Two years on, we're FINALLY getting a 4K-capable upgrade, plus HDR support. Behold, Apple TV 4K!
As well as a UHD-supporting, max resolution of 2160p, there'll be support for HDR (High Dynamic Range) video, with both HDR10 and the sophisticated Dolby Vision on board.
The Apple TV 4K pricing is £179/$179 for 32GB and £199/$199 for 64GB and it'll be available for pre-order on 15 September and the Apple TV 4K release date is 22 September.
Apple TV 4K and HDR support including iTunes
iTunes now features 4K HDR movies and will upgrade all the compatible titles to 4K HDR automatically. That means that if you have purchased an HD movie in the past, it will be upgraded to 4K at no further cost, which is rather generous.
Apple TV 4K will also offer 4K HDR content from Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in the near future.
Apple was keen to point out that more local services will come to the platform this time, and we'll bring you more details of those in due course. It appears sports are a key element of this, so it's possible we might get a tie-up with BT Sport or Sky in the UK, although we have zero confirmation of this as yet.
Apple TV 4K specs
Apple TV 4K uses Apple's own A10X Fusion chip from the iPad Pro. HD content is upscaled to 4K and Apple TV will output at the highest resolution possible depending on your display.
As we mentioned there's support for both Dolby Vision and HDR10. Apple TV auto-detects the setup of your 4K TV.
Apple TV 4K also features support for AirPlay 2, coming later this year - Apple TV 4K can be used to control multiple AirPlay 2-compatible speakers.
As with the existing Apple TV, Apple TV 4K can act as a home hub for all of your HomeKit accessories, enabling remote access and automated control.
Siri and the Apple TV app
The Apple TV app enables you to browse content from different online video services without switching between apps. As well as the US, the TV app will be available in Australia and Canada during September.
By the end of the year, it will expand to France, Germany, Norway, Sweden and -
yes - the UK. So expect more local services to be announced at that time.
Providing the relevant service is available, you'll be able to watch live sport simply by asking for the relevant game. You can also ask Siri for 4K movies only, for example.
What else Apple launched
At its Special Event, Apple also announced the release of some other new software and hardware.
Here are all the rumours we reported on earlier
The Apple TV 4K, as the box is sure to be called informally and pretty likely to be called officially, will boast a triple-core A10X Fusion processor and 3GB of RAM, which is not a million miles away from what an iPad Pro or Mac Mini has in its innards.
That's unless all this week's leaks turn out to be some wild double bluff strategy by Apple.
One slight downer: you'll need a quick (by UK standards) broadband connection to enjoy 4K streaming – about 15Mbps is mooted.
It would be bizarre indeed if Apple left the provision of 4K material to Netflix, so we also anticipate the arrival of 4K movies and TV shows at the iTunes Store.
As iTunes material can usually be downloaded to your laptop or iOS device (or perhaps internal storage on the Apple TV itself), this potentially reduces the bandwidth requirements a tad.
Apple TV: the story so far
Apple TV was announced to the world on September 2006 - more then ten years ago now - with the working name of iTV (which was eventually dropped due to a certain British broadcaster). However, the first model didn't start shipping until March 2007.
There have been plenty of milestones since then: in January 2008 a software update meant the Apple TV could operate as a standalone device for the first time, then a much smaller, second-generation model appeared in September 2010, this time running a modified version of iOS and cutting the amount of internal storage space.
The third-generation, announced in March 2012, didn't change anything about the external design of the Apple TV but did bump up the internal specs slightly.
Then, just when we thought Apple had forgotten all about the Apple TV, showed up in September 2015. It was a big upgrade too, with a new touch remote, Siri integration and a brand new tvOS operating system. For the first time, developers could write apps specifically for the Apple TV.
Rumoured new Apple TV features
There was one glaring omission from the feature-set of the fourth-generation Apple TV: support for 4K.
The next-generation video format was already appearing on television sets by the end of 2015 and since then it's become more and more ubiquitous. It's now pretty much standard above a certain size, which means the fourth-gen Apple TV is rapidly starting to show its age.
Even more pertinently for the Apple TV, 4K is sneaking into catch-up TV services and apps like . If a fifth-generation model is in the works, 4K support must surely be the headline feature for the new box.
We know it can't be added via a software update because the HDMI port on the fourth-gen Apple TV isn't 4K-capable. However, most of the other changes are likely to be on the software side, of which more below.
The device might get a little smaller, and a little faster, but the touch remote was only just introduced in the last iteration, so we wouldn't expect any big changes in terms of hardware next time around - apart from that all-important 4K update.
But there's more! An August 2017 leak comes from the firmware on a HomePod, yup the same place we recently got a stunning iPhone 8 leak too. Since the HomePod isn’t due out until later this year, but developers are playing with it now, the leaks for Apple’s future plans are coming thick and fast, right from Apple’s own code.
This reveal clearly shows references to Apple TV but with mention of 4K UHD support. It also shows that the iPhone 8 should be able to record video on both the front and rear cameras in 60FPS 4K - making sharing on Apple TV easy.
More importantly for some was the mention of Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HLG. These are all formats that allow for a far greater range of contrast and colours on the TV they’re output to - as long as that TV supports the format, of course. That should mean full quality Netflix, Amazon Prime and more via Apple TV at last.
When will the 4K Apple TV launch be?
Eagle-eyed Apple watchers spotted an Apple TV-style device getting US regulatory approval back in September 2016, and then the third-generation model was pulled from sale a month later, both signs that a new model could be on the way.
With the now out in the wild and the higher resolution supported on a bunch of other media streaming boxes as well, Apple will want to make a move sooner rather than later, although big Apple TV upgrades usually arrive in September and we're expecting it at the same time as the iPhone 7S.
What does seem certain is that a new model is on the way: Apple CEO Tim Cook told investors that the current hardware and software was "building a foundation" for the company's future plans in the area.
Will we get future tvOS updates?
Let's not forget tvOS either: there really isn't all that much to the Apple TV hardware, and so software updates could be where the biggest improvements are made over the next 12 months - aside from 4K support, which will have to be a physical upgrade.
This year we got a single sign-on mode, plus (for US users) a global search tool to help you find any programme you want. It's a nice idea but without the support of the app makers - principally Netflix - it's always going to look a bit inadequate.
Siri was introduced to the Apple TV in 2016 and we'd expect the smart assistant to become more and more important in the future. It's also likely that Apple will continue to make it easier to use all of its hardware products together.
Stay tuned for more in the smart home space from the Apple TV too. With Google bringing out its own version of the Amazon Echo and other companies like Microsoft rumoured to be following suit, it would make sense for Apple to have something similar - and with Siri on the Apple TV it's already halfway there.