Amid growing rumors that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is working on a revamped version of its Apple TV set-top box with new functionalities, references to the fourth-generation hardware platform for the device have reportedly been spotted inside iOS 7 software builds.

The reference to the new Apple TV hardware was part of a string related to the device’s AirPlay functionality. The new device was identified as “AppleTV4,1” indicating a major refresh to Apple TV. By comparison, the current third-generation version of the device has a model identifier of “AppleTV3,2.” The string was discovered by Hamza Sood, an iOS developer, 9to5Mac reported.

While Apple usually adds to the second number following the product’s name in case of a minor hardware update, a jump in the first number in this case indicates that a substantial hardware upgrade is on the cards for Apple TV. For instance, while releasing a slightly modified third-generation unit of the device last January, the company increased the model identifier to “AppleTV3,2” from “AppleTV3,1.”

Although the new features to be included in the upcoming Apple TV are still unknown, rumors have it that the company could add a third-party App Store and gaming support, turning the set-top box into an iOS-based gaming console to some extent. 

The latest Apple TV software builds also have references to the new Game Controller framework in iOS 7, indicating that the game controllers might be able to connect to the new Apple TV product. In addition, Apple recently acquired PrimeSense, an Israel-based 3D sensor firm, for $360 million. The company's hardware powered Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) first-generation Xbox Kinect, Apple Insider reported.

In a bid to improve Apple TV’s content lineup, the company recently added streaming channels like WatchESPN and WatchABC to the platform, while it is also rumored to be planning to add live television content as well.

Media reports suggested last month that Apple could release the fourth-generation Apple TV as soon as March. The company introduced a new Apple TV in March 2012, so it would not be a surprise if it does something similar this year as well.

In January, Apple promoted the Apple TV from an accessory to its own top-level product category on the company's online store, which also bolsters claims that the company’s new set-to box is likely to be launched sooner than later.