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  • More Wackiness About the Next Apple TV

    May 29th, 2015

    Although it would seem unsuited to a summer release, there are continuing reports that Apple has something new to show is in its initiative to control your living room. Apple TV hasn’t received a significant update since 2012, and the price was recently cut by $30. So is that just a new policy, or a fire sale to move existing product to make way for the next model?

    Regardless, Apple’s hobby has performed adequately, with sales of over 25 million units since the first version appeared in 2007. As an Apple gadget goes, that’s not a lot by today’s standards, but it’s also something that has only received indirect advertising by ongoing coverage of what Apple plans for its TV initiative.

    Clearly Apple TV is long in the tooth as such products go, although it continues to do its stuff reliably. More and more channels are being added, but that only reveals the most serious shortcoming, which is handling all that stuff efficiently. While you can hide channels, if you watch a few, you have to go through extra steps to get the content you want. Apple’s minimalist remote, with so few buttons, doesn’t make it any easier.

    Regardless, I’ll avoid speculation about what new interface niceties Apple might devise. Instead, I want to look at possible new features in light of yet another article that assumes facts not in evidence.

    Now remember that Apple hasn’t said a word, at least officially, about what you might expect in the next Apple TV. Not a thing, yet there’s the assumption that it will not, at first, support 4K, the new high definition standard that’s introduced on more and more TV sets. Why this should be is never really explained. The one article that made a big deal of it attempted to frame it in connection with making it some big reveal later on for reasons that don’t make much sense. It’s not as if adding 4K after the fact would necessarily represent a significant development.

    The article also suggests that Apple might try to trump the TV makers and go 5K, forgetting that a key reason to have 5K on the new iMac, and a small number of third-party displays, is that you can edit 4K video at its natural resolution, and use the extra pixels for menu bar and other app navigation aids. So it’s a big deal for content creators, but not so much for regular people watching a TV. Besides, the visible difference would be minimal. Right now, you need a fairly large set even to see 4K.

    Besides, the next video standard touted by the TV makers is 8K. What sense would it make for Apple to deliver a picture with a resolution unsupported on any TV set since Apple doesn’t plan to make one?

    I trust you see my point.

    As a practical matter, I realize that having a 4K Apple TV wouldn’t offer much advantage to over 90% of the viewing population, since sales of 4K sets are still in the single digits. But that will change if only because more and more sets in the lower price ranges, below $1,000, are incorporating the feature.

    What’s more, there isn’t much in the way of 4K fare just yet. Some streaming, with limited selections, but it’s so compressed to meet a decent bit rate that the quality difference isn’t that noticeable even if you have a large enough screen to reveal that difference at a normal viewing distance.

    Now I suppose Apple could withhold 4K for software reasons, but it wouldn’t make sense to release hardware that doesn’t support the higher resolution and add it a few months later. It would have to be native to the device from the get-go. So while I don’t dispute the rumor that Apple will not support this feature on the next Apple TV, at least at first, it hardly makes sense.

    In any case, aside from a fancier Apple TV, possible 4K, support for third-party apps, games and a spiffier interface that simplifies watching the content you want, what about the rumored Apple TV subscription service?

    Well, there’s no doubt it’s going to happen. CBS CEO Les Moonves confirms the talks, and says that they will “probably” sign a deal, so that would appear to be a lock. It’s not that Apple is going to necessarily have all the contracts ready in the next few weeks, but it’s clear something is definitely under construction. The real question is how an Apple branded TV service of this sort would differ from other companies who merely package a subset of the usual cable channels, sell it for less, and stream it online.

    One possibility is local stations, same as you get with cable/satellite, but Dish Network’s Sling TV is already promising that as an extra cost option. So it has to be a lot more when it happens. It’s all about game changers, and how Apple walks an already trod path and presents a new direction.



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    4 Responses to “More Wackiness About the Next Apple TV”

    1. DFS says:

      4k in our future? I can’t help wondering what the bandwidth implications would be for streaming 4k content. How can 4k be the new HD standard until we have an adequate supporting infrastructure in place? And how do we get from here to there? Would the cable companies and ISPs be required to make a major investment and, if so, would they view such an investment a sound business proposition?

    2. John Lockwood says:

      Supposedly H.265 aka. HEVC is the codec of choice for streaming/playing 4K aka ‘UltraHD’ video just as H.264 was for 1920×1080 aka ‘FullHD’. As H.265 is more efficient than H.265 it can give a reasonable image quality at about the same bit rate or at most just double the bit rate of H.264+FullHD – whereas based on the number of pixels a 4K image using H.264 would need quadruple the bit rate of FullHD.

      In other words H.265 needs half the bit rate of H.264 for the same resolution, or needs the same bit rate for double the resolution, or double the bit rate for quadruple the resolution.

      Unfortunately so far Apple have failed to deliver support for H.265 but thankfully VLC is here to save the day.

    3. Kaleberg says:

      The real killer app would be a better interface. Maybe Apple will set up an API so that the video content supplier could let you download an app for your iPhone, iPad or Mac and you could use that app to tell the AppleTV to play the desired content. Right now, the Apple TV interface is horrible. It is not better than most set top boxes which are all awful. If I could use an app on my iPad I would have a much better interface with a full touch screen, a search function, and so on. I could type on a real or virtual keyboard rather than hunting and pecking with a four arrow interface. I could scroll through lists and sublists using my fingers.

      It shouldn’t be hard for Apple to support this. They already handle a variety of services (like http: afp: addressbook: and the like) so the app just needs to tell the OS to follow a link. Apple could handle authorization and any payments.

      I’m sure the tech press is pushing for 4K, but that’s hardware thinking. As far as a software company like Apple is concerned HDTV vs 4K is maybe a byte of data somewhere. It’s not a problem that needs to be solved. The real problem is making internet television easier to use than broadcast or cable television..

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