The initial set up of an Apple TV can be done pretty quickly - especially if you have an iPhone or iPad to hand. But there are some further tweaks that you might want to do to completely personalise the interface and make it suit your needs. We'll look at how to get your new Apple TV working just the way you want it in this article.
How to connect an Apple TV to a television
Before you begin to set up your Apple TV you need to connect it to your television set. This is not actually possible to do so without first purchasing an HDMI cable, which doesn't actually ship with the Apple TV.
You may have an HDMI cable already, if not, Apple sells Belkin's 2m Ultra High Speed 4K HDMI Cable here for £29.95 (ideal if you have a new 4K Apple TV), alternatively, you can buy an HDMI cable on Amazon, like this one, for less than £2.
How to set up an Apple TV
Once you have an HDMI cable, you can set up the Apple TV, here's how.
- Plug in the power cable and connect your Apple TV to your TV via the HDMI lead.
- Turn on your TV and switch to the HDMI input your Apple TV is connected to. (If your TV supports the HDMI-CSC standard you may not even have to switch to the HDMI channel, it may switch automatically).
- Press the Menu button on the Siri Remote. If this doesn’t make the Apple TV come to life, connect the Siri Remote to your Apple TV by holding down Menu and + keys.
- Select your language and country using the remote.
- Here’s where your iPad or iPhone can come in useful. If you have a device running iOS 9.1 or later you can use it to set up your network. If you place your iOS device close to or on top of the Apple TV it will beam the network set up information over (including your complicated router password).
You will need to make sure Bluetooth is switched on on your iOS device. The Apple TV quickly “saw” our iPhone over Bluetooth and attempted to connect to the same Wi-Fi network our iPhone uses.
You’ll be glad of this when you realise that adding passwords is a nightmare because the on-screen keyboard is tortuous to use, but we’ll get onto that next.
Enter a password on the Apple TV
Entering your Apple ID and password are the next step and this is likely to be a frustrating experience as you are confronted by a onscreen keyboard where the alphabet is laid out in one line (rather than in a grid structure as is the case on the older Apple TV).
This means you are scooting from one side of the screen to the other, and inevitably skimming over the letter you wish to choose because you aren’t familiar with the intricacies of the track pad at the top of the Siri Remote.
The easier option is to dictate your email address and password using Siri, by clicking on the relevant field on-screen and holding down the Mic button on the Siri remote.
Use the iPhone remote app
tvOS 9.1 brought support for the Remote app on the iPhone so you can use that to enter characters rather than enter passwords and search terms using Apple TV’s annoying onscreen keyboard.
You can also use Apple Watch’s built-in Remote app to control the Apple TV.
Enable Location Services, Siri, Screensavers, etc on the Apple TV
The next steps in the process of setting up your Apple TV are as follows:
- Choose whether to enable Location Services:
You might be wondering why this would be necessary on a static machine, but it’s worth doing if you want Apple’s new aerial screensavers to change based on what time of day it is.
- Opt into Siri on the Apple TV:
Next you need to opt into Siri (assuming it’s supported in your country - you might assume that because you have Siri on your iPhone, Siri will be available on Apple TV, but this isn’t the case). Say yes to Siri to take advantage of the built-in mic on the Siri Remote and the new commands that you will be able to use with your Apple TV.
- Opt-in to Aerial screensavers:
Speaking of those Aerial screensaver, mentioned earlier, this is also an opt-in and you will be asked during setup if you want them. If you have a limited broadband deal you might want to be cautious here because Apple warns that enabling screensavers will result in about 600MB of downloads per month.
- Agree to send diagnostic data:
The final screen asks if Apple can get diagnostic data from your Apple TV, including your location. It’s totally up to you if you sign up to this, but you can’t complain if the Apple TV doesn’t improve in the way you want it to if you don’t allow it to send diagnostic information to Apple.
Get to know the Home Screen of the Apple TV
Once you have set things up you will see the Home Screen for the Apple TV.
You may notice it’s a little different to the Home Screen of the older Apple TV, if you are familiar with those models.
There is no Netflix, which may have you worried for a minute - but there’s no reason to be concerned. If you are wondering how to watch Netflix on the Apple TV, fear not, a Netflix app is available in the Apple TV App Store.
So now is the time to have a look around the App Store for some apps to populate your Home Screen with.
Change the screensavers on the Apple TV
There are lots of ways to personalise your Apple TV. You might love Apple’s slow-moving aerial shots of various locations around the world, like London or the great wall of China but what if you fancy looking at something else?
If you are bored with the aerial screenshots you are seeing you can get new ones more frequently.
The new aerial screensaver settings are accessed via Settings > General > Screensaver. The default is download new videos monthly, but you can change it to weekly or daily. Beware: each batch of new videos weighs in at about 600MB.
This will give you more variety, but unfortunately you can’t choose which views you see - so there’s no way to choose your favourite city and just watch that, which is a shame.
If you are completely bored of the aerial screensavers, you can choose to use your own photos as screensaver. You can use photos in your photo library, Photo Stream or iCloud Photo Library.
- Open the Photos app on the Apple TV and select the album you want to be the screensaver carousel.
- Tap screensaver to set that album as screensaver.
- To finesse your settings even more, go to Settings > General > Screensaver > Screensaver Type.
