Apple has long called its Apple TV set-top box a "hobby," but that's starting to change. Not only is that hobby selling over 5 million units a year, but it also seems central to Apple's next move: into the living room. Rumors have it that there's a new version of the Apple TV coming soon that will add exciting new features that transforms the TV from a hobby into a full-fledged entertainment system.
This page will track the rumors about the 4th generation Apple TV. Rather than including every single rumor, it will just offer the ones that seem most likely to come true—which will provide you the best idea of what to expect. I'll update the page as developments warrant.
Last Updated: March 2, 2014
What is the Apple TV 4: An HDTV or a Set-Top Box?
There have been a lot of rumors in the last few years about Apple releasing its own HDTV with Internet features built in. While that product may someday appear, that's not the Apple TV 4.
Virtually every rumor indicates that the new Apple TV will be another set-top box, similar to the hockey puck-style device currently available. It's not hard to imagine that the new model will be somewhat bigger, though, based on some of the other rumored features (more on that in a bit).
The Apple TV streams virtually all of its content—music, TV, movies—from your iCloud account. Because of that, the storage capacity of the device doesn't matter very much. The current model's 8 GB of storage is there primarily for the OS and to cache streaming content.
It seems reasonable to expect that the new model will have more storage (increased resolutions for video will require more space), but it may not be a tremendous amount. The one thing that could change this is games. If the Apple TV 4 has games, it will need to store them locally (rather than in the cloud) and that can take up a lot of room.
4K is the new standard in high-definition video. The current top-level resolution, 1080p, is a 1920x1080 image. On the other hand, 4K is 3840x2160, twice the resolution of 1080p. Needless to say, 4K delivers a much more detailed and rich picture. That standard isn't widely used yet (though Netflix does stream some movies in 4K) since it's only just coming to TV sets, but it's possible that the new Apple TV will be prepared for the future by supporting 4K resolution.
DVRs like TiVO allow users to record shows to watch later. One of the most persistent rumors about the Apple TV 4 is that it will include a DVR of some kind. That may be true, though the latest rumors suggest that the if it does, users will store the shows they record in the cloud rather than on the Apple TV itself.
A La Carte Cable
Early rumors about Apple's HDTV product suggested that it would allow users to subscribe only to the cable channels that they watch, rather than paying for a bundle of channels that they don't want, as cable companies require today. That possibility seems to be dead for now; too much resistance from broadcasters and cable companies (it would damage their businesses too much) seems to have killed it.
Apple adds new channels to the Apple TV all the time, so it's not unreasonable to expect that the Apple TV 4 will launch with some new channels. What's more interesting and unknown is whether the new box will allow users to install their own apps. That's generally a toss-up, though there's one kind of app that it seems likely users will be able to add: games.
With the iOS having become the dominant mobile gaming platform over the last few years, it seems natural that games would come to the living room via the Apple TV 4. Expect to see games that users can download from a built-in App Store.
One recent rumor has suggested that the new Apple TV will have the ability to connect to cable systems. This would allow the Apple TV to replace cable boxes and provide both traditional TV and Internet-based features in a single device. Time Warner cable was rumored to be the launch partner for this version of the device. However, with the proposed merger of Time Warner and Comcast, the likelihood of that is much murkier.
Built in AirPort
Apple recently combined its Time Machine wireless backup system with an AirPort wireless router, taking what used to be two products and making it one. There's a chance that the Apple TV 4 will do the same, putting a wireless router into the TV for convenience and signal boosting.
The current Apple TV is US$99, a price point that seems to be turning into an industry standard for these devices. It's certainly possible that the new model will be more expensive, but I wouldn't expect it to cost too much more.
This is the big mystery. Observers have been expecting to see a new Apple TV for nearly two years. The most believable rumors right now suggest that we'll finally be able to stop waiting in Spring 2014. Some say, though, that it won't arrive until Christmas.