Is a 4K UHD 5th-generation Apple TV box on the way for 2016?

by on October 8, 2016

Stephan Jukic – October 8, 2016

Apple has now officially axed its old and by now rather dated third generation Apple TV HD model set-top box. With this cutting off of the device, only the flagship fourth-generation model remains and it too is behind the innovation curve compared to the competition. In other words, the pressure is really mounting on Apple to finally release a 4K Apple TV.

In 2015, the majority of the first 4K UHD set-top boxes started emerging on the home entertainment technology market and even with these earlier releases of boxes like the Roku 4, Amazon Fire 4K TV box and even the Nvidia Shield, Apples Full HD set-top platform was made to look rather outdated in a number of key ways. It was perhaps saved from more derision on the marketplace by the sheer brand weight that the Apple logo brings to nearly any consumer product but now in late 2016, with the continuing arrival of even more set-top boxes which now nearly all come with support for 4K resolution and even HDR –particularly premium models like the new Roku Ultra- the Apple TV platform whose original basis was the first ever 2012 model has really started to look like a product which is behind the cutting edge of digital video streaming technology.


Yes, Apple released various generations of the device between 2012 and 2015, culminating in the last late 2015 fourth-gen model with much more power than the first version, but even with these updates, by this point in 2016, we were looking at a set-top box which is not only nearly a year past its last major overhaul to a fifth generation version but also lacking in the most modern and increasingly must-have specs of 4K ultra HD resolution support and HDR compatibility which most of the new 2016 set-top boxes now come with. To top the negatives for the Apple TV off, the current flagship fourth generation version of the box isn’t cheap either. Despite its lack of 4K and HDR, it still manages to cost more than the Amazon Fire TV box, the Roku 4, the Roku Ultra, Roku Premiere Plus and this despite (like we already said but it’s worth repeating) the fact that all of these boxes offer better content options and do so in both 4K and HDR.

Thus, we now come to the current situation, in which Apple has decided to scrap the third-generation TV box but is still sticking with the fourth-generation model and at the same high prices of between $149 and $199, at least for now.

However, the market signs of an upcoming fifth-generation box which does indeed support 4K video are becoming more visible. Furthermore, the pressure on Apple itself keeps mounting.

Even when the fourth Apple TV box came out in late 2015, consumer and reviewer complaints around it mainly involved the device’s lack of 4K support coupled with its high price. Apple dodged the 4K complaint by claiming that the relative rarity of 4K TVs and content made a UHD version of the box unfeasible for the time being but now a repeat of these same claims is basically dead in the water.

In 2016, 4K UHD content is still low in volume compared to conventional Full HD video sources on the web and off it but the tide is turning and 4K TVs themselves are now fully mainstream, with predictions for the end of 2016 claiming that a full 40% of all larger (50 inch+) TVs sold in the U.S will have been models with UHD display.

And as we’d said above, there’s the embarrassing issue of the competition. Given Apple’s (not always valid) reputation for being an innovator and cutting-edge player in the consumer technology markets it operates in, the Apple TV box has not only thoroughly been outgunned by a majority of rival set-top devices it has now has even been beaten by the tiny and much cheaper Chromecast Ultra streaming thumb drive in terms of 4K/HDR support.

Even Google's new Chromecast Ultra streaming stick now comes with 4K support while Apple TV doesn't

Even Google’s new Chromecast Ultra streaming stick now comes with 4K support while Apple TV doesn’t

Thus we arrive to what we think is very likely under these circumstances. Quite simply, Apple won’t take its increasing weakness in this particular market segment laying down. The elimination of the third-generation Apple TV was a needed step for a badly outdated device and the fourth generation Apple TV version is definitely overdue for replacement as a flagship model from Apple.

It then stands to reason that Apple will replace the fourth-generation box very soon –quite likely before this year finishes—and if it does indeed go through with putting out a fifth-generation model, it will pretty much have to include 4K and HDR if the company doesn’t want to look somewhat ridiculous in avoiding the technology. One other benefit for HDTV owners who don’t care about a 4K set-top box quite yet would be a nearly guaranteed and sharp decrease in the price of the fourth generation box right after a hypothetical 4K UHD fifth-generation Apple TV release.

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  • Quasar
    October 8, 2016 at 9:39 pm

    Can’t say I see it happening anytime soon. Only reason Apple would is if they wanted to start selling 4k video content on iTunes.


  • Hugh Massengill, Eugene
    October 9, 2016 at 4:36 am

    Two thoughts.
    1) I have the latest Apple TV, but rarely use it but for podcasts. I do like Netflix in 4K. I would buy a new 4K Apple tv.
    2) Comcast has instituted caps in Oregon, my home state. So even if Apple comes out with a great 4K box, I cannot fully utilize it with Sling or other providers as I will continually run into the 1 Gig cap. I think Apple and other companies need to directly compete with Comcast and the other monopolies and find a way to get high speed to consumers without caps. Apple has the expertise and money, as does Intel and Microsoft.
    Hugh Massengill, Eugene


    • Dan
      December 19, 2016 at 7:41 am

      Actually, you probably won’t use up the 1GB cap because all existing 4K streaming uses a compression technique that allows for less bandwidth use than would normally be required. This means that streaming UHD content will use less data from your allowed amount. This is why current 4K UHD streaming only requires 18Mbps 😉


  • John
    December 25, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    Great points. I would also say most streaming services are not doing it well. That is the codec is doing a disservice to what uhd and hdr can do. Watch side by side with uhd hdr bluray and there is no competition. The reviewers need to step up On the quality of the source just as much as what the boxes can do.

    Personally I think a lot of content could be helped more with hdr then 4K.


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