After years of rumors and speculation from financial analysts, the mysterious Apple television set, nicknamed iTV, may finally be in development. New efforts by the company to build a core iTV team and reach necessary content agreements, along with new breakthroughs in LCD panel technology and broadband video distribution, suggest that the time is finally right.
The company just hired a cable industry veteran as engineering director, and has recently promoted an open position of product marketing director on LinkedIn, where Apple has over 1 million followers. Meanwhile, a TV industry source has informed HD Guru that Apple has begun directly recruiting U.S. management of the top Korean and Japanese TV makers.
"Apple is looking for a dynamic, highly motivated Product Manager to join the Worldwide Product Marketing team," reads the job ad that the company recently re-posted on LinkedIn. "Bring your passion and market expertise in home electronics, audio and video, and help shape the future of how people will enjoy their movies, TV shows, music and home media."
These are the most significant signs yet that a team is being assembled to realize the vision Steve Jobs related to his biographer, Walter Isaacson, when he said Apple "has finally cracked it" — created a formula for a TV that could leapfrog the television giants Samsung, LG and Panasonic in its abilities and ease of use.
A recent report by Bloomberg indicates Apple may be near to making a deal with Time Warner Cable to provide programming for Apple products. Besides experienced personnel, this kind of deal is crucial if Apple wants to modernize TV watching. Google attempted to offer Web-sourced shows on a TV set, and even had partnerships with the likes of Sony and Logitech, yet despite the hardware and software innovation, its Google TV failed to gain traction without content deals.
The third component of the iTV formula is technology, and given the developments in LCD panels and in broadband video distribution, the timing appears to be working in Apple's favor.
For the company that coined the phrase "Retina display" to indicate a screen whose pixels are too small to be seen, it's only fitting that Apple would look to Ultra High Definition LCD panels, which are just about ready for prime time. A large screen equivalent of the Retina display, these screens have 3840 x 2160 resolution (also known as 4K), four times the pixels of a standard 1080p HDTV.
Industry researchers say that panel pricing by the first quarter of 2014 will only be 20 percent higher than the equivalent 1920 x 1080 LCD panel. Prices for name-brand Ultra HD TVs in the most popular screen sizes have already dropped by over 33 percent since introduction, and Chinese TV maker Seiki is about to sell a 65-inch set for under $3,000 in the U.S.
The most popular large-screen TV size is 55 inches, so it would be logical that Apple would offer one in that size. However, given the high availability of certain other LCD panel sizes, it's also possible that Apple would aim to build a 39-inch, dual-use monitor/TV, and a larger-screen set, probably a 65-incher.
Deals with cable providers wouldn't just be about content. Because they are also major Internet service providers, Apple may be making deals to send streaming content — including Ultra HD programming — to owners of its televisions. Currently, Sony is the only television company to offer Ultra HD content, but that must be downloaded and stored for viewing on a hard drive media player for future playback.
"Getting high-quality content into homes is easier when you are closer to those homes," Richard Doherty, research director of the Envisioneering Group, told HD Guru. "Netflix has placed servers at leading cable companies' head ends. We believe Apple is employing a similar approach." (A "head end" is the distribution node of a cable network that is closest to the homes themselves.)
With all the pieces appearing to fall into place, Apple could reasonably ship its Ultra HD iTV — and correlating service — in the summer or fall of 2014. We have contacted Apple, which typically does not discuss future products, and will update if we receive a comment.
From HD Guru: