Talk of a new Apple TV has been swirling around for a while now. Apple's next set-top box streamer is tipped to support 120Hz frame rates, come with a redesigned Siri remote and a built-in HomePod speaker, and even to double as a high-end games console. Of course, Apple has yet to breathe a word of this to anyone but there are plenty of reliable rumours to go by. Here's everything you need to know about the new Apple TV...
The current (5th generation) Apple TV 4K box was unveiled way back in 2017, so it's due a revamp. It remains a great option for those who want to stream content from the likes of Apple TV+ and Netflix in 4K HDR, but it's also starting to look a little dated and is stuck with Apple's ageing A10 processor.
Cue the rumoured (6th gen) Apple TV box, which is set to take full advantage of the multi-billion-dollar streaming industry established by the likes of Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, Paramount+, Disney+ and of course, Apple TV+.
So will Cupertino's next Apple TV boast the same speedy Apple A14 Bionic chip as the iPhone 12? Could Apple's set-top "box" be relaunched as a sleek, Fire TV-style streaming stick?
Join us as we cast a critical eye over some of the more reliable Apple TV rumours.
New Apple TV release date
Noted Apple tipster Jon Prosser and famed Chinese leaker "Kang" were both convinced that the new Apple TV would break cover on Tuesday 23rd March 2021 at an Apple event held virtually on the company's YouTube channel.
That date came and went, leading analysts to believe that Apple had delayed the launch of the new Apple TV until April (at the earliest, mind).
That ties in with a recent comment by Apple CEO Tim Cook who said that the company's updated iOS 14.5, tvOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 software is "several weeks away." It's a good bet that Apple will reveal the new Apple TV alongside the new tvOS user interface, not to mention the new iPad interface in tandem with the new iPad Pro 2021.
The latest? Apple is said to be holding an event on 20th April, which could serve as the launchpad for the new Apple TV. This could also see the grand unveiling of the AirPods 3 wireless earbuds and the long-awaited AirTags location GPS trackers.
Apple hasn't confirmed any of this, naturally, but we'll keep you posted if and when the latest leaks, tips and tweets give us a better steer on the new Apple TV launch date.
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New Apple TV price
The current Apple TV 4K costs £179 ($179, AU$249) for the 32GB version and £199 ($199, AU$279) for the 64GB model.
That's a pretty steep price given that you can pick up the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and the Roku Streaming Stick+ for around £50 each (that's around $50, AU$80). Meanwhile, the Google Chromecast with TV can be yours for £69 ($50, AU$99).
With the competition hotting up, could Apple cut the price of the new Apple TV and go toe-to-toe with the new breed of 4K streaming dongles? Maybe. Tech tipster Jon Prosser has speculated that the Apple TV could cost as little as $149 (around £110, AU$200) – although he has also said that Apple could raise the price.
Considering that Apple is wholly focused on premium products at premium prices, and is said to be planning a $3000 mixed reality headset, our money's on a high-end, feature-packed Apple TV device that could potentially function as both a high-end 4K media streamer and a top-notch video games console.
New Apple TV gaming and spec
There's plenty of evidence that points to the existence of the new Apple TV. The first hint was spotted back in the 2020 release of the tvOS 13.4 beta code (via 9to5Mac), which referenced a prototype Apple TV codenamed "T1125".
Since then tech watchers have concluded that Apple has delayed the launch of the new Apple TV several times in order to boost its spec. With anticipation higher than ever, a recent Bloomberg report appeared to confirm an Apple TV hardware for 2021.
That story quickly spawned a slew of speculative concept images that float the idea of a new Apple TV remote and a possible "Apple TV Pro" (courtesy of 9to5Mac).
According to the most credible industry-watchers, the new set-top box will boast improved Siri functionality, faster performance, and a revised remote control. We're also hearing that Apple will offer two storage capacities: 64GB and 128GB.
There has also been mention of built-in sonic abilities. According to Bloomberg's sources, the next model could have a built-in HomePod (that's Apple's smart speaker which it retired last month, leaving only the HomePod Mini in Apple's sonic arsenal). The sources also mentioned a built-in camera for TV-based video calls.
One of the most talked about rumours right now is that the new Apple TV boasts an "A14X" Bionic chipset, which could deliver console-like performance. That ties in with a tweet from well-known tech tipster Ice Universe (@UniverseIce), who claimed the new Apple TV could give dedicated games consoles a run for their money.
Then again, other leakers claim that Apple has settled on the 2019 A12 Bionic chip.