Apple also provides Animals, Flowers, and Nature photos as screensaver options, and you can also use album artwork from the music app if you want to.
Once you have selected your photos you can choose the transition type from a variety of options including Ken Burns, and additional options within that, such as Fade Through Black. You can also choose how long a slide shows for.
How to put your Apple TV to sleep
The Apple TV will automatically go to sleep after an hour, but you can put it to sleep yourself if you wish to. Some might say that there is no value in putting modern electronics to sleep as leaving them awake doesn’t use up a lot of energy, but if you have the Apple TV in a bedroom you are likely to want to stop the light showing when you turn in for the night.
To put your Apple TV to sleep hold the home button for a few seconds until you see a prompt giving you the choice to Sleep or Cancel.
Press the home button when you wish to turn the Apple TV on again.
How to stop your Apple TV from going to sleep
Perhaps rather than wanting to send your Apple TV to sleep, you’d prefer to leave it on. The Apple TV will go to sleep by default after an hour, but maybe you like to leave the aerial screensaver playing in the background.
To change the default go to Settings > General > Sleep After, and then change this from one hour. The options are Never, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, 10 hours, so there is bound to be one that suits you.
How to restart your Apple TV
If something odd happens with your Apple TV the best solution might be the tried and tested “turn it off and on again”. It is possible to restart your Apple TV by tapping Settings > System > Restart.
Alternatively press and hold down the menu and home button on the Siri remote at the same time and let go when the light on the front of your Apple TV starts flashing.
If your Siri Remote isn’t handy, you can also restart the Apple TV via Settings > System > Restart.
How to activate VoiceOver on the Apple TV
Apple has included a number of accessibility options with the Apple TV, and VoiceOver is one of them.
You can ask Siri to turn VoiceOver on, or navigate to Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver.
Once VoiceOver is activated when you highlight text with the Siri Remote VoiceOver will read the text out loud.
You can pause VoiceOver by tapping the touchpad once with two fingers. Tap twice with two fingers to resume VoiceOver.
How to zoom in on your TV screen using the Apple TV
Another accessibility feature is the ability to magnify the screen of the Apple TV.
To turn on the Zoom feature go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Zoom.
Once activated you can use the touchpad on the Siri Remote to magnify images on the Apple TV, zoom in on a particular section of the screen, pan around an image, or change the screen magnification.
How to turn on Closed Captions & Subtitles on the Apple TV
You can also turn on Closed Captions - which are essentially onscreen textual description of non-speech elements in what you are watching. Triple-click the Home button to open the accessibility options that include VoiceOver, Zoom, Closed Captions, and Audio Descriptions.
Subtitles can be turned on if you swipe down on the remote touchscreen.
If you want to choose a default, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Accessibility Shortcut and choose your default.
How to take a screenshot on the Apple TV
It is actually possible to take a screenshot on the Apple TV, but it’s not simple. Here’s how.
- Download Apple Xcode development environment from the Mac App Store on your Mac.
- Install Xcode on your Mac.
- Connect your Apple TV to your Mac using a USB-C or USB cable.
- Open Xcode. Select Window > Devices and choose the Apple TV.
- Click on Take Screenshot.
How to record video from the Apple TV display
You can also record video from your Apple TV.
- Connect your Apple TV to your Mac using a USB-C or USB cable.
- Open QuickTime on your Mac. Select File > New Movie Recording.
- Click on the arrow beside the record button and select Apple TV from the Camera and Microphone options.
- Click the Record button.
How to share your Mac, iPad or iPhone screen to your TV
You can see and (usually) hear anything running on your Mac, iPad or iPhone on your TV if you use AirPlay to stream between the two devices via the Apple TV.
To use AirPlay on your Mac click on the AirPlay icon in the menu bar of your screen and choose Apple TV. You can choose to mirror the screen or use the TV as a separate screen to view content.
To use AirPlay on your iPhone or iPad swipe up from the bottom of the screen and switch on AirPlay. As with the Mac version of AirPlay, you will have the choice of mirroring your screen or sending pages to your TV screen. The only issue with using AirPlay on your iPad or iPhone is you will be unable to use the device while it is streaming content to the TV and things like phone calls will interrupt your viewing.
We have in-depth tutorials on doing this here:
How to surf the web on the Apple TV
This is one of those things that everyone wants to do but is only really possible with a workaround.
There is an open source project that should allow you to view web content on your Apple TV, according to 9to5Mac. Users can scroll around the web using the glass trackpad on the Siri Remote. However, it’s unlikely that the web browser will launch on the App Store though because it requires a private API to function.
The alternative is to use AirPlay to stream a webpage from your Mac, iPad or iPhone to your TV via the Apple TV. This way you will be able to see the webpage on the larger screen, but note that any navigation will need to be done via the device you are sharing from - so scrolling will need to be done on your Mac, for example.
We also cover how to share your Mac screen to your TV here.
How to fix problems with your Apple TV
If you have any issues with your Apple TV, the first step is usually to check that your software is up to date.
To check whether there is an update go to Settings > System > Software Updates > Update Software. If there is an update you will be able to download and install it here. (You will find Software Updates in Settings > General > Update Software on the older Apple TV models).
Be wary of Apple TV updates though, there have been reports in the past of updates causing problems for some people. We recommend waiting a few days before updating just in case.