Although it has been investing heavily in its digital content services, like the Apple TV app and Apple TV+ streaming subscription, the Apple TV hardware itself hasn’t exactly seen much action in the past years. The current 5th generation box, which launched nearly four years ago, only added 4K 2160p support and not much else. A refresh is definitely long-overdue and might finally be coming soon. A new feature spotted in the latest beta for tvOS 14.5 hints at this upgrade which, in turn, also means a major hardware upgrade as well.
We are in an age where fast refresh rates are no longer the exclusive domain of gaming monitors. Some TVs and especially smartphones have caught up with the trend of making things look buttery smooth by supporting higher refresh rates. In the 14 years of its existence, the Apple TV box has supported only up to 60Hz but that could be changing in the model that will come out this year.
9to5Mac reports that tvOS 14.5 beta refers to 120Hz refresh rates multiple times, a capability that no Apple TV has been capable of so far. It isn’t something that is limited by software only, either, as it actually needs the relevant hardware to make it happen. While whatever chip that powers the Apple TV is most likely capable of controlling displays at that speed, the HDMI interface between Apple TV and TV isn’t.
That’s because even the 2017 5th gen Apple TV supports only HDMI 2.0a, which maxes out at 60Hz at least for the highest 4K resolution. Support 4K 120Hz will require HDMI 2.1, which could be the major hardware upgrade that this year’s Apple TV will bring.
The higher refresh rate, which requires a TV or monitor capable of that as well, could make the Apple TV UI look more fluid but its real benefit will be in gaming. Apple has been heavily pushing its gaming assets, especially via the Apple Arcade subscription service, and the new Apple TV might fall neatly into place in the grand scheme of things.