Earlier this week, Apple held a virtual WWDC 2020, which is their annual developer conference. Among the many announcements made were additions coming in tvOS 14, the next major software update for the Apple TV, later this year. Finally included is support for 4K video in YouTube, 4K AirPlay video support, audio sharing through AirPods, several HomeKit additions like security camera support, Picture-in-Picture, and more.
While not mentioned during Apple’s keynote presentation, one of the more significant updates coming to the Apple TV 4K is that it will finally support 4K video on YouTube. If you’re not an Apple TV user, it may come as a surprise that the device is still limited to just 1080p video on YouTube. This is because YouTube uses Google’s VP9 codec for 4K video, which the Apple TV does not support.
Assuming there hasn’t been a dormant vP9 hardware decoder in the Apple TV all this time, it’s not clear exactly how the streaming device will support 4K video on YouTube through a software update. As I see, support will come in one of three ways. Either the Apple TV’s A10X Fusion processer is powerful enough to decode VP9 video via software, or that processor is powerful enough to decode AV1 video via software, which is YouTube’s succor of choice to VP9 video, or YouTube has agreed to stream 4K video to the Apple TV in a video format that it supports, like H264 or H265 HEVC. We’ll have to wait and see which one it is, but there was no mention of HDR through YouTube, so it seems like 4K YouTube video will still be limited to SDR, regardless of how it is served/processed.
Apple is also expanding on the gaming capabilities of the Apple TV with the upcoming tvOS 14 update. The Apple TV already supports user switching for select streaming services and content, but now user switching will also affect games on the Apple TV as well. Multiple users in the same house will be able to select their profile to load their own progress in games. In addition to multi-user gaming, the update will also add support for Microsoft’s Xbox One Elite controller and the Xbox One Adaptive controller. The support for these two additional controllers comes on top of support for the regular Xbox One and PS4 controllers, which was added last year.
Apple will be integrating select capabilities from their Home app into the Apple TV’s control center, which you currently access by holding down the remote’s Home button. At the top of the control center will be your favorite security camera feed and below that is access to your favorite scenes, which are similar to Alexa Routines and can configure several smart home devices in a single click.
Apple is also adding support for Picture-in-Picture (PIP) video to the Apple TV. They say PIP is coming “across the entire Apple TV experience,” which could mean that it may work for all apps, unlike the Fire TV’s PIP support, which each app has to support individually and, therefore, hardly any apps do. PIP is currently only supported in the TV app, so this, at least, means it will work in any part of the device’s interface. PIP support works in tandem with the security camera HomeKit support being added to show you a PIP live feed of your camera when an alert activity, like a recognized face, occurs.
Other features coming with the update also include support for audio sharing. This will allow two sets of AirPods to connect simultaneously to the Apple TV so that two people can listen privately to the same video. Lastly, Apple is adding support for 4K Airplay video through the Photos app on iPhones and iPads. This will allow you to wirelessly cast your personal 4K videos to the Apple TV in their full resolution, which today is limited to 1080p.
The tvOS 14 update is available now as a developer beta with some of the new features mentioned above. The final public release will likely come this fall. The update will come to both the current 4th-gen Apple TV HD and the 5th-gen Apple TV 4K.