While it has invested heavily in its digital content services, such as the Apple TV app and the Apple TV + streaming subscription, the Apple TV hardware itself hasn’t exactly had much of an impact in recent years. The current 5th generation box, launched almost four years ago, only added support for 4K 2160p and not much else. An update is definitely overdue and may finally arrive soon. A new feature found in the latest tvOS 14.5 beta suggests this update, which in turn also means a major hardware update.
We are in an age when rapid update rates are no longer the exclusive domain of game monitors. Some TVs and especially smartphones have followed the trend to make things look buttery by supporting higher refresh rates. In 14 years of existence, the Apple TV box has only supported up to 60 Hz, but that may be changing in the model that will come out this year.
9to5Mac reports that tvOS 14.5 beta refers to 120 Hz refresh rates several times, a capability that no Apple TV has been able to do so far. Nor is it limited only by software, as it really needs the relevant hardware to make it happen. While any chip that powers Apple TV is likely to be able to control screens at that speed, the HDMI interface between Apple TV and the TV is not.
That’s because even the Apple TV of the 5th generation of 2017 only supports HDMI 2.0a, which reaches a maximum of 60 Hz, at least, for the highest resolution of 4K. 4K 120 Hz support will require HDMI 2.1, which may be the main hardware update this year’s Apple TV will bring.
The higher refresh rate, which requires a TV or monitor capable of doing that too, may make the Apple TV user interface appear more fluid, but its real benefit will be in games. Apple has been putting heavy pressure on its gaming assets, especially through the Apple Arcade subscription service, and the new Apple TV can fit perfectly into the grand scheme of things.