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Tips & Tricks

Controlling your Home from the Apple TV

When the fourth-generation Apple TV launched in the fall of 2015, we found the absence of direct support for controlling Apple HomeKit devices to be a conspicuous omission — especially considering the Apple TV was already designed to act as the hub for remote access to HomeKit accessories. In other words, HomeKit accessory commands were being processed through the set-top box, but there was no way to allow the user to participate using the Apple TV itself. It took another year to come to fruition, but tvOS 10 brought interactive HomeKit support to the set-top box last fall, opening up not only the ability to control HomeKit accessories via Siri commands, but also support for third-party tvOS apps to access the HomeKit framework.

Siri HomeKit commands can be used to adjust most accessories (e.g. “Turn off the living room lights”) and activate scenes (e.g. “Set the movie night scene” or even simply “It’s movie night”), and we’ve found they often work more quickly than issuing the same commands on the iPhone or Apple Watch. You can also set your thermostat (e.g. “Set the temperature to 24 degrees”) and inquire as to the status of various HomeKit sensors to check temperature and other information (e.g. “What is the temperature in the living room?” or even “Is there carbon monoxide in the basement?”).

Using AirPods with your Apple TV

Apple’s new AirPods will automatically pair with any iPhone or iPad running iOS 10.2 or later, and sync via iCloud to your other compatible iOS devices, Apple Watch, and macOS Sierra. However, for whatever reason — perhaps because of its role as a common “family” device — Apple hasn’t included the Apple TV’s tvOS into the mix; even if your Apple TV is signed into the same iCloud account you’re using on your iPhone, it’s left out of the automatically synced pairing party.

Fortunately, AirPods can be still be paired manually like just about any other Bluetooth device, and they actually work quite well with the fourth-generation Apple TV. To pair your AirPods with the Apple TV, go to Settings, Remotes and Devices, Bluetooth, and then put your AirPods into their charging case, leave the lid open, and press and hold the setup button on the back of the case until the LED starts flashing. Your Apple TV should detect your AirPods and show them under “Other Devices,” and you can then select them and they’ll pair right away. Once paired, you can listen to audio from your Apple TV through your AirPods whenever they’re out of the case and in your ears, and the automatic ear detection feature will even work to pause your audio or video when you remove and reinsert the AirPods. Note that you won’t be able to trigger Siri on the Apple TV with a double-tap, however — regardless of the double-tap setting you’ve chosen, double-tap defaults to play/pause control when paired with other Bluetooth devices that don’t specifically support AirPods.

Keeping the Christmas Tree Lights On with HomeKit

If you’ve got more than a couple of lights tied into your HomeKit system, you’ve probably gotten accustomed to using Siri commands like “Turn off the lights” when you’re leaving home, going to bed, or just otherwise want to de-illuminate your home. Of course, in that case, this time of year you’re probably going to be tempted to plug your Christmas tree or other holiday lights into a HomeKit-compatible plug so that you can control them using Siri and HomeKit automation. It’s a great idea, but suddenly you might find yourself avoiding Siri commands to turn all of your lights off at home, or in a given room if you still want to leave the Christmas lights on.

Displaying song lyrics on Apple TV

While you’re probably aware that Apple added lyrics support to Apple Music in iOS 10, what may be less obvious is that you can also view lyrics on your fourth-generation Apple TV, using tvOS 10. Once you’re playing a track, touch (not press) the Siri Remote touchpad from the Now Playing screen and you’ll get the same detail view as before, but if the song has lyrics associated with it, a second button appears at the top of the screen that can be used to bring up the lyrics for the current track.

Not every song in Apple’s Music catalog has lyrics yet. If you’re listening to a song that lacks listed lyrics, you can still add lyrics manually via iTunes on your Mac or PC if you wish. These should sync via iCloud Music Library and be available on your iOS devices and Apple TV.

Reducing Screen Motion on the new Apple TV

Apple’s tvOS for the new Apple TV takes a page from the UI design of iOS, adding motion effects that appear as you navigate through various screens. These are most apparent when using the Siri Remote, which will gradually shift the shading effect on the highlighted menu option or icon in the direction you swipe before actually moving the highlight over to the next option.

If you find this all to be a bit too much, or prefer a slightly more responsive interface, you can actually turn this off under Accessibility settings, in much the same way as on iOS. Go into the Apple TV Settings

menu, select General, Accessibility, and you’ll find the “Reduce Motion” option down near the bottom of the screen.

