While support for the object-based Dolby Atmos surround sound technology is “on the roadmap”, it’s unclear when Google’s YouTube app for tvOS might serve 4K HDR video on Apple’s upcoming 4K-enabled media streamer.

YouTube, upscaled!

At present, the official YouTube app available in tvOS’s App Store simply upscales 1080p video to 4K on the new Apple TV. This actually gives early adopters a worse user experience because, in most cases, upscaling 1080p content to 4K looks less than great (unless you hook up your new box to a non-4K TV set, which defeats the purpose of buying into 4K).

The Verge’s Nilay Patel notes in his detailed review of Apple TV 4K that Apple doesn’t support the open-source VP9 video format which YouTube delivers 4K video streams in.

Apple TV video formats

At present, Apple TV 4K supports three major hardware-accelerated video codecs:

  • H.264
  • HEVC (H.265)
  • MP4

As a result, YouTube on the new box doesn’t stream 4K HDR video.

What this means for you

It’s a problem that affects Safari on macOS and iOS as well and is the reason why you currently cannot watch 4K YouTube clips in Safari for iPhone or Mac.

From the article:

Again, the specifics of the issue are nerdy, but the result is that no one who buys a new Apple TV can watch 4K YouTube videos—and YouTube is the single largest source of 4K video. Until Apple and Google figure it out, MKBHD and #teamcrispy will all be running at 1080p on the Apple TV 4K. Sorry, boys.

Given its steep price tag and insane processing power, it’s something of a disappointment that early adopters won’t be able to enjoy YouTube in 4K on their Apple TV 4K.

This is clearly a matter of politics, not a technical issue.

VP9 versus H.265

The VP9 codec was originally developed by Google to compete directly with the HEVC (H.265), which Apple backs and has adopted across iOS 11, macOS High Sierra and tvOS 11. Android has supported VP9 since version 4.4 KitKat and most desktop browsers are able to render VP9-encoded video out of the box.

By contrast, Microsoft’s discontinued Internet Explorer and mobile/desktop Safari are the only two major browsers lacking VP9 support, with Safari in particular remaining the last H.264 holdout among web browsers.

Though open and royalty-free, parts of the VP9 codec are covered by patents held by Google.

Gosh, not another format war

The thing is, Google grants free usage of its own related patents as long as a company does not engage in patent litigations.

This may explain why Apple has avoided adopting VP9 thus far.

Either Apple will have to eventually implement support for the VP9 codec across its operating systems or Google will need to update the YouTube backend in order to serve HEVC (H.265)-encoded video streams to Apple users (they actually did this for the original iPhone).

It’s the user experience that suffers in the end.

We certainly don’t need another format war—we’ve had plenty of those. Apple and Google ought to find a workable solution that’s in their customers’ best interest, not their own.

The new Apple TV is slated to arrive tomorrow.

  • whodakat

    What! How can YouTube not support the new AppleTV!

    • Cameron Nelms

      literally explained in the entire article

      • whodakat

        Look up, that’s my comment going over your head.

      • therealjjohnson

        That was a rhetorical question. One of disbelief…not one on inquiry.

  • Rowan09

    I’m losing respect for YouTube because lately you get an almost every 3-5 minutes and it’s beyond annoying. I hope you tubers are getting a lot more money. This 4K thing with YouTube is no big deal to me.

  • TechnoBuff

    The point remains that this is not politics. Apple and Google opted for a codec that works for their platform. it does not make any sense as a OEM or provider especially if you are big player like Google or Apple to create a platform that favors your competition. it is as simple as that even though consumers suffer at the end.

    • ly121688

      This is politics, Google deliberately stopped encoding their youtube videos in h264 to pressure Apple in adopting the format whereas Apple is deliberately not adopting the codec because Google owns patents to it and Apple believes there are some patent infingements.

      Unfortunately Apple and Google are both monopoly companies, Google has a monopoly on user uploaded streaming video whereas Apple’s iOS has greater than 50% share in many developed countries. The spats between these two companies results in ordinary people being losers.

      • Cedesse

        Apple can implement VP9 (and the upcoming AV1 codec supported by the majority of the industry) for free just like anybody else. Google doesn’t charge anything, and there is no patent, only a restriction in order to make sure the format is kept open and free. That is completely normal for open software. Unfortunately Apple makes big money from software patents, so this is actually just about Apple fighting for their (more costly) business model.

  • Alex

    Is this a software update possibility or hardware based?

  • M_Hawke

    Posting in hopes that someone sees this…

    Why should I even consider getting the Apple TV 4K? I have an Apple TV 3 and streaming HD video from any source (Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.) on my Sony 4K TV already gives me plenty of skin pores, grass blades, and beach sand pebbles. I mean, I really do not want or need any more detail. So what’s the compelling reason to upgrade? (Siri feature is not motivating to me.)