∞ The "iTV," the Apple TV, and understanding HDTV

Engadget set off a firestorm this week when it posted an article (which I will not link to here) speculating on the next generation of Apple’s TV convergence hardware. The story has picked up steam as it’s been regurgitated across the Apple blogosphere – and unfortunately, like a sticky ball of lint, it’s retained the same basic errors in understanding how the Apple TV works.

Joshua Topolsky quotes a mysterious “trusted source” as saying Apple will unveil a new $99 device designed around the same microprocessor hardware that drives its iPad and iPhone. The device allegedly introduces a new iTunes streaming service that Apple will unveil, and Topolsky underscores one glaring issue: that the new device, to be rechristened “iTV,” “won’t be capable of handling (or enabled to handle) 1080i and 1080p video.” How appalling.

There’s only one problem.

The Apple TV never had support for 1080i or 1080p video.

I know that many of you will do a double-take, and will immediately fire up your flatscreen TV to check. And you’ll find that your Apple TV says it knows you’re on a 1080i device. I know that’s one of the first things I changed when I set up my Apple TV.

But check the specs on Apple’s own Web site to confirm. The Apple TV simply does not output 1080p or 1080i video. It never has.

Sure, Apple says the Apple TV is compatible with a widescreen TV capable of outputting 1080i/1080p video, but if you actually check the “video formats supported” section of the Apple TV’s tech specs page, you’ll see that it says “maximum resolution: 1280 x 720 pixels at 24 fps.”

We measure the resolution of a video signal horizontally vertically. 1080i and 1080p corresponds to a video resolution of 1920 x 1080. Guess what? Your Apple TV can’t handle that now.

Part of the problem lies with Engadget’s headline. It reads, in part, “Upcoming Apple TV loses 1080p playback.” This implies it was ever there to begin with. It simply wasn’t, not in the current generation of the Apple TV. And if it ever was present in this hypothetical new device, it’s irrelevant, since its specifications are entirely imaginary and the device has never been announced.

Alas, this is what passes for analysis in the tech press today, so what we’ve largely seen rebounding around the Mac blogosphere, exacerbated by the nattering of the Twittersphere, is the erroneous assumption that Apple has taken something away.

The only thing I hate worse than rumor-mongering is lousy (or completely absent) fact checking. This article, and the frenzied reportage that surrounds it, hits both criteria, sadly.

Don’t believe the hype, folks, and wait for Apple to make an announcement, if such a product even exists.