So Apple announced a new version of its Apple TV this week. Apple TV 4K. If the name does not give it away, then to sum up this new box – it is the same Apple TV as before but now with 4K (and HDR) support. Which is fairly revealing in itself. As there are already Android TV devices like the NVIDIA SHIELD 2017 and the Xiaomi Mi Box that support 4K. Although, they do not attach the 4K label to their name. As it is something you get bundled with the device for free – it is not the purpose of the device as it seems to be with the Apple TV 4K.
Besides the 4K support, it doesn't really seem like there is much else to discuss with this new TV box. The big selling point which everyone seems to be focusing on is that Apple will kindly not charge you more for the luxury of watching in 4K. So if you were to rent (or buy) a movie or TV show through Apple TV 4K, then you will pay the same price for the 4K version as you would for the HD version. Which presumably means that Apple does not intend to sell HD anymore as why would anyone opt to pay the same for a lesser quality – and therein is the catch.
While the whole purpose of this box is the consumption of 4K content, the rest of the world has yet to really catch on with 4K to the same degree. So as well as having the actual 4K box, and have rented/purchased 4K content, you will still need a 4K TV. While these are coming down in price, it stands to reason that most consumers who are using a TV that is of a certain age, or costs a certain amount, will not be able to watch in 4K – even if they have an Apple TV 4K box and have paid for 4K content. For those who do have all of those bases covered, there is still the issue of your internet. Providing you have a stable enough internet connection, some will certainly have a data cap concern to deal with. Take AT&T for instance. If you get your home internet from AT&T, are lucky enough to live in one of their better covered areas, and are willing to pay more, then you probably have a data cap of approximately 1024GB (1TB) per month in place. If that is the case, then plug in your new Apple TV 4K box and start watching some of the 4K content that Apple is kindly making more accessible.
For example, Consumer Reports fairly recently (Oct. 2016) put together a report on this very topic. Using data provided by research firm Frost & Sullivan, the report details how 4K content can consume anywhere between 7 and 10GB per hour. So one 90 minute movie will consume between 10.5GB and 15GB, a two-hour movie, 14GB to 20GB. The report goes on to suggest that this equates to 100 hours of 4K content per month, or 3.33 hours per day – based on the higher GB figures. While that might sound like a lot, if you then thrown two Apple TV 4Ks in one home into the equation, suddenly those figures decrease by half. With each box able to consume less than two-hours of 4K content per day – one movie per day. While that still might sound OK to some, for every day you go above those limits (those weekend binges), you have to deduct a relative number of days to come back within your monthly allowance. Still sounds doable right? But here is the other kicker. Apple also kindly announced that they will automatically upgrade any HD purchases you own to 4K, when a 4K version becomes available. So not only is Apple removing any incentive for you to use less data when buying or renting in the future (HD cost vs UHD cost), but it is also encouraging you to eat through any data cap you might have with titles you already own. Which can become costly. Below shows the current AT&T home internet prices with the added notation that for every 50GB above that 1TB cap you eat through, you will pay a further $10.
Keeping in mind that the figures listed in the last paragraph are solely relevant to the 4K video content you consume through one (or two 4K TV boxes). If you happen to own a PS4, or any other data-demanding devices (chances are you do if you happen to be considering a 4K TV box and own a 4K TV), then all of those devices will be eating through that data cap at the same time. So while the headline announcement on Apple TV 4K caught the attention of most, for a significant number of people, this is unlikely to be something that is – as of right now – an actual selling point. Unless you happen to be one of the very few that tick all the right boxes (own a 4K TV, have a reliable enough connection to stream 4K, have unlimited data to account for 4K usage, and of course have an absolute need for 4K content to begin with), then you might actually be better off with the now-cheaper (older) Apple TV device.
To not come across as too Android-biased in this respect, this is not to say that what Apple announced in regards to 4K is a bad thing. Far from it. The announcement itself is good and actually quite forward-thinking. But that is the issue with it, as it is forward-thinking for a box they are selling today. One that costs more than the original, and one that will soon enough be replaced by a newer box. So while it is good that Apple announced what it did, to do so as the sole purpose of the product is a bit much. What would have been better would be Apple announcing other feature and spec upgrades with this as a side feature – which is arguably what Android TV has and is in the process of doing. 4K support is something that is probably now considered to be a standard feature for Android TV boxes – and yet if you ask Android TV users, they will probably tell you Google is barely supporting the platform. In contrast, Apple announces one box with 4K support, and the market loses its mind.