Apple Could Help Determine 4K Ultra HD Future

Apple Could Help Determine 4K Ultra HD Future

By Greg Tarr
Special to DEG

When Apple opted not to include 4K Ultra HD support in its last Apple TV media adapter two years ago, the move was viewed by many as a logical one considering the small percentage of 4K Ultra HDTV owners at the time, and Apple’s well-known reluctance to support incomplete technology trends.

The maker of the iPhone also lacked a suitable compression CODEC to both encode or decode 4K videos it might be thinking about offering owners of its vast iOS mobile device user base via iTunes or some possible future service. But that’s beginning to change.

In recent weeks, a series of moves by the technology giant began to make its plans for 4K Ultra HD video more apparent. When it does enter the market, the long-term viability of 4K and supporting high dynamic range (HDR) and wide color gamut (WCG) technologies should get more than just a boost from both big- and small-screen iOS applications.

Back on June 5, Apple revealed it would finally commit its support to the HEVC digital compression CODEC to address future iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs and possibly other devices. Currently the company commands a global market of some 1 billion active and enthusiastic iOS device owners, who are attuned to video viewing as never before.

Not included in its recent announcements were Apple’s plans for the evolution of iTunes or possibly the introduction of other digital services. But logic suggests that question will be answered soon. (The tech giant is expected to unveil the new version of its streaming media device at an event Sept. 12 and tout its compatibility with new 4K televisions, the Wall Street Journal reported last week. Apple wants to have major Hollywood films available 4K/UHD on the new device, expected to go on sale later this year, but has had difficulty coming to terms with the Hollywood studios about what to charge for 4K movies, WSJ reported.)

Myra Moore, principal of technology research firm Digital Tech Consulting, said, “We expect that Apple will offer 4K/UHD content through its iTunes service, or a streaming service.  What is not certain is in what form of distribution that will occur. Downloads, in theory, could result in viewers receiving content that better takes advantage of high-end 4K TVs with [high dynamic range, wide color gamut] and immersive audio because a download wouldn’t be as subjected to quality-of-experience problems that real-time streaming delivery presents when there isn’t sufficient bandwidth to consistently deliver all the UHD features.  If Apple takes ‘the high quality’ route and makes more full UHD content available, it could put pressure on other content-service providers — especially those with big pipes — to accelerate their UHD service offerings.”

Such a move would require Apple to re-encode its entire video library to take advantage of the 40 percent bitrate reduction that HEVC can save over the currently used H.264.

In its HEVC announcement, Apple suggested it would be adding HEVC support to a future Apple TV device, although the exact application or timing for introduction are still to be disclosed.

Apple followed its HEVC announcement several weeks later with the revelation that Walmart’s streaming video service Vudu has been added as a downloadable app for Apple TV devices. Movies won’t be available to rent via the app but users will be able to tap their existing Vudu libraries for playback via the media adapters.

Interestingly, Vudu was one of the first services to support 4K Ultra HD with Dolby Vision HDR streaming, making it a likely 4K app addition on the next Apple TV adapter. It also is the only streaming and download portal through which people can leverage the benefits of the Ultra Violet multimedia content locker.

Other intriguing reports have revealed that Apple is planning to invest heavily in producing its own original TV content to go up against streaming giants Netflix, Amazon and others. Those services now offer original 4K programming with HDR.

Whatever its plan for the development of original content or new streaming services, 4K Ultra HD will likely be a big part of it, and Apple is a proven paradigm changer.

As DTC’s Moore told us: “It could be a sleeping giant if it is able to effectively use its influence, cash, marketing power and relationships with content owners to develop a compelling service with the right mix of content and well-designed consumer interfaces.”

Greg Tarr is a freelance writer and Managing Editor of