Oct 1, 2015 — by: Mark Reschke
Categories: Apple TV, iOS, iPad, iPhone, Products, Review

Apple_tv_specsNew iPhones, a new iPad Pro and a new Apple TV, were all unveiled last month during Apple’s Bill Graham Auditorium special event. Beyond iPhone it is difficult to gage exactly which product is garnering the most attention. Now that the iPhone has launched the magic behind the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil has yet to be fully discovered. However what is least known is Apple TV and what it will truly be capably of once it begins shipping late October.

The mysteries of Apple TV are numerous, and one unknown begins to pile atop the next. Why does Apple TV’s A8 processor have such a massive heat sync? Why is the unit thick enough to support Optical Audio Out, but it is no longer included? Why is 4K (UHD) and HDMI 2.0 not supported? Why did Apple not release their own optional game controller to kick things off? And of course, why no silver, space gray, gold versions? Did the crew that built the MacBook with one port also lend their hand with Apple TV? It is almost as if Apple is launching their very own Area 51 product. Here’s to trying my hand at unraveling some curious areas of Apple TV. 

Unraveling the mysteries

Size

The most obvious point to the new Apple TV is its stark thickness versus the previous generation. Apple did not need the increased height due to the inclusion of more ports, as they eliminated the taller optical port, and have instead included the thin USC-C port (Apple claims for servicing options). The most probable reason Apple increased the height of Apple TV is for thermal management purposes. The new Apple TV runs on an A8 processor, which is the heart of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. But crack open the larger Apple TV enclosure, and a large heat sync is front and center, mounted to the A8. Apple does not deliver clock speed specifications, but this A8 is likely to be running at a much higher clock speed than iPhone 6 and 6 Plus implementations.

The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are estimated to running at clock speeds of 1.4GHz. However, in a product with plenty of internal space, using residential AC current to be transformed into pretty much whatever DC power Apple wants, the A8 is likely running closer to 1.6GHz - 2.0GHz, giving the chip some much needed speed when pushed with demanding games and applications.

Processor

Secondary reasons for the larger Apple TV are to hold the larger 32GB or 64GB memory options, vs the previous 8GB of RAM found in the 3rd generation Apple TV. With more memory, and a more power hungry A8 processor, the new Apple TV also required a larger internal power supply. Add everything up and simple physics required the Apple TV to be larger. Finally, there was no reason to make the new Apple TV smaller or keep it the same size. It is not as if it needs to fit in one’s hand or pocket.

Unpacking another mystery surrounding the guts of Apple TV, is why Apple choose the A8 instead of using the iPad Pro’s desktop class A9X? The answer is likely to be cost. Today the A8 likely runs Apple around $10 - $15 a chip to produce, while the A9 and A9X price out in the neighborhood of $30 - $35 each, and are needed for every single iPhone and iPad Pro Apple can produce over the next several months. In order for Apple to maintain any margin, while keeping Apple TV cost competitive, using a cheaper, speed-enhanced A8 makes a lot of sense.

Remote Control

Apple TV’s new remote control — complete with gaming gyroscopes and accelerometer technology — includes a touch pad. While this is a much needed improvement for Apple TV, I can not help but question why Apple did not simply deliver an in-house optional Apple gaming controller? There are 3rd party controllers on the market that will work with Apple TV, but whenever Apple has launched new products it tends to include their own 3rd party accessories, at least at the start. iPod gained Apple’s HiFi boom box. Apple’s mice have Apple’s own rechargeable battery packs, iPods comes with EarPods, and the new iPad Pro has an optional state-of-the-art Pencil tool that others like Wacom will likely follow with in support. The omissions of Apple’s own option gaming controller seems odd. But perhaps the games Apple is targeting will be simplistic enough for the remote acting as a controller to do the job. But two or three player games, what then? One person uses the remote while another uses the iPhone and another a 3rd party gaming controller? Apple delivering their own optional gaming controller, keeping the remote out of the mix would have seemed a very clean and clear path for those wanting to game on Apple TV. We will see if Apple got it right when Apple TV launches later this month.

The new 4th generation Apple TV represents a sum of its parts, making for a solid value. But it also seems a somewhat oversimplified piece of hardware. No optical audio output, no HDMI 2.0, or any number of other output ports the device could have easily included. That said, I am getting one, if not for the sheer satisfaction of owning an Apple Area 51-made device. 

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