It's been a long time since Apple refreshed its set-top box - well over three years, in fact. And the company has dropped the price on the current Apple TV a couple of times in the last few months, so there's every chance it will soon unleash a new version.
Possibly even during its iPhone 6S launch in San Francisco this Wednesday.
That has lead to a swathe of rumours, from the company looking to make its new model a games console, to 4K video streaming and Siri-support.
So, considering that is relatively close, Pocket-lint has rounded up all the reports, speculation, and everything else related to Apple's next streaming media device.
This is where Apple TV is at today:
It has been almost 1,300 days since the last refresh to Apple TV.
There was a 553-day space between the second-generation Apple TV and the third-generation Apple TV, so many fans are wondering when Apple is going to finally update its latest hobby device.
That's not to say the company has ignored its set-top-box over the years, having boosted functionality through content offerings and firmware improvements, but it has fallen behind rivals in kit specifications. Content deals are one thing, but ease and speed of use on more recent devices like the Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast or Roku boxes have surely prompted a new plan.
Certainly, in the interim Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, confirmed that television remains an area of "intense interest" for the company.
Priced at £59 ($69) now ($99 then), the current-generation Apple TV originally released in March 2012, with 1080p video support and redesigned software. This latest generation box received a minor update in January 2013, adding a smaller A5 chip but leaving core functionality untouched.
It's still a small black box (that measures 22.9 x 99.1 x 99.1mm), and when you purchase it, you only get the Apple TV set-top box, the remote, and a power lead.
With zero buttons and only a single, white status light on the front, the Apple TV is simply designed and must be controlled via an aluminium remote. Around the back of the device are the ports for connecting it to your TV.
You'll see power in, HDMI out, optical audio out, Ethernet, and a Micro-USB socket (for updates and support). You can connect your Apple TV to your home internet connection via wireless 802.11b/g/n.
Apple's current set-top box (officially called the third-generation Apple TV) features the A5 processor and a 32-bit system-on-a-chip designed by Apple and manufactured by Samsung. The A5, which is the successor to the A4, debuted in 2011 with the release of iPad 2.
Alongside iOS 8, Apple released new software for Apple TV that included a redesigned interface. It made the set-top box's interface look much more like iOS 7. It's not a very dramatic overhaul, but some icons, such as Movies, TV, Shows, etc, were changed to look brightly-coloured and flat. The software also brought a new typeface: Helvetica Neue.
It's the same typeface used throughout iOS 7. Dated fonts and all skeuomorphic elements found within older versions of iOS were thrown away after Apple let go of Scott Forstall, the former senior vice president of iOS software at Apple, and replaced him with designer Jony Ive as the leader and director of Human Interface software.
The current user interface used in the third-generation Apple TV features a rectangle tile interface. The tiles serve as app-like buttons or channels to Apple's streaming services, such as iTunes Radio and iMovie Theatre, as well as third-party services like Netflix and HBO Go.
In addition to playing movies, music, podcasts, and television shows through iTunes and third-party channels, Apple TV supports AirPlay, allowing iOS devices and computers running iTunes to send streaming music to the television, as well as several features that are built into iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, such as Family Sharing and iCloud Photo Support.
And what the new Apple TV could feature:
Citing sources close to Apple, App Advice said last year that the new Apple TV might look similar-yet-smaller than the current model. Strangely, the website also said it could take "visual cues from the Google's Chromecast or Roku's Streaming Stick, and simply attach to a television's HDMI port".
Other interesting bits in App Advice's report include a branded game controller and a new remote control, and these latter rumours are possibly closer the mark considering that "insiders" have told the New York Times that the next Apple TV will be primarily Apple's games console.
The rumour mill has already claimed the next-generation Apple TV will come with an all-new remote equipped with a touchpad and microphone, and if that wasn't enough, TechCrunch has reported the remote will also include sensors that allows it to be motion-sensitive. It'll be able to detect motion and track as it moves in multiple detections.
It actually sounds a lot like the motion-sensitive remote that comes with Nintendo's Wii console - another link to its gaming ambitions, perhaps - although that uses an IR sensor and it's not clear if Apple's upcoming Apple TV remote would rely on similar technology.
9to5Mac also said a new remote is coming, adding further fuel to the fact that the new set-top box will come with a "more capable and tactile remote control" as well as a "redesigned operating system bundled with an App Store". The New York Times also backed up claims of a new remote control, although stating that the new version would be chunkier than the current version because of an added touch panel.
Buzzfeed too said that the new Apple TV will have a physical remote that has been “drastically improved” by a touch-pad input. Buzzfeed also claimed the new Apple TV will get a "significant overhaul"..
9to5Mac has claimed prototypes of the new Apple TV are about “twice as large” as the current Apple TV box, but the shipping product is expected to be slimmer than the current version for sale.
Speaking of the Apple TV's remote control, an Apple patent application (via AppleInsider) revealed the company is looking into ways of improving the Apple TV and iTunes desktop experience using iOS on a separate device.
The patent application, titled "Browsing remote content using a native user interface," described a mobile app that is like a second screen for a connected media device.
The new iOS-based remote is apparently different from the current Remote app, which mimics a hardware remote, because the patent's description suggested iOS owners could use the iOS remote to search the web for information, such as the name of the movie they are watching, and then they can display that information on the big screen.
Bloomberg claimed last year that Apple's fourth-generation set-top box might feature a "faster processor". It is unclear if that means the next Apple TV will ship with the A8, Apple's 64-bit system-on-a-chip that can be found in the iPhone 6, or the A9 chip expected to drive the new iPhone 6S. Buzzfeed is predicting the former.
The site also claimed there will be an increase on the current 8GB internal storage to accommodate apps, which makes even more sense considering the gossip around gaming. 16GB will be the minimum needed we feel.