Customizing the appearance of Subtitles on the Apple TV

Did you know you can change the appearance of your subtitles on your Apple TV? While the ability to do this isn’t entirely new — it first came to the second- and third-generation Apple TV models two years ago — users of the new fourth-generation Apple TV may find it particularly useful now that subtitles are more readily available via Siri commands like “What did he just say?”

Using a Passcode for Purchases on the Apple TV

The lack of external keyboard and iOS Remote app support on the new Apple TV can seemingly make it burdensome to protect your iTunes Store account from unauthorized purchases — it’s easy to assume that you have to choose between either “swiping-and-tapping” in your entire iTunes Store password with every purchase or allowing the Apple TV to remember your password and let anybody with the remote in hand buy whatever they’d like. Fortunately, there’s a third option that may be a bit easier, at least when it comes to purchasing media content and apps.

The trick is to enable Parental Controls under Settings, General, Restrictions and set a four-digit passcode — a much easier sequence to key in than an alphanumeric iTunes Store password. Once you’ve done set the passcode, choose “Restrict” under the “Purchase and Rental” section and the Apple TV will prompt you for the four-digit code whenever you attempt to purchase or rent a movie, TV show, or app.

Aerial Screensavers on the new Apple TV

The aerial screensavers available on the new Apple TV make for a refreshing change from the photo-based screen savers of prior versions; currently Apple offers up 34 different screensavers covering five specific locations around the world: China, Hawaii, London, New York, and San Francisco. Rather than storing the screensavers permanently as part of tvOS, the Apple TV downloads new screensaver footage from Apple’s servers on a schedule. If you find that your screensavers are getting stale, you can increase how often the Apple TV downloads new content from Apple’s servers by going into the Apple TV Settings app and choosing General, Screensaver.

Reducing loud sounds on the new Apple TV

Another small new feature added by Apple in the new fourth-generation Apple TV is the ability to adjust the dynamic range of your audio input. This is particularly useful for watching TV later at night, or anytime you prefer to use lower volume levels so as not to disturb others — it enhances detail such as spoken dialogue, while softening music and other loud background noise.

Changing the name of your Apple TV

While your new Apple TV would have prompted you to give it a name during the setup process, if you were in a hurry to get going you might have just selected a default name like “Apple TV” without giving it too much thought. However, if you want to choose a more descriptive name — particularly useful if you use AirPlay and have multiple devices around the house — you can easily go back in and change it to just about anything you want.

Skipping backward and forward on the Apple TV

With the Siri Remote’s touchpad for the fourth-generation Apple TV, some of the traditional navigation features from the prior Apple TV are not necessarily obvious right out of the gate. For example, on older Apple TV models you can skip back or forward a few seconds by holding down the FF or RW buttons on the Apple Remote, but of course these buttons are missing from the new Apple TV, which now requires you to do this by manipulating the touchpad instead.

Placing apps in the top row on the Apple TV

Although Apple TV users have been able to reorder their app icons since Apple TV Software Update 5.1 three years ago, Apple traditionally always treated the top row of icons – Movies, TV Shows, Music, Computers, and Settings (and later iTunes Radio in the U.S.) – as immutable; even if you preferred to use other services, you were always stuck with those five in the top row.

Checking your Siri Remote battery level

The Siri Remote on the new fourth-generation Apple TV incorporates a rechargeable battery, and Apple promises “months” of battery life on a single charge, at least for whatever the company considers “typical use.” You shouldn’t need to charge your remote often, but if you’re curious to check how much battery life is remaining, you can do this by going into the Apple TV Settings and selecting “Bluetooth” under “Remotes and Devices.”

Your Siri Remote will be shown on this screen with a battery indicator showing how much juice is left. Of course, you can plug the remote in at any time to charge it up — just use a Lightning cable with a USB wall charger or a port on your computer. It will take about 9 hours to reach a full charge, but the good news is that you can also still use it while it’s charging back up.

Switching between apps on the new Apple TV

With the advent of the App Store for the Apple TV, Apple’s new tvOS borrows some user interface features from its iOS cousin, including the concept of a “Home” button and screen, as well as the App Switcher for quickly navigating between apps and closing them if necessary. You can bring up the App Switcher with a double-tap of the Home button; the user interface should be familiar to anybody who has ever used an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.

In the App Switcher, you can of course use the touchpad to swipe between open apps, and dismiss or close an app simply by swiping up on the touchpad, much like you would in iOS. tvOS apps also remain suspended in the background much like they do on iOS, so you can use the Home button to pull up the App Switcher or return to the Home screen and still pick up right where you left off when you go back to your app — as long as tvOS can keep it in memory while you’re running other apps.

