Apple's television plans revealed -- a fantasy

January 14, 2013 8:17 AM EST

I've been thinking about how Apple [AAPL] might kick back against Samsung's smart television move when it is time for the company to (perhaps) introduce its branded Apple television set -- and I think it's possible the company will take a step beyond HD to Ultra HD should it take such a step.

Apple's Ultra HD Apple television

Clamor on all channels

There's been lots of chatter claiming the company's future television set will be huge -- over 50-inches of Apple-branded screen real estate perched prettily in the corner of your room. Why might you need such a huge display?

There have also been claims the new television will have seamless support for iTunes, along with a series of additional connected services (hopefully including the capacity to access video from third-party services such as Netflix); support for apps, and more.

But what makes this different from any of the other smart television solutions that are hitting the market at the moment?

You might have heard some of the speculation the television will be easy to navigate, offering a combination of remote controlled, spoken word and -- possibly -- gesture-based instruction. In conjunction with Apple's experience in the development of simple users interfaces on its iDevice range, you should find these things extremely easy to navigate.

Before he died, Steve Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson:

"I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use," he told me. "It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud." No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. "It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it."

Samsung seems to have done its best to implement similarly consumer-focused user controls on its latest range of televisions, of course, so what else might Apple be offering?

There's been many claims Apple is in negotiation with Sharp to use the Japanese firm's advanced displays (IGZO) in its devices. These displays are being touted for their thinness (so we can expect these new televisions to be the thinnest around), and for their economical use of power.

Apple's revolution in resolution

However my vision for Apple's television future says there's more to the Sharp connection than meets the eye, and I'm going to explain what this might be later in this tract.

Sharp last week introduced two new televisions and one computer monitor, showing these at tradeshow, CES.

These displays made use of the IGZO displays Apple has reportedly been speaking to the company about.

These displays respond to touch, but, more importantly, they deliver a huge number of pixels -- enough pixels, in fact, for you to watch shows transmitted in Ultra HD, using the up and coming HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) format, which seems set for ratification as an industry standard at an international meeting scheduled to be held in Geneva later this month.

If you were in the UK and caught any of the public screenings of the Olympics opening ceremony last year, you'll have seen the kind of high-quality broadcasts HEVC is capable of.

HEVC/H.265 supports resolutions up to 8,192-x-4,320 and delivers double the data compression ratio of H.264. Where H.264 supports a maximum macroblock of 16-x-16 pixels, HEVC delivers up to 64-x-64 pixels.

What it does

The video standard also offers "internal bit depth increase", which means images can be internally processed at a bit depth higher than that with which they are encoded.

Manageable file sizes can be attributed to the standard's high-quality imaging support in conjunction with a far lower bitrate in comparison with earlier codecs. HEVC is also optimized for parallel processing, meaning you can decode different parts of the media simultaneously.

Put more simply, HEVC enables transmission of HD video streams at half the bit rate, (and half the bandwidth and half the storage) of existing formats.

Adoption of the standard -- and RealNetworks, Rovio, Samsung, Sony and many others are already moving to deliver software, services and/or devices that support it -- means we are on the edge of seeing UltraHD quality video assets made available online, on disks and via broadcast channels. Though of course it will take time until all these elements are widely available.

Once shows in the format become widely available we can anticipate home cinema experiences at qualities we haven't really seen before.

In progress

What's key to my vision is that Apple's iPad already supports HEVC, albeit a pre-ratified version of the standard. In other words, Apple's on it.


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