tvOS code hints at a new Apple TV 4K with 120 Hz playback

The Apple TV 4K and remote.
Enlarge / The Apple TV 4K and remote.
Samuel Axon

It has been well over three years since Apple updated the Apple TV 4K, and online speculation about a follow-up hits a fever pitch every time Apple has a product unveiling event planned. So far, a new device hasn’t materialized, but code in the tvOS 14.5 beta may hint not only that a new Apple TV is on the way, but that it will support 120 Hz playback at 4K.

As reported first by 9to5Mac, tvOS 14.5’s PineBoard (the operating system’s interface manager) contains references to the terms “supports120Hz” and “120Hz,” a not-too-subtle indication that the OS will support 120 Hz refresh rates. And since the current Apple TV 4K only has an HDMI 2.0 port, which does not support 4K at 120 Hz (as opposed to the more recent HDMI 2.1 standard), this discovery seems to suggest that new Apple TV hardware is on the way as well.

Of course, only a few TVs today support 120 Hz refresh rates—typically high-end ones favored by gamers and made in the past two years. Most TVs still target 60 Hz. There is very little 120 Hz video content currently available, though enthusiasts have speculated that refresh rate could be a real boon for sports content. However, the new video game consoles that launched last year—Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S—support 120 Hz playback, which is preferred by some players for certain very fast-paced and difficult or competitive games.

Apple could choose to add 120 Hz capability to future Apple TV hardware for three reasons: a snappier interface, future-proofing for high-frame rate video content that may emerge in the future, and of course, gaming.

The company has been getting more serious about gaming of late, after years of treating it as a secondary-at-best use case for its devices. It recently added dozens of re-released iPhone and iPad classics on Apple Arcade, including microtransaction-driven games that have been adapted to be microtransaction-free. Arcade has also been securing relatively high-profile exclusives, like Fantasian, the first JRPG from the creator of Final Fantasy in several years—and possibly his last.

Right now, Apple’s iPad Pro has a 120 Hz display, but none of the company’s other products do. There have been rumors that Apple will bring 120 Hz to the iPhone lineup this year, though. And as for the Apple TV 4K, a Bloomberg report in December claimed that a refreshed Apple TV with a bigger focus on gaming is expected to launch sometime this year.