Apple video service

The new Apple TV embargo has lifted and The Verge’s Nilay Patel notes a couple of interesting tidbits about the new set-top box in his review.

Firstly, the surprising lack of Dolby Atmos will apparently be rectified in a future software update (although Apple didn’t share a timeline). Perhaps more shockingly, the native YouTube app for the Apple TV doesn’t support 4K or HDR playback …

Apple TV 4K is easily the most expensive smart set-top TV box there is, starting at $179 for the 32 GB model. It also boasts the most powerful internals, featuring a A10 Fusion chip for iPad Pro level graphics and CPU performance.

However, one strange omission in the current offering (Apple TV 4K starts shipping to customers tomorrow) is the lack of Dolby Atmos surround sound. Atmos is arguably the best consumer home theater audio setup currently available, building on top of Dolby 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound.

However, the Apple TV 4K box does not support it. It supports the Dolby Vision 4K video format, but not its audio counterpart. The Verge says they asked Apple about this and the lack of support is not a hardware limitation and that Atmos sound would be added in future (‘support is on the roadmap’).

The YouTube revelation is more fundamental, although there is a technical reason backing it. The Apple TV supports H.264, HEVC and MP4 video formats. YouTube serves 4K HDR video in the open-source VP9 format.

As a result, Apple TV 4K users will find that the YouTube app can only output upscaled 1080p. The ever-growing 4K YouTube video library is not available to Apple TV users.

Either Apple needs to add VP9 decoding to the Apple TV or Google needs to upgrade the YouTube backend to serve compatible video streams to Apple users. Given the two company’s frosty relations, who knows if that will ever happen.

(The 4K YouTube issue also affects Safari on macOS and iOS too, by the way.)

Read The Verge’s full review for more details on the functionality and limitations of the Apple TV’s varied format support.

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Benjamin Mayo

Benjamin develops iOS apps professionally and covers Apple news and rumors for 9to5Mac. Listen to Benjamin, every week, on the Happy Hour podcast. Check out his personal blog. Message Benjamin over email or Twitter.