References to new Apple TV hardware have been spotted by 9to5Mac in the tvOS 13.4 beta. Here is what we hope to see in a new Apple TV box for 2020.
Apple TV 2020 expectations
References in the tvOS 13.4 beta suggest that a new Apple TV will support a maximum resolution of 4K with HDR. It is apparently based on arm64e architecture, which is currently used in the A12 and A13 Bionic chips.
Here is what we expect and hope to see in the new Apple TV:
Apple TV 4K uses the A10X, a powerful chip for its time that is starting to show its limitations following the launch of Arcade. An upgraded SoC should be capable of delivering far more graphics-intensive games from Arcade and the app store as well as enable new types of TV experiences. Preferably something more powerful than the A12X Bionic in iPad Pro that Apple touted as delivering "Xbox One S-class" graphics performance. Perhaps it is even time for Apple to introduce a SoC created specifically for TV. A SoC for a 4K TV should not be on par with a smartphone or tablet; it should be a lot more powerful. It must also have more storage and RAM.
We hope the see an HDMI 2.1 port with full bandwidth for 4K120 in the new Apple TV. This will make the homescreen much more responsive together with HDMI 2.1-enabled 4K TVs, and open the door improved game and video experiences. And with support for optional HDMI 2.1 features like VRR (Variable Refresh Rate), QMS (Quick Media Switching), and ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode), Apple could unlock the frame rate for games (better and smoother gameplay) as well as video without viewers having to endure black screen flashes ('match frame rate' feature).
Apple is a founding member of the Alliance for Open Media together with Amazon, Google, Netflix and others. These company have committed to using the AV1 video codec for video streaming so we expect a new Apple TV box to support AV1 decoding in hardware. Just like Apple’s introduction of HEVC decoding, some previous devices may even be capable of decoding AV1 in software. AV1 enables more efficient video streaming for higher picture quality and/or reduced bandwidth.
Improved HDR support:
Apple has shied away from backing Google's VP9 video codec, meaning that YouTube 4K HDR is not supported on Apple TV 4K. This will be possible with AV1 (if Google's YouTube continues its AV1 roll-out). At this time, Apple TV 4K (or tvOS) does not support HDR for games either. Bring HDR gaming to Apple TV! Also, while the HLG HDR format appears to be implemented in tvOS, it does not appear to be active. HLG is by many broadcasters a preferred format for live broadcasts in HDR.
Apple TV 4K has excellent 'match' features for frame rate and dynamic range matching to ensure the best possible video streaming quality. No other device or platform can match it in this area. However, Apple's match frame rate feature is not perfect. Besides QMS support with HDMI 2.1, the 'match frame rate' feature must be expanded to support exact 24.000fps matching. It already supports 23.976fps, but not 24.000fps. This produces a short rhythmic 'skip' in the video stream that some viewers notice. Netflix appears to increasingly be moving towards exact 24.000fps. And it may even just require a software fix in tvOS.
AirPlay TV audio:
The Apple TV box is capable of outputting TV audio wirelessly to AirPlay-compatible speakers. However, video apps on tvOS are not required to support it and AirPlay does not support surround sound or object-based audio at this time. Also, AirPlay audio output is not supported in games. This needs to change if Apple wants AirPlay audio output to be a real feature.
Improved audio support:
Besides AirPlay audio improvements, it would be nice if Apple added support for Dolby Atmos in Dolby TrueHD and bit-streaming in order to enable Dolby Atmos output from apps such as Infuse and Plex. Technically, Apple TV 4K is already capable of outputting uncompressed Dolby Atmos (via Dolby MAT 2.0) but there are some technical nuances here that currently prevent it from working with legacy audio systems and packaged content (such as a Blu-ray rip). Dolby Atmos is not supporting for games either.
One more thing:
Do something wild. An Apple-designed game controller. An Apple-designed TV audio solution. A real Apple TV display! We will be delighted to be surprised.
We probably forgot something. We also have lots of suggestions for improvements to tvOS and software, but that is a subject for another time. What do you hope to see in the new Apple TV?
Apple is rumored to be planning a spring event so perhaps new TV hardware be announced here. What will the upgraded Apple TV box be called? Apple TV 4K SE? Apple TV 2020? Apple TV Arcade? The New Apple TV? Take your pick.