Apple TV as a home theater bridge

My spouse and I enjoy the wealth of video content available through various streaming services. We’ve used TiVo since the early 2000s, and are on our second RoKu box.

I just couldn’t get excited about Apple TV. We don’t purchase music or video from Apple, and even Apple TV+ looks sparse and mundane.

But, this week in our isolated household we are both attending a professional conference that was supposed to take place in Atlanta. We have done that in various cities for the past 8 years, and had a blast every time.

We were not looking forward to watching on our screens, even the Retina screen on my MBPro. We have a 50-inch plasma display and a 7.2 channel sound system, but they’d be dark because there was no way to stream the closed video to them.

Then I remembered: AirPlay.

Apple was very helpful in getting me the Apple TV HD box, and I went through the setup. It seemed to take longer than on RoKu, because passwords still had to be “typed” using the touchpad on the remote. Once it was set up, the remote went in a drawer, and I added Apple TV to the activities on a Logitech Harmony remote.

The little black box has been dark until today. With the hurdle to admission being a 4-digit code typed on my MBPro, we were able to see the video content in all its glory on the big screen, and full sound on our large system. It was relatively great! (Greater would have been seeing it live in Atlanta, but that’s not possible or responsible.)

As a content delivery device, I suppose Apple TV works for those who enjoy it. I see no compelling reason to replace our RoKu, and AFAIK it can’t replace TiVo for all the content it’s pulling down and time-shifting for us.

But for this one purpose, it’s a tad expensive but works in that legendary “don’t need an instruction manual” manner for which Apple is famous. I can live with that.

1 Like

And that’s why we’re still rocking a third-generation Apple TV. We don’t have tons of content from the Apple stores, either, or even a 4K TV. We actually don’t watch much TV besides what’s on network and the occasion Hulu-as-DVR stream. But it’s nice to be able to put the grandkids’ faces up on the TV or to quickly move a video from one of our lap devices to a bigger screen or play on a hi-fi a music stream that we can’t get on the Apple TV.

A lot of people will find Apple TV overpriced if they don’t entertain much in the Walled Garden. But moving stuff around the living room is pretty effortless with AirPlay.

1 Like

The only other streaming device we have is our LG Smart TV, which generally takes care of our Hulu and Prime viewing needs (there are other apps that we don’t have time to watch), but the TV 4K we recently bought is now working overtime to bring various COVID briefings from YouTube, Facebook, online news video and a Zoom conference to the big screen. I’ve also had occasion to need to use the Hulu app when the one on the LG froze up on us.

1 Like

You can use your iPhone as a remote for Apple TV and if you have a password app can input it that way.

1 Like

If you have a Mac running iTunes (or its Catalina “equivalents”) you can use it as a media server for your ATV by using Homesharing. I have hundreds of videos on a hard drive attached to the Mac and registered* to iTunes. They appear in the Computers app on the ATV

  • In iTunes preferences/advanced uncheck “Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library” then you just drag the file from Finder to the iTunes window. They will appear as “Home videos” (can be changed with Video Info options)
1 Like

The bridging is effortless, and during a break in today’s conference stream I played a bit with what happens if you have two devices you want to use. Replacing the feed from my MBPro with a YouTube video playing on my iPhone was just a matter of selecting the AppleTV in the AirPlay menu, then answering a dialog about replacing what was currently playing. Completely graceful, and well thought out.

That’s a good tip, thanks! My Apple ID is not as long as it should be, primarily because of having to memorize and hand-type it everywhere. This is good incentive to change it to something more complicated.

Good to know, but even though my office Mac has thousands of tracks stored in it, I’m still running my now-ancient Squeezebox devices from it using the also-now-ancient Logitech Media Server. It all works, and the one good thing that came out of Logitech eating up and excreting the Squeeze system (and replacing it with nothing) is that they are still running their LMS cloud service.

LMS itself uses the iTunes music library and reads its database to organize its own database. Changes in iTunes eventually show up there.

