Apple confirms that tvOS 14 will enable YouTube in 4K on Apple TV 4K. YouTube in 4K HDR is also enabled in iOS 14 on some iOS devices, via Google's VP9 codec that Apple has resisted for years.
YouTube 4K HDR on Apple devices
Three years after the launch of Apple TV 4K, the box will finally stream YouTube in 4K resolution starting this fall with the release of tvOS 14. Although not highlighted on stage at WWDC20, the company confirmed the news on its website.
- "Watch the latest YouTube videos in their full 4K glory. Your favorite music, slo‑mo, outdoor, and vlog footage never looked better," announced Apple.
Another surprising twist is that iOS 14 also enables YouTube in 4K, 60fps, and HDR on recent iPhone and iPad devices, according to users on reddit and social media. The twist is that iOS 14 is delivering YouTube's 4K HDR via Google's VP9 video codec that Apple has resisted for years.
Also read: Apple tvOS 14: Expanded multi-user, AirPlay 2, PiP & HomeKit
YouTube 4K60 HDR on iPhone with iOS 14 beta. Photo: Reddit user Squid04
Apple caves in
It is a strange turn of events and ultimately Apple has caved in. To be clear, Apple could have enabled Google's VP9 on iOS/tvOS/macOS several years ago. That is why the news of YouTube 4K support led to speculation that Apple had instead started its transition to the newer AV1 codec, developed by the Alliance for Open Media of which both Apple and Google are founding members. But that does not seem to be the case - at least not yet.
A quick summary: There are, roughly speaking, two ways to bring 4K streaming to your devices. Via the industry standard HEVC format or via Google's royalty-free VP9 format. Google has resisted using HEVC on YouTube, causing pains for some partners and users. Apple had resisted using VP9 in any form on any device, affecting video quality on YouTube. The third option is to use the next-generation AV1 format that Apple, Google and many others are backing. YouTube has already started transitioning to AV1 for 4K streaming as well as 8K streaming to 8K TVs.
VP9 was already supported on Android, recent Smart TVs, and in some PC browsers.
There are a couple of questions that remain unanswered. While some iPhone/iPad devices with iOS 14 support 4K HDR via VP9-2 (VP9 profile 2), it is not yet clear if Apple TV 4K will too. As you can see from its statement above, Apple mentions 4K for YouTube but makes no mention of HDR for YouTube on Apple TV 4K. The functionality is not yet enabled in the tvOS 14 beta either so we cannot check. Perhaps it will show up in a later tvOS 14 beta or perhaps it will require an update for the YouTube app - we will keep checking.
- Source: reddit, twitter