4K TVs.

Apple should have future-proofed the Apple TV with 4K capability and no amount of apologists will be able to change the fact that, to the general public, Apple looks to be greedily setting up planned obsolescence with the current Apple TV by omitting 4K capability.

After all, if Ultra HD doesn’t matter, why do iPhones shoot in 4K and why have iMacs been upgraded to 4K and even 5K models?

All that said, the Apple TV is a relatively low-priced device and offers much, much more than just simply replaying video. 1080p is perfectly acceptable, will keep bandwidth demands lower for any Apple streaming service that may someday actually appear, and upgrading to 4K Apple TV units next year shouldn’t be all that expensive (especially if you simply sell your current Apple TV unit(s) and apply the proceeds). For the App Store, the Siri Remote and all it can do, and everything else the Apple TV currently offers, we highly recommend the device. It’s awesome, even in its spotty and unfinished state! We’ll just get our 4K content from the Netflix app built right into our Sony 4K TVs instead.

Now, cue the inevitable “4K doesn’t matter” comments from those who don’t yet own 4K Ultra HD TVs. We remember hearing the same exact type of comments when HD TVs first hit the market.

Apple TV and the 4K Ultra HD conundrum – October 8, 2015
Amazon embarrasses Apple with new 4K Fire TV box or something – September 17, 2015
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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. The fact of the matter is 4K is not yet ready for prime time and hardly ubiquitous in a broadcast media sense. And we don’t yet know if 4K capability on the Apple TV can simply be turned on by a firmware update yet.

    I look forward to welcoming our 4K Overlords at the right time and with all the associated goods in play.

    1. It’s not about the prime time content if you ask me peter. 4K could be used in a gaming app. It could be the ariel footage apple provides. it could be the interface of the apple tv. it could be the airplay of your higher than 1080p iPad. there are so many more reasons for 4K to be on this device than because TV isn’t there yet.

            1. You don’t think even a single developer couldn’t build an app to take advantage of 4K resolution capability in the time between this Apple TV and the inevitable 4K-capable model to follow? I think many developers could and would, if Apple had an Apple TV on the market whose resolution could match devices from even the likes of Amazon and Roku.

            2. I’ll be the first to tell you about all the wonderful things that there will be in the future. Just think, someday everybody will have computers and be communicating effortlessly. Boy oh boy, it’s a wonderful world.

              Yes, I do think that SOMEDAY all that will happen with 4K TV and 4K gaming. The fact is, today, it is a benefit without a feature. As a matter of fact, this whole MDN post points out that fact.

              An no, I am not a luddite or clueless. I was convincing people to put down 2000 dollars for and Apple II in 1980 and predicting that someday (there’s that word again), the best computer will not even look like a computer.

              The fact is, if you buy a 4K TV today you are buying it for things to come. Not for things that are here today.

            3. We’re talking about Apple TV here – a box meant to be attached via HDMI to large/very large displays – and you’re trying to compare 4K vs. 1080p on a 10.8-inch screen. That tells us all just about all we need to know about your opinion regarding video quality.

            4. Now there you go getting all superior on me like you know anything about me and my knowledge about video quality.

              As i mentioned in another post, I’ll probably watch it on my AppleTV at 1080p when I get home.

              By the way. Your alleged superiority isn’t flattering when it comes out.

            5. Dude, you can’t state that a 4K vs. 1080p comparison video “looked pretty much the same to me” and then tell us you used a 10.8-inch display on which to base your findings. That’s just ludicrous.

            6. Yes I can. Funny thing about opinions and people…. we are all different and perceive things differently. Looked pretty much the same to me on the surface and a monitor at 1080p. I’ll check it out on my AppleTV.

              Beyond that, I still say it is a feature without a benefit at the present time.

            7. The delusion is strong in this one. Care to point out where I made any such claim about numerous sources?

              On the other hand, you claimed 4K support was “a feature with no benefit”. I showed that to be false. While it may not be a large benefit, being able to watch 4K content that I created myself is still a benefit.

      1. 4K would be a major jump in rendering game apps. It would be a CPU/GPU drain on everything. I ain’t against it but 4K is still evolving as the players sort out the pieces which is my guess why Apple is still on the fence about it. Great 4K will require an order of magnitude higher design & effort for devices and infrastructure. No amount of whining by 4K aficionados will make it get here any faster.

