A New Apple TV with 4K Would NOT Break the Internet

Often, for the sake of dramatic effect and the attention it brings, technical articles are couched in terms of dramatic change. And while change is what the consumer electronics industry is all about, the technical people behind the scenes know that nothing all happens at once. The same applies to 4K streaming.

4G Apple TV concept - Image credit: Martin Hajek

Albert Einstein once said, "The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once." Time is, in fact, the principle concern of every person in the technical industry. Often, there isn't time to respond to a competitor's initiative (or a manager's demand), but on the other hand, sometimes time literally takes its time.

The step-by-step rollout of 4K streaming will also take its time just as the high definition revolution did, perhaps with slightly greater acceleration, but paced nevertheless. If the pace doesn't suit the TV industry and they're not making much profit on HDTV's, you can be sure the hype machine will be in top gear. But there's also a certain amount of customer resistance and conservatism, thanks to the 3D debacle.

And so the question arises: would a new Apple TV (or any new set-top box) with 4K capability break the Internet? My claim is absolutely not.

Before we start, however, here are some reference articles that I want you to have handy. (Note that I'll use the term 4K for familiarity. Ultra High Definition (UHD) is more accurate but not as familiar.)

  1. Apple TV Installed Base (and Projected sales)
  2. How Comcast is Now Handling Internet Data Usage and Caps
  3. Why 4K Streaming Isn’t Really 4K
  4. Apple in Talks to Launch Web TV Network this Fall


When I say the introduction of 4K will be paced, I mean:

  • Content providers recognize that there are both costs and communication issues related to delivering 4K on the Internet. Accordingly, the initial focus will be on movies, not TV shows where premium prices can be justified.
  • The average Internet bandwidth in the U.S. is 12-15 Mbps, and 4K streaming requires 15 Mbps, so more than half of the country isn't ready for a 4K video stream at that speed.
  • Business Insider has reported that: "4K-capable TVs will be in 10 percent of all North American households by year-end 2018."  Repeat: 2018.
  • Not everyone will immediately run out and buy a 4th gen Apple TV (with 4K) at the same time. Those who haven't yet purchased a 4K TV will have little interest until they do. (See reference #1 above.) Except, of course, for all the other goodies Apple includes.
  • 4K Content is still sparse. As a result, the relative contribution of 4K compared to 1080p in a customer's monthly usage will be small at first. This is something Comcast is counting on. (See reference #2 above.) It buys Comcast (or any other ISP) time to monitor and add capacity.
  • While the prices of 4K TVs are coming down, receivers that can accept several 4K inputs and send a signal out on HDMI 2.0 remain rare and expensive.

Image credit: Sony

The Jazz Factor

Why would Apple introduce a new Apple TV with 4K capability then? First, there will be those customers, early adopters, who feel that it's time to get on with 4K. They have the income and the desire to explore the technology. Apple's current chip technology can handle 5K (In the 5K iMac), so 4K won't be an issue. Also, TV makers are done with 1080p and declining profits.  There will be a huge push at Christmas 2015. (That's also when the 4K Blu-ray players make their appearance.)

But perhaps, most importantly, it would be a letdown for Apple to wait three years, and then introduce a new Apple TV without the forward looking capability of 4K. Apple seldom settles for the ordinary. Or looks to the past.

In the final analysis, I think Apple has a lot to gain by delivering future proof 4th Gen Apple TV with 4K capability so that those who are eager to explore the technology can get moving. And then, for all the reasons I listed above, there's really no reason to be alarmed that the introduction of a 4K device into the household will completely blow out one's data cap, even if one has one. (Comcast has suspended its own data caps.) Neither will 4K streaming have a perceptible affect on the Internet as a whole in the next year.

Not everything happens at once.