In addition, if it did offer games to download and play, a faster processor seems an obvious choice and the A8 chip has plenty of game-centric features to make it viable.
Plus, TechCrunch has suggested that an A8-powered Apple TV would run more efficiently than the iPhone 6, especially since it won't have to conserve battery like a phone. Apple has also supposedly overhauled the Apple TV interface to go along with the new remote, and both combined should make it easier to navigate through libraries.
The upcoming Apple TV, according to a report by Bloomberg from last year, will feature an upgraded or revamped user interface. The new interface will supposedly make it easier users to "navigate between TV shows, movies, and other online content".
9to5Mac and iLounge have also recently claimed the next Apple TV could feature fresh types of content and an Apple-designed interface layered on top.
Cable and video content
Apple has been rumoured to be be in discussion with programme makers and channels in the US for almost two years, but we're still yet to hear anything solid on the proposals to turn the next Apple TV in an over-the-top cable TV alternative. Several services have launched on the current model that offer live TV, including Now TV in the UK - which has a selection of Sky and partner channels, Sky Sports and Sky Movies, but that's just an app. The same is true of HBO Now in the US.
Both of those services are merely third-party portals, however. They are not directly allied to Apple's own television subscription plans. Thanks to on-going negotiations with American broadcasters and channels, there isn't expected to be much movement in that area until 2016. And certainly not in time for the new Apple TV launch expected soon.
You can read an entire rumour round-up for Apple's Apple TV content deals/subscription service here.
9to5Mac once indicated that the next Apple TV could have its own fully-fledged App Store.
The tech blog previously claimed Apple was working toward letting content providers make their own channels/apps, and it was even attempting to streamline the app development process by making it easier for partners to build them.
Rumors of an App Store have continued ever since TechCrunch's MG Siegler hinted in February 2013 that an App Store might be Apple's next move as it aims to tackle living room. There’s not been much else said on the topic of an Apple TV App Store, though 9to5Mac further claimed a dedicated Game Store for Apple TV could be in the works…
As previously stated elsewhere, the next Apple TV is heavily tipped to bring gaming support, allowing the set-top box to double as a living room gaming console. iLounge reported as early as last year that "developers are currently working on Bluetooth controller options, and it’s expected that games could be downloaded directly to the Apple TV rather than relying on another iOS device as an intermediary”.
9to5Mac added to iLounge’s report, claiming the next-generation Apple TV could feature a Game Store at launch that lets users download games directly to their Apple TV. It is unclear how games would be stored locally on the Apple TV. Although, Apple might just use iCloud as a main storage facility for Apple TV games - at the very least, their save files.
App Advice, which cited sources close to Apple, also said the next Apple TV will exclusively focus on being a gaming console. Specifically, Apple is "putting the finishing touches on a new digital marketplace that looks very similar to the App Store". The digital marketplace is for Apple TV games and apps - and it might even feature a couple exclusive games. The new Apple TV could also ship with a branded game controller.
Most recently, the New York Times also confirmed the next-generation Apple TV would support gaming.
There were several rumours a while back that Apple allegedly wanted to take its Apple TV set-top box a step further than being a platform that simply delivers content from iTunes, Netflix, etc.
9to5Mac reported that Apple was testing a built-in TV tuner that would allow users to control their existing cable boxes with an Apple-designed user-interface layered on top. A similar feature is found on the Xbox One. But since last year, we haven't heard any more news about the Apple TV including a TV tuner and we seriously doubt it will be part of the new box's launch.
9to5Mac's built-in TV tuner report also claimed that the fourth-generation Apple TV could come with a built-in AirPort Express, which is slightly more convincing. Apart from eliminating the need for a separate wireless router, integrating 802.11ac into the Apple TV might improve video quality and stability. This feature could be a premium option that costs extra, though.
Apple wants to make the first-generation Apple Watch a "primary input device" for the next-generation Apple TV, according to 9to5Mac. We're assuming that means you'll be able to control the Apple TV with the Apple Watch.
HomeKit support was quietly added to the Apple TV when iOS 8.1 and Apple TV 7.0.1 rolled out. Some reports have therefore claimed the next Apple TV will serve as a smart hub of sorts, similar to how Google is positioning the Nest smart thermostat to be a control center.
But that's not the full story: it appears you'll likely use Siri through Apple TV to control your HomeKit-compatible devices, but Apple TV won't be required to control HomeKit in general. Apple told ArsTechnica that the current Apple TV will be able to act as an intermediary, letting you issue Siri voice commands to your home indoors or from a remote location.
In other words, Apple TV won't really be a smart hub that'll tie your HomeKit devices together but rather an entry point to your local network. The set-top-box has been enabled to pass commands to HomeKit devices for you, but your HomeKit devices and Apple TV will need to be signed in to the same Apple ID for such functionality to work. Keep in mind HomeKit is yet to be fully activated and properly "launched" by Apple.
HomeKit technically debuted with iOS 8 last autumn, and some early HomeKit partners, such as third-party accessory makers and manufacturers, have been taking advantage of this wait time to unveil new products that support HomeKit or update existing products. Most of the new HomeKit-compatible products unveiled at CES 2015 aren't yet for sale, as Apple's smart home platform still hasn't launched. But we expect it to be very soon considering the amount of talk about HomeKit was flying around at the IFA consumer electronics trade show in Berlin this month.
So, what is the new Apple TV release date?
This is the big question, isn't it?
We're not sure exactly when it will be available on shelves, but the smart money is on the new Apple TV being unveiled during Apple's 9 September media event it is holding to also launch the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus smartphones. That's basically Wednesday, so you'll find out more then.