Quickly setting up a new Apple TV using your iPhone

Expecting a new Apple TV under the tree this Christmas? With the latest Apple TV software you can now set it up in a flash right form your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. All you need is to have a recent device running iOS 7 in close proximity. Plug in the new Apple TV and once the initial setup screen appears, simply unlock your device, enable Bluetooth, and place the iPhone within about a foot or so of your Apple TV.

You’ll see a prompt on the iOS side asking you to enter your Apple ID and password, at which point your iCloud and iTunes login information and Wi-Fi and Home Sharing passwords will be transferred from your iOS device to the Apple TV, saving you the trouble of entering information using the cumbersome on-screen keyboard and Apple Remote.

 

Enabling Conference Room Display on the Apple TV

If you’re setting up your Apple TV for AirPlay use in a business or school environment, or simply have a lot of different friends over connecting up to it with their iOS devices, there’s a useful new feature in Apple TV 6.0 that allows you to display AirPlay connection instructions overlaid on the screen saver.

The feature is called Conference Room Display, and can be found under Settings, AirPlay. By default it simply displays the Wi-Fi network name and Apple TV name, although you can also choose to add a custom message at the bottom of the AirPlay instruction window or choose your own a background photo to show up instead of the standard screen saver.

Organizing Home Videos in iTunes

Last year, iTunes 11 introduced a new “Home Videos” category, providing a great way—in principle—to use iTunes for storing personal videos and syncing them with other Apple devices without cluttering up the main “Movies” category. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the release of Apple TV 6.0 and iOS 7 that the category become fully supported across all of Apple’s current hardware devices.

The “Home Videos’ category will remain hidden in iTunes and on other devices until you actually place something in it; to categorize a video as a “Home Video” simply import it into the main “Movies” section and then open the properties by selecting it and choosing File, Get Info, selecting the Options tab and setting the Media Kind field to “Home Video.”

 

You’ll need to sync the video to any iOS devices the old-fashioned way, since iCloud doesn’t support non-purchased video content, at which point a new “Home Videos’ button should appear in the iOS “Videos” app.

Enabling automatic Apple TV Software Updates

One of the more subtle new features in the Apple TV 6.0 Software Update is the ability to have future updates downloaded and applied automatically—a great feature if you don’t feel like waiting for an update to apply when you’re getting ready to watch your favourite show. You can find this option and switch it on or off under Settings, General, Software Updates from the Apple TV menu.

Note that this feature is enabled by default on new Apple TV units and disabled by default if you’re updating from an older version. If you leave it disabled you will still be prompted to apply updates manually whenever new Apple TV software is available, as in prior versions.

 

Deleting Photo Stream content from your Apple TV

Accessing your iCloud Photo Stream and other Shared Photo Streams from your Apple TV is a really handy way to view your photos and show them off to friends and family. You may not know that you can also delete photos or even entire Shared Photo Streams right from your Apple TV without having to return to your iOS device or computer. To do this, simply highlight a photo or Photo Stream and hold down the Select button on the Apple Remote until a pop-up menu appears with an option to “Delete Photo” or “Delete Photo Stream.” This also works with Photo Streams that have been shared with you by other users;  “Unsubscribe” will appear on the menu in this case instead of the delete option, allowing you to remove only your copy of the Shared Photo Stream.

Keep in mind, however, that this doesn’t just remove these items from your Apple TV—as on iOS the items will be removed from your iCloud account and any other devices that sync with it.

Controlling who can AirPlay to your Apple TV

The Apple TV’s AirPlay feature makes it a great accessory to bring your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch content to the larger screen. By default, however, this feature is wide open; anybody running iOS or iTunes on the same network can freely broadcast content to your Apple TV at the tap of a button. For most home users this isn’t a huge problem, but if you have kids in the house, or you otherwise use your Apple TV on a network shared with other iOS users, you may find it useful to restrict AirPlay access to your Apple TV—particularly since starting AirPlay from another device will interrupt whatever you may currently be watching.

The good news is that Apple has provided a couple of options for this, both of which can be found in the AirPlay section under your Apple TV’s Settings menu. If you don’t want your Apple TV to be accessible via AirPlay at all, you can simply toggle it off from here. Alternatively, you can use an onscreen code or a password to prevent AirPlay access to your Apple TV from iOS devices or iTunes. The Onscreen Code option will display a one-time code on the Apple TV screen whenever a user attempts to select it for AirPlay, requiring the user to enter this code on their device before AirPlay streaming will begin; the password option will simply prompt the user for whatever password you choose to set here, again refusing to begin AirPlay streaming unless the proper password is supplied.

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