Why Apple Really Has to Build its Own UHDTV

There's been a division of thinking in the past about Apple and a next generation TV experience. Will Apple simply introduce a new Apple TV, just another black box? Or will Apple make its own UHDTV? Some recent evidence suggests that Apple will make an actual TV.


The first piece of evidence is the 5K iMac. In order to refresh 14.7 million pixels at 60 Hz, Apple needed to make its own timing controller, called the TCON with a bandwidth of 40 Gbps. It would make sense that Apple would think about that technology in any internal discussion of a next generation consumer TV project. After all, why let that technology go to waste in just the new 27-inch iMac?

Moreover, I have been arguing all along that the best way to introduce new technology with the video signal is to manage it downstream of the decryption and utilize the display hardware itself. The current Apple TV can't do that. It's just another box that delivers an input signal via HDMI.

In the past, I've talked about erasing annoying ads and banners, doing facial recognition, displaying IMDB information on the edges, interfacing with home automation services, and things like that. I'm sure Apple has cooler stuff than that lined up.

Yes, Apple Pay

The second piece of evidence is related to Apple Pay. With Apple Pay, we have a glimpse at how Apple thinks about next generation mobile payments, the elegant marriage of technology and the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX).

Extending that to the next generation Apple TV could well mean elegant interactions with the video signal itself. Remember, a 5K display leaves room for a UHDTV/4K signal plus a whole lot more screen real estate around the edges to show other things. If you can do 4K editing on a 5K iMac display, think of the possibilities for user interaction as well on the larger version of a consumer TV.

Apple will need to build its own hardware to instantiate its UI/UX vision, just as it did with iPhone 6 and Apple Pay.

Apple may be done fighting for the TV's HDMI port. The company could well
build its own TV hardware to create a new user experience.

The downside here is that, early on, a 5K commercial UHDTV will be somewhat on the expensive side. The upside is that in 2015, UHDTV panels will drop in price substantially, and Apple will have developed a manufacturing and learning curve with its 27-inch 5K iMac. A consumer-class 50-inch 5K UHDTV with a TCON controller combined with Apple's expertise in user interfaces and low power CPUs could well come it at $2,000 by Christmas of 2015. 

Like the Apple Watch, if this TV is designed right, many Apple enthusiasts won't care how much it costs—up to a point. They'll drop their plans to buy a dumb UHDTV at Christmas 2015 and join the Apple family. Again.

The Content Dilemma

The third and final contributor is a nifty article by Jay Yarow published on December 2. "One Thing Everyone Is Getting Wrong When It Comes To The Apple Television." In that article, Mr. Yarow writes about Gene Munster's (Pipper Jaffray) appearance at the Business Insider's IGNITION conference.

The [old] idea is that Apple needs content companies like Fox, CBS, NBC, etc. on board before it releases a TV. Without the content, the TV would be useless, the thinking goes. Munster thinks this line of thinking is wrong.

The logic is that, just like the iPod engendered iTunes and the iPhone engendered the Apple App Store, the design elements of this next generation Apple TV will also engender a new supporting cast (and perhaps type) of content.

In other words, at first, it'll be a UHDTV with a great user interface. (Plus: no more alphabet grids for entering passwords, searches.) In time, it'll evolve to support new kinds of content from developers that this new hardware can support. And what tool will those studios use to develop that content? If you guessed 5K iMac, you might be on to something.

All in all, I think we have enough evidence now to lean towards the idea that Apple will make (have made for it) a real UHDTV and not just another me-too black box that fights for the HDMI ports along with everyone else.

I could still be wrong, but now I doubt this proposed UHDTV hardware scenario less and less.