While most of the focus on Apple leading up to its Sept. 12 product launch is on the iPhone, analysts also expect a nice surprise for television lovers: a 4K-compatible version of the Apple TV set-top box.
Apple declined to comment on rumor and speculation. But we took a look at what that feature would mean for the average consumer and answered some key questions below:
What is 4K?
Televisions with 4K are capable of displaying super-high-quality pictures. The term refers to the number of pixels — 4,000 — that can fit in a single horizontal line across a TV screen. Under this standard, the entire screen can have as many as 8 million pixels, which allows for more detail and depth of picture. Sets capable of displaying 4K and its higher-standard sibling format, 8K, are often referred to as ultrahigh definition, or UHD, screens.
On the flip side, 4K televisions have had problems displaying fast motion, which could make things appear blurry. (That explains why early demo reels always showed still or very slow images.) But TV manufacturers are addressing that with new technology that improves overall picture quality.
Hasn't this been around for a while? What's the logic of launching something new now?
TV manufacturers have been trying to make 4K the must-have feature for televisions for several years. But while there's been plenty of industry support for 4K — it is now the standard for projectionists, for example — it took a long time for consumers to sign on.
So while Apple's competitors in the TV space — such as Roku, Amazon and Google — have 4K-capable devices, only a handful of people were able to take advantage of them.
Then came 2016, a “banner year” for 4K television. TVs are getting much cheaper, said the Consumer Technology Association. And they're becoming more practical as TV makers work to remedy the biggest drawbacks of 4K televisions. With so many people buying 4K televisions, the number of sets in American households has nearly doubled, and it's projected to keep growing.
In other words, it's now worth it for every company looking at media — an important area for Apple — to get in on the game.
What does this mean for me?
If the rumors are true and Apple does release a 4K-compatible version of the Apple TV, it means that anyone with a 4K television can use it. It also means that Apple would carry films and shows shot in 4K on its iTunes store, which would give Apple TV customers even more stuff for them to take advantage of the better TV resolution.
If you don't have a 4K television, it actually doesn't mean that much right now. But it will mean that Apple TV will help you get the most out of your set when you do get a 4K television — and, based on how many TV makers are producing the technology, you almost certainly will.