updated 09:49 pm EST, Tue January 29, 2013
Unit is slightly smaller but adds upgraded components
After being hinted at through discoveries in the Apple TV software update released on Monday, the Federal Communications Commission released a test document that appears to confirm a forthcoming revision of the Apple TV unit, slightly smaller than its predecessor by just 8mm (about a third of an inch), but featuring an upgrade to the A5X processor and a new Broadcom chip. It isn't known if the new version will have any extra abilities over the third-gen Apple TV beyond those granted in the latest software update.
Monday's release of v5.2 firmware for the Apple TV (roughly equivalent to the v6.1 update for other iOS devices) added the "Up Next" feature from iTunes that lets users see what will play next (and the ability to edit that list); lets AirPlay work in both directions for audio (previously, all streaming from other devices was done to the Apple TV, now the Apple TV can be a source for other devices), and added support for Bluetooth keyboards. The code also referred to an "Apple TV 3,2," suggesting either an international version of the current model, or a new model altogether.
The FCC filing would suggest that Apple plans to create one version for all markets, using a new Broadcom chip in the forthcoming model to span the various frequencies needed for global Wi-Fi and Bluetooth standards. The fact that the unit was tested by the FCC confirms that it will be sold in the US as well. The Broadcom BCM4334 chip is a low-power, dual-band, 40-nanometer combo communications chip that supports 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 and also has an integrated FM receiver. It supports network connectivity on one band while allowing content streaming on the other using Wi-Fi Display and Wi-Fi Direct.
The addition of a A5X processor may represent the most substantial aspect of the upgraded model. When used in devices like the third-generation iPad, the chip is normally dual-core: Apple may opt to disable one core as it did with the A5 chip in the current Apple TV, but if it doesn't then the device stands to gain more than double its present processing power, not to mention a substantially advanced "quad core" graphics processor that lays the foundation for future upgrades.
How exactly Apple would make use of the extra CPU and advanced GPU, if indeed it does at all, isn't yet clear. However, hackers have shown that iOS apps could be made to work with the system, since it runs a variation of the same iOS that powers the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.
Ever since the Apple TV moved to its present form factor, users have wished for a way to also run iOS apps on the systems. Despite HDTVs being much larger than iOS device screens, apps would not require any graphics changes to run on them, as the resolution of HDTV is generally lower than that of most current iOS devices.