        We need to come up with a term for the tech-impatient who want tomorrow to have arrived yesterday.

        1. Don’t app developers already code for near 4k? the Ipad/Iphone uses a retina display, pixel wise, I am sure its close to 4k. How the TV upscales that is on theTV, not the output device.

          I think a reason behind this move was 1. Cost, 2. bandwidth. IF Apple had supported 4K then the next criticism would be … “Apple, where is the 4k content” ….. lol

          It was a lose lose, might as well just save a few bucks and not provide 4k.

          1. If you want 4K generated output it must come from the device. When new 4K sets take in a Blu-Ray signal they up-res to 4K but that’s not the same obviously as true 4K. Compelling games and such I would think would need more powerful chips. The UI not so much, depending on what it does.

            BTW I’m usually all over something likes this but it hasn’t got my undies in a bunch yet.

            All good 4K things will come to he/she who patiently waits. 🙂 Such is always the way of a new paradigm shift until it seems it’s always been here.

      2. The broadcasters will NEVER broadcast in 4K UHD. They will never pay to upgrade their equipment. It will never happen. HBO, Showtime, etc. – aren’t going to force your local cableco into upgrading their entire system to get 4K to your house. The local broadcasters aren’t going to upgrade their equipment to send 4K to your house via OTA.

        The 4K “revolution” is going to happen through streaming devices and APPs. It will be far simpler to update their APPs to support 4K streaming. And that is where Apple has completely missed the mark here!

        I have a 4K set, and I bought a new AppleTV. If I hear next week that HBO, MLB, ESPN, ABC, NBC or FOX have updated their apps to stream 4K on an Amazon Fire … I’ll be putting a Fire 4K in my entertainment system. I won’t replace the Apple TV with it, but it will be sitting right next to it, and probably be used more. Because the simple fact is – I want to watch 4K video on my 4K set, and I’ll use what ever means possible to do it!

        MDN’s take is spot on perfect! The difference just in on the fly upscaling of 1080P video on a 4K TV is amazing. Netflix 4K (sparse as it is) is stunning. It really has to be seen to be believed.

        1. The lack of scientific understanding by many of these respondents (as well as MDN) is breathtaking.

          The science of resolution perception is well-settled. There is little consumer reason for UHDTV. And this poster’s understanding of international standards and the motivations of the broadcasters is lunacy.

          The only real gains in UHDTV will come not from more pixels, but from higher dynamic range and a larger color window. NEITHER of which have been implemented yet.

          Upscaled video (like upscaling audio) is bullshit. Keep deluding yourself, iFan.

      3. Even the most powerful gaming PCs can’t achieve consistently smooth gameplay at 4K resolution. What makes you think a set-top box with the power of a low-end laptop could do better?

        1. Well, that’s the issue, isn’t it? Apple continues to release underpowered, non-upgradeable hardware that is outclassed by the competition. even if 1080 resolution is good enough for you, why would you pay a premium to apple when Roku is better in every measurable way, for less $. ????

          Apple needs to get back to tech leadership because nobody with a brain should pay premium prices for a promise that someday Apple will give you a better experience. If they could, then they should have released a polished product instead of a just another hobby box.

    2. UHD is taking off at 2-3 time the rate that HD took off — likely because there were/are so many variants of HD and the major players “stanardizing” on different versions of the spec.

      In two to three years UHD could easily be where HD was just two to three years ago.

      1. I’m not sure where you’re getting your data, but I don’t think it is even remotely true. While consumers may be buying UHD TVs at a faster rate compared to the HDTV sets from 15 years ago (although I doubt even that is so), there is literally NO UHD broadcast TV station today anywhere in the US (or elsewhere in the world). About the only UHD content you can get today is a few films from Netflix (and one or two of their exclusive TV shows), and perhaps also from some other obscure online content provider (Roku, Hulu or similar). Optical media practically does not exist in UHD yet (the players just started appearing this month).

        Today, you would find much more 3D content out there (on cable, Netflix, Amazon, on Bluray) than UHD. It will take a lot longer for UHD to displace HD than it did HD to displace SD (remember, DVD is still the most dominant medium for consuming and sharing movies).