One explanation for the discrepancy is that Apple is working on multiple Apple TV set-top boxes, and plans to launch both a miniature Apple TV "lite" – possibly in the form of a dongle that plugs into the back of your TV – and a high-end Apple TV "Pro" box, focused on gaming.
Apple was slow to enter the gaming arena, but the release of the current (5th gen) Apple TV 4K saw Cupertino team up with acclaimed developer Thatgamecompany to boost the Apple Arcade games subscription service. Last year Apple went a step further and opened up its app store to other "Netflix for games"-type services, including Microsoft xCloud.
That all ties in nicely with the recent rumour that the next Apple TV will support 120Hz frame rates (the current models support 4K@60Hz at best). Perhaps Apple wants its user interface to run incredibly smoothly? Another explanation is that the new Apple TV could run games at 4K@120Hz resolution.
That being said, let's not forget the Apple TV's true purpose: to boost Apple's standing in the (increasingly competitive) world of movie and TV streaming. The current box already supports Dolby Vision HDR, but we'd like to see Apple expand its horizons and add support for HDR10+. Better yet, we'd like it to support AV1 – the format that’s gaining traction with streaming services, particularly for 8K.
Meanwhile, on sound, it seems highly likely that any new Apple TV device would support Apple's Spatial Audio tech, which highly effectively simulates Dolby Atmos sound through a pair of AirPods Max or AirPods Pro headphones. Particularly if that built-in HomePod rumour is true.
If the rumours of beefed up performance are true, there's no reason why we couldn't see the new Apple TV become one of the best high-quality media streamers round.
But in yet another plot twist, Nvidia is said to be halting production of its Tegra X1 Mariko System-on-Chip, the processor in the Nvidia Shield. The high-end streaming box is considered the Apple TV's direct competitor. Could Nvidia be about to go to war with Apple with a next-gen version of the Shield?
New Apple TV smart home features
Better smart home integration is on the cards, too. That makes sense given that Apple merged its HomePod smart speaker and Apple TV departments last year. Word is, the integration will allow users to control the new Apple TV by speaking out loud, rather than having to speak directly into the Apple TV remote.
It's fair to say Apple's Siri isn't quite as smart as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, the leading virtual assistant. Could we see the new Apple TV bring enhanced AI that would allow Siri to learn your tastes and alert you when a movie or TV show you'd like airs? Perhaps Siri will commandeer your HomePod Mini to provide a more immersive audio experience? Fingers crossed.
New Apple TV remote control
The Apple TV's Siri-enabled remote control is a mixed bag. In our review, we called it "really rather clever" but noted that the touch controls could be "a bit skittish".
No surprise, then, that Apple is tipped to launch the new Apple TV with a revised and upgraded remote. Indeed, 9to5Mac recently claimed to have "learned that Apple is developing a new Remote for Apple TV", and MacRumours spotted that Apple has erased all mentions of "Siri Remote" from its tvOS14.5 beta, replacing it with the name "Apple TV Remote".
Something is afoot, that's for sure. More recently, 9to5Mac has suggest that the new remote could be specifically aimed at US cable TV subscribers. The oversized remote is said have a navigation wheel, a thin glass top and extra buttons for selecting a numbered TV channel and so on. We'd take this one with a pinch of salt, but time will tell.
According to earlier reports, the new wand will boast a "find my remote" feature, should it slip down the back of the sofa. Other – less credible – rumours tip the remote for TouchID fingerprint scanner, which would allow you to buy movies, TV shows and games, or log into your Apple Arcade account, with ease. We can't rule it out but the same rumour has been circulating since 2015.
There's even talk of Apple bringing FaceID to the new Apple TV to authorise purchases and load individual user profiles for every family member. Will Apple add a camera to the new Apple TV? Given the recent boom in video calls, it's not impossible.
New Apple TV initial verdict
With the Apple TV app now available on Apple, Amazon Fire TV, Roku and Xbox devices, not to mention smart TVs, some have predicted the demise of the Apple TV. After all, why buy a £150 set-top box when you can use Apple TV app for free?
However, if the rumours are correct, and the new Apple TV packs a major performance upgrade, it could boast impressive 4K@120Hz gaming prowess and state-of-the-art 4K HDR streaming support.
We could even see the new Apple TV launch alongside a string of exclusive new Apple TV+ shows including, possibly, a TV series based on the life of Steve Jobs. After all, the service is on a commissioning push, looking to ramp up production to rival Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Watch this space – we'll update you as soon as any further Apple TV news breaks.
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