Apple TV not showing Descriptions


Q: After the 4.2 update, my Apple TV no longer shows the metadata for description on any of my movies or TV shows. Have you noticed this change?

Apple TV not showing Descriptions

– Gene

A: It appears that with the Apple TV 4.2 update, Apple actually changed the display of description information to be more in-line with how the first-generation Apple TV worked, but didn’t quite get it right.

There are actually two description fields stored in each video file: A Description and a Long Description. The Description field is limited to 255 characters and is the field that you can edit in the Video tab within iTunes. The content of this field is normally displayed in the “Description” column in your iTunes library. The Long Description field provides effectively unlimited length but cannot be edited directly in iTunes, although it can be modified via an AppleScript (for Mac users) or via external tagging tools such as AtomicParsley. iTunes displays the content of the Long Description, if available, in a separate pop-up window that appears when clicking the small “info” icon that shows up in the Description column.

Note that all content purchased from the iTunes Store contains a full-length description in the Long Description field and a shorter one or two-sentence summary in the Description field.

With the first-generation Apple TV, the Long Description was always shown by default, however in situations where the Long Description was empty, the Description field would be shown instead. In fact, some older versions of the first-generation Apple TV firmware even fell back to using the Comments field from iTunes if nothing else was filled in—a concession to iTunes 7 where the Description field could not be edited. Since the Long Description field could generally contain a much longer description than the more limited Description field, it made sense that the Apple TV should default to showing the most detailed field available.

When the second-generation Apple TV was released, however, it seems that Apple’s programmers forgot all about the Long Description field and reverted to using the standard “Description” field instead. This actually worked to the disadvantage of those with iTunes-purchased content or those who had taken special effort to add long descriptions to their other content, as this information was suddenly not available on the Apple TV at all. Further, even much of the iTunes Store content appeared with oddly truncated standard description fields—a problem that had existed for some time but only became noticeable with the second-generation Apple TV.

With the 4.2 update, it appears that Apple has “fixed” this earlier problem by going back to using the Long Description field, but have neglected to fall back to anything else in the event that this field is empty—which it will be for many users who have imported and tagged their own content.

The good news is that if you’re Mac user, this is actually pretty easy to fix. You can fill in the Long Descriptions easily via AppleScript, and even simply copy the Descriptions over so that the same content is in both fields. Once the Long Description is properly filled in, it should appear on your Apple TV. The following AppleScript should accomplish the task—simply load up the AppleScript Editor on your Mac, select some of the affected tracks in iTunes, and run the script.

tell application "iTunes"
 set myshows to selection
 repeat with eachshow in selection
  set desc to description of eachshow
  set long description of eachshow to desc
 end repeat
end tell

Unfortunately, the issue will be a bit more complicated for Windows users—AtomicParsley and several of the tagging tools built on it can populate the long description field easily enough, but you’ll have to resort to working with the underlying files and copying the existing descriptions may be a bit more complicated. See our Complete Guide to Managing iTunes Videos for more information.



Jesse Hollington

Jesse Hollington was a Senior Editor at iLounge. He's written about Apple technology for nearly a decade and had been covering the industry since the early days of iLounge. In his role at iLounge, he provided daily news coverage, wrote and edited features and reviews, and was responsible for the overall quality of the site's content.