A lot has been said of the latest Apple TV, since Eddie Cue performed its unveiling last week. Sporting many new features, a chief complaint has been the devise's lack of support for 4K (UHD) video. In light of the fact that Apple’s iPhone 6s and 6s Plus support 4K video recording out of the box, it would seem a logical, if not easy move for Apple to support 4K for its latest Apple TV. What exactly is holding back Apple TV from including 4K? Technically, nothing.
Apple TV’s A8 processor is capable of supporting 4K video playback, but the potential for confusion and lack of overall great experience would create disappointment — or worse frustration. 4K gaming would not be supported, nor would 4K apps. In short, the only advantage of a 4K capable Apple TV would be streaming a few titles from the likes of Netflix. Summer 4K TV shipments — not — just reached 14% of the overall TV market early summer, and is not expected to reach the 50% range of TV sales until well into 2017. Numbers alone indicate 4K is not necessary, but it would act more as a sexy check box for those thinking they need it (even if they don’t have a 4K TV).
Beyond the glam marketing of 4K, unless one buys a set in the 65"+ range, 4K is very difficult to notice. I’ve witnessed people viewing a 65" Samsung 4K TV, believing the content being played back must be in 4K, only to discover it was 1080p. While set makers are desperate to sell another TV at a higher price, claiming 4K is an absolute must-have, reality is, most people cannot even tell the difference between 1080p HD and 4K on sets 60" or less. The massive jump in discernable quality for TV’s came with the advent of 1080p HD from 480p and 720p resolutions.
There is one technical area surrounding 4K video that may be holding Apple back from its release. Streaming. Apple streams more content via Apple TV versus any other set-top-box on the market today, by a wide margin. Streaming 4K requires a hefty amount of bandwidth, and that means cost and infrastructure. Being a smaller player in the market, such as Amazon, may actually be an advantage in providing 4K streaming, due to their lack of bandwidth demand.
At a later date, perhaps when Apple announces a streaming network bundle, the decision could be made to update Apple TV with the ability to stream 4K content. It can be done with the hardware, it just is not set up to do so.
Overall, Apple is targeting Apple TV for TV sets that exist in the market today, and for the vast majority of sets that will be in our living rooms, bedrooms and dens for years to come. And this begs a curious question. Since Apple did not choose to launch Apple TV with 4K playback, focusing on connecting to existing HD solutions, why omit optical audio out for more legacy-based audio/video homes? Curious to say the least.
Moving beyond the sexy 4K playback spec, and the lack of 4K TV sets that can deliver a discernable visual difference between 4K and 1080HD (sets 65" or larger), it is the experience each streaming solution can deliver that will matter most. In this regard, Apple TV looks set to become king of the home theater.
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