Evidence has been found in code for Apple’s next big round of software updates – including for iOS on phones, iPadOS on tablets, macOS on Macs and, of course, tvOS on Apple TV 4K – that Apple will support the next-gen AV1 video format on its devices in the future.
AV1 has one major advantage: it’s more efficient than current video codecs (a ‘codec’ is the algorithm by which a video is encoded for streaming, and then decoded for viewing). This means you use less data to stream video at the same quality, or you can use the same amount of data to stream even higher-quality video, such as supporting 8K without using masses of data.
AV1 is used by YouTube for all of its 8K videos, and Netflix has expressed a wish to switch to AV1 for all streaming in the future, to reduce bandwidth use. At the moment, it’s not supported on Apple devices at all.
But as spotted by Codeworkshop.net (opens in new tab) (via FlatpanelsHD (opens in new tab)), the AVFoundation framework in Apple software, which enables developers to tell the software which codec a video will use, now includes an AV1 option in the tvOS/iOS/iPad 16 beta.
This is a very strong hint that Apple will support AV1 in its next updates, though we’ve asked Apple for confirmation, and will update if the company responds.
Analysis: Will the Apple TV 4K support 8K?
While having AV1 support will be great on all devices for reducing data use when watching videos on the go especially, or improving streaming quality for those on a poor connection at home, the big question for us is whether the current Apple TV 4K will be able to support its 8K capabilities, or whether the much-rumored new Apple TV (2022) will be needed to support 8K.
There are two big questions over this. The first is the HDMI port on the current Apple TV 4K. It’s already an HDMI 2.1 port, which means the connection itself can handle 8K at up to 60fps. However, as noted by iMore (opens in new tab), the Apple TV 4K doesn’t actually make full use of HDMI 2.1’s higher bandwidth, which would make 8K impossible as it stands. Think of it this way: the pipe is large enough to handle the flow of 8K, but the pump isn’t strong enough to fill the pipe.
Could Apple upgrade the pump? The article above is from 2021, but as far as we’re aware, Apple hasn’t done it so far, so it may be that there’s some hardware limitation other than the HDMI port that’s stopping it. Again, we’ve asked Apple to confirm if it would be possible, and will update if we hear back.
The second question is the A12 chip that powers the Apple TV 4K. Apple’s chips haven’t included hardware decoding support for AV1 in the past, which means there can be no ultra-fast, ultra-efficient decoding of this video type run on a dedicated portion of the chip. Instead, it will have to done ‘in software’, which means using the general processing power of the chip to decode the video.
The Apple A12 chip is nearly four years old, so the concern is whether it has enough power to decode 8K video in real-time.
These concerns may fit with the main rumor about the new Apple TV that’s said to launch later this year or early next year: that its biggest change internally will be a newer A14 processor with more RAM. This might give it the power for AV1 decoding, and it could also be the processor that’s held back the ability to make full use of the HDMI 2.1 port.
It might be a while before any of this comes to fruition, but if you’ve got one of the best 8K TVs and have been hoping for more support, Apple is at least one step closer to helping you out.