Three Guys and a Podcast: Apple News & Analysis
Rumors are running rampant of Apple releasing an all-new Apple TV device at the company’s September 22, special event, being held off campus at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. The event is assumed to focus on Apple’s new lineup of iPads, however, a major venue like this suggests something beyond a mere product refresh.
Specifics as to why Apple would need to revised Apple TV with all new hardware is unknown, but one possibility could be Apple's preparation to support 4K resolution. 4K, or UHD (Ultra High Definition), is essentially double the x and y axis resolution of the 1080p specification. Whether this resolution is in demand or not makes little difference, as major display manufacturers are making a major push to release the UHD displays this holiday season. If Apple delivers a 4K Apple TV with content from the iTunes store (albeit limited content), Apple will significantly differentiate itself from the other players in the industry, such as Roku or Google's Chromecast dongle solution.
Other enhancements, such as improved Airplay streaming, could be part of an Apple TV refresh, but Apple may have a card or two up its sleeve when it comes to 4K content. For several years, nearly all mainstream films have been shot and projected in updated theaters in a 4K format known as Digital Cinema, carrying an even higher 4K y axis resolution with a 17:9 aspect ratio. If Apple has made deals with studios, it could instantly offer hundreds of movies in 4K, along with some TV shows.
Many scoff at the idea of any company being able to effectively stream 4K resolutions to consumer households effectively, but those claims are made by those not taking a closer look at the available technologies. Apple would likely introduce 4K streaming via h.265 (also known as HVEC, high efficiency video coding). A typical 1080p stream is around 20Mbits per second, while a 4K stream compressed with h.265 has the bit rate increase to only 25Mbits per second, roughly a 20% increase in throughput for 4x the amount of data. This slight bit rate increase is easily handled with today's typical consumer cable speeds.
A hurtle to adopting h.265 is when the standard will be approved, but Apple has history of promoting standards that have not been officially approved. For example, Apple has previously adopted wireless standards for their Airport Base stations before the new standards have been officially ratified, and has suffered little risk in doing so. Apple's aggressive moves have only served to solidify standards. Whether Apple is working closely with MPEGLA to launch the moment the standard is released is unclear, but it stands to reason Apple will make a major same play with h.265, leapfrogging the industry while others scramble to keep pace.
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