        1. “I’m not sure where you’re getting your data, but I don’t think it is even remotely true.”
          If I remember correctly, the first consumer HDTVs hit the market in 1996 (before that in Japan only). At that time there was virtually ZERO content available. No over the air broadcasts, no Blu-ray (or other optical medial), and definitely no Internet sources.

          It took until 2005 or later for the world to pretty much standardize on 1080p sets. That’s nine years or more. It wasn’t until 2006 or later that the optical media standardized on a single format and even later for Internet media to go to 1080p as the default format (many would say that it’s still not there).

          So going from SD to HD took anywhere from nine years to 15 years or more.

          UHDTVs are pervasive today. Hell, there are sets shipping today that claim to support the full, extended standard. There is over the air broadcasts at UHDTV (just not in the U.S.). There is optical media (just not much of it). There are Internet broadcasts (even if woefully over compressed). And that’s after less than a couple years in the consumer space.

          The transition from HD to UHD is going faster than the transition from SD to 1080p (aka “full HD). It just is.

    3. Seems so weird. They kept back a tech that isn’t ready yet but released so much crap in the Apple TV otherwise that isn’t ready. I don’t have an opinion on 4K. But not sure this is an accurate conclusion either.

  2. How do we know Apple can’t upgrade the software to support 4k? Isn’t the hardware capable of 4k? One would think that it would have shipped with it enabled already, but who knows.

    1. Watch that YouTube video fullscreen at 2160p. If you can’t see the difference, your display is too low res or you need to make an appointment with an ophthalmologist because you’re pretty much blind.

        1. A Surface Pro 3? Pfft.

          Of course you can’t see anything! Are you going to hook up an Apple TV to a 10.8-inch monitor? Use your head, man!

          Try watching it on at least a 27-inch display.

          1. I’m at work and this is forced upon me. I did also move it to my 22″ HP monitor… and still didn’t see any difference. (The surface pro 3 does have a high resolution display) and there is pretty much no difference that I can see. Maybe I’ll watch it at home on my AppleTV on my paltry 37 inch 1080p TV. I’ll still bet there won’t be that much difference if any.

            I still say that at this time, 4K is a feature without a benefit.

        2. So you watched at “4K” but at a bastardized lower resolution and couldn’t see a difference? I’d be shocked if you could see a difference. Watch it on a true UHD screen and get back to us.

          1. This.

            Like CitizenX, I’ve got older eyes and I wear glasses (for reading / close up work), but I can spot the differences on 4K/UHD sets I’ve looked at. Even without my glasses.

            Trying to spot the difference between the two is pointless if you’re viewing a comparison video (like MDN’s) on a non-4K/UHD monitor/TV… or even on a higher resolution device. I’m dubious of the source material.

            For a real HD vs. 4K/UHD comparison though, you really need to compare two, same size, same maker TVs with one set HD and the other 4K/UHD… simultaneously accessing the same 4K/UHD source.

            The difference is noticeable. IMO. those who can’t tell the difference fall into one or both of two categories… 1) those who can’t tell the difference due to eye problems or 2) those who don’t care. Considering the number of people who maladjust their TV image so there are no “black bars” showing, the latter may way outnumber the former.

          2. I watched it on a dell 32″ 4k monitor on my mac pro and it has very little difference maybe just a very little bit crisper on the 4k side of the picture hardly anything to get hung up on.
            4k is just not ready for prime time yet.

        3. Since it seems you are not aware, Full HD is 1920 x 1080. UHD is 3840 x 2160.. Since the resolution of the Surface Pro 3 is much closer to that of Full HD than UHD that would explain how it doesn’t show much difference. I would suggest you find a better display to make your comparison.

          1. If you were aware I’m curious why you think viewing UHD on a significantly lower res screen to compare to Full HD would prove anything about the difference in viewing experience. That would be similar to opening a video window to 640×480 pixels, playing a HD video in it and comparing it to a SD video playing in a second similar sized window to prove there is little difference in image quality..

  3. I’m not an expert by any means in the anatomy of the eyeball, but it seems to me that the limiting factor in perception of detail is the space between the rods and cones in the retina. Details which project onto the retina which are finer than the density of rods and cones cannot be perceived. If there are any opthalmologists reading this, someone who really knows, I would appreciate learning more about this. I’m not impressed by any comparison provided by a television manufacturer as marketing material.

