Apple Will be Forced to Add 4K to its New Apple TV

Next generation Apple TV
concept from Martin Hajek.

There are indications that Apple will release a 4th generation Apple TV and a new remote control at WWDC in June. The question I have is whether that new product will include 4K capability. There is no doubt in my mind that Apple must include it. Here's my thinking.


There are several typical, surface considerations here. First of all, is the Apple customer market poised for 4K? Only 11 percent of current TV sales are 4K sets. So is adding 4K and HDMI 2.0 a good idea in the summer of 2015? Perhaps not if one looks only at the market potential.

A so-so feeling is echoed by Kevin Tofel at ZDnet in: "A lack of 4k video support won't hurt the new Apple TV." However, I didn't find the reasoning particularly compelling.

To be sure there are several other things Apple could be thinking about with the Apple TV. My colleague, Kelly Guimont, believes that the next generation Apple TV will double nicely as a home automation hub. Jeff Gamet believes Apple will finally offer the capability to play iOS games and blow up the gaming console market. That's a meme that has been brewing for years amongst Apple TV enthusiasts.

Perhaps all that would be enough of an upgrade to keep customers happy in the summer of 2015. Perhaps.

On the other hand, I don't think Apple would want to release a new Apple TV—whose last major release was March 7, 2012—without 4K to a technically eager audience who tends to be forward looking.

Cable and Satellite

I noted today this article at CNET : "Comcast to offer 4K set-top box this year." The subtitle is: The nation's largest cable provider has confirmed plans to deliver 4K content to its subscribers via a new set-top box called the Xi4 later this year. Here's the release that talks about hundreds of titles.

That caught my attention, so I asked my own provider, DIRECTV, about its plans. That's because, right now, the company is only offering 4K with specific Samsung 4K TVs that are compatible with the Genie HD DVR. Jade Ekstedt told me:

We will be adding new DIRECTV 4K Ready partners (in addition to Samsung) this summer, and we will have options for customers with non-DIRECTV Ready 4K TVs to view DIRECTV's 4K content later this year.

I take that to mean that DIRECTV's hardware will support any 4K TV one might buy at Christmas.

Both companies used the language, "later this year," and we know what that means. Christmas week. Even so, if Comcast and DIRECTV, bastions of the status quo, are announcing plans to get on board with 4K, then where does that leave Apple?

Two Apple Products?

One idea that we had here at The MacObserver is that Apple would ship a 4th generation Apple TV in June without 4K for US$69 that would include a new remote, iOS games and home automation functions. Then, at Christmas, Apple would ship a really cool looking Apple TV Plus with 4K for $99.

That Apple TV Plus would run the risk of disappointing buyers of the June model, but then at $69 the pain factor would be low. One could always down select the older model to a TV in a bedroom or den. Or use it as a waypoint for AirPlay. Think of it as an HDMI cable adapter.

Perception is Everything

But the real question for me is how Apple wants to be perceived. With Comcast and DIRECTV announcing plans for later this year, does Apple really want to be perceived as a follower instead of a leader? We've waited over three years for a major upgrade, and we'd like to see Apple helping us invest in our future, even if we can't hook the new Apple TV up to a 4K TV the day it comes out of the box.

Finally, if Apple launched a new Apple TV without 4K capability, it would be a slap in the face of the TV industry. The TV industry has all hands on deck working on hardware, HDMI 2.0, displays and scalers, UHD/4K Blue-ray players and content, hoping to have a solid Christmas buying season. It just doesn't make any sense to keep selling discounted 1080p HDTVs whose profits must be demoralizing. The TV industry would not enjoy seeing Apple, a respected leader, drag its feet.

Pretty soon we'll know whether Apple wants to dazzle us, as it has in the past, or not.