For the short term I have no need to stream iTunes through Apple TV, but someday that may change.

I do indeed like the ability to use AirPlay via Apple TV (although my LG TV now supports this as well). But I use the Apple TV for much more. I purchase and rent — and watch — movies primarily through iTunes — and Apple TV makes that easier than other alternatives. I also listen to and view content stored on my Mac (music, photos and such); again, Apple TV makes this a breeze. And finally, Apple TV most consistently support the highest quality video and sound content options (Including 4K, DolbyVision and Dolby Atmos sound), which is great for my home theater setup.

6 Likes

Ted! So nice to see you here, and I hope you’ll participate more in the discussions going forward. We may be a long ways from the days of MacFixIt and “Sad Macs, Bombs, and Other Disasters,” but your experience would still be a boon to the community.

image

5 Likes

Those are all great uses, and it sounds like you use Apple TV as your single content conduit for your home theater. I don’t purchase or rent movies (and recall when Apple had something like a 48 hour window for rentals because they considered it an “improvement” on running out to Blockbuster), and because I’ve been building my home theater since 2009 I’ve gathered a collection of different devices to feed it.

It’s emblematic of this past decade that every device I have connected to my receiver has the ability to run content through apps. The LG TV and Blu-Ray player, RoKu, and TiVo all run apps. (But since the two LG devices are as old as the theater, LG doesn’t update them so they’re functionally useless for that purpose.) My setup doesn’t support anything beyond 1080p, and the Onkyo receiver would choke on formats that Dolby has introduced recently, though it seems to have a plethora of earlier Dolby stuff.

For my setup, it makes no sense to pivot to Apple TV as yet another content box, because I have at least two other choices that have given my spouse and I what we want. (And I didn’t bother with the 4K box, though I could have gotten it for the same price as the HD I bought from Apple by going to Costco.)

There will come a time when we refresh the whole setup. It’s not really creaky, even though it’s 11 years old now. But, eventually, we may want to simplify, or give up the cable bill that costs more per month than our AT&T bill for 2 iPhones. When we do, @ted2, your setup looks tempting. :slight_smile:

Ted, this book kept me from shooting myself on many occasions during the OS 7 & 8 days. And it wasn’t just about solving problems, it was also loaded with advice about preventative procedures that helped minimize the number of times I had to crawl under my desk to hit the power switch to reboot.

3 Likes

Hi Adam. Good to hear from you as well. I hope you and your family are all healthy and managing okay in this strange world we now find ourselves.

1 Like

With permission, I’d like to add my two pennyworth (UK) or two cents’ worth (US?). The Apple TV is brilliant for showing photos via Airplay (I copy them into Dropbox from the iMac, launch it on an iPhone, mirror on the TV.)
We also subscribe to mubi.com, a streaming service. If you’re interested in world cinema as against ‘movies’ it’s superb. We’ve also tried Apple TV+, Netflix and Amazon Prime but - I dunno, they’re mostly just entertainment, aren’t they? Apologies if this sounds pretentious, but cinema as an art form is something different. (Puts head down, waits for missiles to fly overhead.)

2 Likes

I still have a copy of this book on a shelf. It helped keep me going when disaster hit.

That would simplify one of my workflows. When our son and DIL came back from their honeymoon we had them over for a visit with other family, and they wanted to give us a sneak peek at photos from the wedding and honeymoon. I had to copy them from a thumb drive to a special folder on my iMac at the other end of the house, allow the media server to index them, and then play them through Roku. And even though it did the job, it was artless, with not even the charm of a slide projector.

Not at all. The current troubles brought a number of discount and trial offers from other streaming services and I’ve seen some documentaries and films that I otherwise would have missed. I’ve really tired of urban dwellers’ problems and crime and politics as dramatized on the services you mention. The potential with all these devices is opening the screen to many other offerings, like podcasting has done for audio. I’ll keep my brickbats for building, thank you.