    1. I would think that there would be a larger range of perceived vision than you think since in addition to spacing between rods and cones, you have to consider the individuals’ rods/cones sensitivity, the quality of the lenses both natural and man-made, the amount of light that is available and finally how much the brain compensates by ‘filling’ in.

    2. As a researcher, I don’t care about anecdotal claims: good science requires a double-blind study of 1080 vs 4K for when someone can/can’t tell the difference.

      As such, MDN needs to substantiate their claim to show that they’re not just having a placebo effect.


  4. Though I love the way MDN aggregates Apple news, I don’t trust your comments when it comes to technical accuracy. Heck, the MDN app doesn’t even allow for gesture swiping (um…hello.) Talk about hypocritical. Your fanboy credentials have been revoked.

    The article refers to the importance of the size of the screen and the viewing distance from the screen as critical criteria for determining the need for a 4K TV. The side by side video comparison does not define the screen size or the camera’s distance from the screen. Nonetheless if I sit 4 or 5 feet from my 27″ computer monitor, I cannot tell the difference between the resolution of the 4K vs. HD picture.

    So please stop complaining about 4K. You are fixated on a number.

  5. The article says unless you have a 65″ or bigger screen…
    Mdn’s calls BS and says they have a 65″ screen… 😉

    Imo at proper viewing distance, it all depends on the screen size. A 4K 36″ tv will not look any better at 10 feet away than a quality 1080p tv.

    Is 4K better? Yes..
    Can you actually tell the difference? Yes, but tv screen dimensions and quality of the brand will be a big factor as well.

    I was looking at a bigger tv in store a few weeks ago, some of those 1080p screens are gorgeous. As long as they are not BIG screens. All the tv’s playing the same video, a 1080p 50″ right next to a 4K 50″ and the 1080p looked better.. Granted we are talking a Sony 1080p screen and a cheaper brand 4K tv.

    As far as 4K gaming on a tv.. The consoles are not there yet. Maybe next gen, but it takes a lot on HP to run 4K games.. And that takes money. Next gen consoles will need to cost much more than $400 to get 4K. (Reliably)
    Hell the current gen have issues with 1080p 60 fps. (Looking at you Xbox one… But there are some games on the PS4 that do run less than 1080p as well, both guilty)

    Give it a few more years before 4K is in more houses.

  6. It’s unnecessary because most, if not all, 4K TVs can upscale regular High-Definition content to near-4K. By the time 4K TVs become ubiquitous, newer ones might not upscale(due to cost of manufacturing), but a future Apple T.V. might support 4K by then.

    1. Here’s how long it would take to download an hour-long 4K video at different Internet speeds, assuming I’m right about 4K video taking up 318 gigabytes per hour:
      300 Mbps = 2 hours
      120 Mbps = 6 hours
      60 Mbps = 12 hours
      30 Mbps = 24 hours
      15 Mbps = 48 hours

      1. The required information rate depends upon several factors, but the two biggest ones are 1) the quality you want (i.e., can you live with Netflix’s lowest quality or do you want the latest and greatest UHDTV Blu-ray quality) and 2) the imagery being processed (i.e., is it a talk show with talking heads in front of a static backdrop or is it a fast paced movie with lots of very high speed action scenes).

        A secondary concern is how bursty and noisy is your connection? Is it a shared connection with high contention ratios (like a typical DOCSIS, cable connection)? Assuming a high contention system, you may need a buffer factor of 1.5 to 3.0 to avoid any buffering in live streaming.

        When you consider this range of requirements the full range of speeds goes from 15 Mbps to 110 Mbps without any buffering factor for live streaming. With a high contention buffering factor you might want anything from a low of 22.5 Mbps to a maximum of 330 Mbps.

        (Of course this all assumes H.265 compression with a multi-pass [no Leeloo pun intended] compressor with proper post processing to generate as good a video stream as possible in the bandwidth constraints.)

  7. Proper testing. MDN used two different TVs, wrong. The contrast, color or any number of settings could influence one TV over the other.

    You need 4K TV, 4K video. Play it.
    Then change that 4K TV or the player to 1080 resolution and play the same video.
    That will keep all settings identical other than resolution.

    It will be interesting to see how that type of test pans out.

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