Yesterday along with iOS 6.1 being pushed to iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches, Apple released an update to the Apple TV 2,1 and 3,1, and curiously enough released another image for an unannounced Apple TV 3,2 product with model A1469. Originally it was assumed this was an international release with minimal changes, however it turns out there's much more inside, including an A5X SoC and BCM4334 (up from BCM4330) WLAN and BT. 

Matthew Panzarino from The Next Web pinged me about the FCC documents posting and whether there were any changes inside, which piqued my interested and made me dig a little deeper. First, the Apple TV 3,2 model is slightly smaller, as noted by Engadget. Inside however from what we can glean from the FCC documents there's no longer a two antenna solution for the BCM4330 WiFi+BT combo, but rather a single antenna solution with different gain and utilizing a BCM4334 combo instead. This is the same WLAN+BT combo as used in the iPhone 5 and basically all of the newly refreshed iDevices, and is built on a 40nm RF CMOS process. Since the previous antennas were a part of the Apple TV PCB, and the FCC disclosure notes that the new Apple TV uses a single PIFA (Planar Inverted F Antenna), it's highly likely we're looking at a completely different PCB. 

That fact intrigued me and made me take a look inside the Apple TV 3,2 IPSW, which contained exactly what I was looking for. Instead of the A5R2 SoC (S5L8942) inside the Apple TV 3,1, this new device contains an A5XR2 SoC (S5L8947) as shown in the screenshots I've taken of the Restore.plist file, though there are numerous others. It's entirely possible that Apple is again using different bins of the A5X, it's not possible to tell whether CPU or GPU cores are fused off at this point from my digging through the IPSW. Update: I should note that S5L8945 is the original 45nm Samsung produced A5X, S5L8947 is the A5XR2 that is in this unannounced Apple TV. Note that previously the A5 underwent a similar plus 2 offset, from S5L8940 (A5) to S5L8942 (A5R2) which changed process geometry from 45nm to 32nm HK-MG at Samsung. It's possible we're also looking at a process node change with the A5X to A5XR2 here.

This is an interesting silent update and development for the Apple TV. Given the IPSW release onto the web before an actual hardware announcement, I originally suspected this was a silent upgrade of the Apple TV platform to newer hardware, however the presence of an A5X SoC inside makes things a bit more curious. Hopefully we will see an official announcement in the next few days. 

Source: TNW, Engadget, FCC

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  • critical_ - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - link

    Right now the Apple TV 3 has it's limits with the max video bit rate for video coding layer. I've never had a problem with the Apple TV 3 preset in Handbrake but I've experimented with higher bit rates and 2 things happen:

    1) There isn't enough wireless bandwidth to stream it over wireless which necessitates a move to a wired connection.
    2) The Apple TV 3 "plays" the file with the spinner spinning away but without any audio or video on the screen besides the scrubbing bar.

    So I'd be interested to see AnandTech test the new Apple TV's ability to decode varying bit rate files versus older hardware to see if we have any new capabilities. If so, then I might have to re-encode my Blu-Rays for better quality output.

    Beyond that, I don't see 4K being included any time soon. HDMI 1.4a supports 4096×2160 (4k) not at 60Hz or 30Hz but only at 24Hz at 36-bit/px color maximum. 3D support is limited to 1080p24. HDMI 4.1b allows for 1080p120. We'll need HDMI 2.0 to get 4096x2160p60 which is a ways away.

    As for 3D, I don't see the Apple TV supporting frame packing any time soon so, at the moment, we're stuck with doing side-by-side (SBS) or over-under (OU) split frames and then relying on the TV to put it together in 3D. This effectively gives us "half" the resolution (I cringe when I describe it like that). With that said, I'd love a free frame packing encoder so we could re-encode 3D like the big studios but I doubt we'll see it any time soon. Let's not forget we just got Stereoscopic Player to allow us to playback MVC using a PC (and hardware players from companies like Dune are just emerging).

    To be completely honest, my guess is that this is a way to use all the left over A5Xs and the capabilities won't be revolutionary only evolutionary. We'll have to wait a bit longer to see 3D and 4K content.
    Reply
  • jonod - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - link

    Seeing as how this would be the only product Apple currently sells that uses the A5X, perhaps this is a sign that we'll see Apple implement the A5X in another product soon. If it is a die-shrink as smalM notes it could be above, maybe they're testing the process as they did with the A5 die shrink and Apple TV v3, which later showed up in the iPod Touch, iPad mini, and iPad 2 r2.

    If so, I'm a little surprised they wouldn't jump straight to some sort of A6 swift-core variant.

    then again, maybe they just wanted to beef up the GPU of the apple TV and this was the most cost-effective way, which might mean volume production on the A6 isn't quite as cheap as they could get on the A5X, despite the cheaper ARM license.
    Reply
  • darwinosx - Wednesday, January 30, 2013 - link

    I would love to use an Apple TV but since they don't have Amazon streaming I use a Roku box. Also need Plex for streaming from my Mac to TV. Reply
  • Scannall - Friday, February 01, 2013 - link

    iTunes streams from your Mac or PC to your AppleTV just fine. Reply
  • McDave - Thursday, January 31, 2013 - link

    ...Apple originally moved from A5 to A5X was to address higher resolution output for iPad Retina, not to add horsepower. If they were after the gaming market surely the A6 would be the way to go. How does A5 vs A5X rate in terms of HEVC compliance? That may provide more of a clue.

    I was also hoping they could fuse AppleTV and Airport Express products to bring media streaming under better control/minimal config. but I guess they would have chosen higher throughput 802.11n or even 802.11ac if that were the case. I also think BT would work well for a separate, low-latency, easy pairing controller but I'd hoped they'd avoid the dumb controller route.

    Not entirely the upgrade I was hoping for but hopefully it means they won't be going too far down the future-of-TV-is-a-bunch-of-disparate-apps path.

    McD
    Reply
  • yesno - Thursday, January 31, 2013 - link

    It seems there are three possibilities.

    * Apple TV is going to ramp up in functionality and will need more horsepower.

    * Apple TV is a testbed for a new chip(process node) that will eventually make its way into a new product.

    * There are a bunch of leftover A5Xs and the new part number just means they've been binned/have a disabled core.

    I don't know why more people don't mention the leftovers theory. That's the only reason the Apple TV got the A5

    I think the testbed and leftovers theories are most likely--or some combination of them. (For example, the new Apple TV may just be the scrapings of a new smaller process A5X.) Apple may eventually add more functionality to the Apple TV but it will probably be done on the cheap.

    It is weird to me still that a TV is lower resolution than a phone.
    Reply

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