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Take Control of Apple TV, Chapter 3: Control Your Apple TV

by Josh Centers

This article is a pre-release chapter in the upcoming “Take Control of Apple TV,” by Josh Centers, scheduled for public release in January 2014. Apart from “Chapter 1: Introducing Apple TV [1],” these chapters are available only to TidBITS members [2]; see “‘Take Control of Apple TV’ Streaming in TidBITS [3]” for details.


Control Your Apple TV

With only four buttons, the Apple Remote included with your Apple TV is quite possibly the most elegant remote control ever made. However, that simplicity hides some useful features. This chapter will teach you how to master the Apple Remote’s basic features and shortcuts.

But you’re not limited to the Apple Remote; the Apple TV can be commanded by a third-party remote, an iOS device with Apple’s Remote app or, as we saw in Chapter 2, Set Up Your Apple TV [4], a Bluetooth keyboard. Each option offers considerably more power than the Apple Remote, and each has its own particular strengths (and weaknesses).

Choose Your Weapon

You have several choices in how you control your Apple TV. Here are the pros and cons of each.

  • Apple Remote: This is the default controller for the Apple TV, and it is included in the box. It’s delightfully simple, but it’s small, easy to lose, and offers fewer capabilities than the alternatives. You may also find it slow and tedious to type with. To master the Apple Remote, jump to Tame the Apple Remote [5].
  • Third-Party Remotes: The Apple TV can learn to recognize signals from any remote you choose. A third-party remote may offer a lot more shortcut buttons than the Apple Remote, but you’ll have to program each button for use with the Apple TV. Learn how to teach the Apple TV to learn your favorite remote in Pair a Third-Party Remote [6].
  • Remote for iOS: With Apple’s Remote app, you can control your Apple TV with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. You can quickly access iTunes content from your computer with the Apple TV and use the iOS onscreen keyboard to enter text. However, the app’s gesture-based controls can be slippery. I show you how to set up the app and walk you through its features in Control Apple TV with the Remote App [7].
  • Bluetooth Keyboard: You can use any Bluetooth keyboard as a remote for the Apple TV, making text entry and menu browsing a breeze. However, people may give you strange looks when you pull out a keyboard in the living room. For more on using a keyboard with your Apple TV, read Become an Apple TV Keyboard Jockey [8].

Tame the Apple Remote

Let’s take a look at each button to see what it does (Figure 1):

  • Directional ring: This prominent ring, which I call the “directional” ring, has dots to indicate up, down, left, and right. Press a dot to navigate the menus. Less obviously, you can press the Up or Down dot to reveal additional options while playing content. We’ll cover those throughout the book.
  • Select: Press the silver button in the center of the directional ring to select menu options.
  • Menu: The Menu button is a bit of a misnomer, as it doesn’t display a menu, but rather takes you back to the previous screen.
  • Play/Pause: As you would expect, this button plays and pauses content.
Figure 1: The Apple remote features only four buttons: a directional ring, the Select button in the center of that, and the Menu and Play/Pause buttons under that." />

Figure 1: The Apple remote features only four buttons: a directional ring, the Select button in the center of that, and the Menu and Play/Pause buttons under that.

Josh’s Favorite Apple Remote Tips

Use these shortcuts to zip around the Apple TV interface:

  • Return to the main menu from anywhere: To⁠ jump back to the main menu from just about anywhere, hold down the Menu button for a few seconds.
  • Put the Apple TV to sleep: If you don’t want to wait for the Apple TV to go into standby mode on its own (which happens after one hour by default), navigate to the main menu and then hold the Play/Pause button until the Apple TV falls asleep.
  • Restart the Apple TV: Hold down Menu and the Down dot until the status light on the Apple TV begins blinking rapidly, then release both buttons.

Stupid Apple TV Tricks: The FrankenMote

Always losing that slippery little Apple Remote? Find some rubber bands and strap that sucker onto the back of your TV remote! Most remote controls have a lot of empty space at the bottom, giving plenty of room for the bands (Figure 2). The main downside, apart from it looking a little ugly, is that the TV remote might block some of the Apple Remote’s signals.

Figure 2: With just a few rubber bands and a big remote, you’ll never lose another Apple Remote!" />

Figure 2: With just a few rubber bands and a big remote, you’ll never lose another Apple Remote!

Pair a Third-Party Remote

Is the Apple Remote not doing it for you? Too small? Too hard to hold? Forever lost in your couch? That’s cool; the Apple TV can work fine with any remote control.

Tip: The Apple TV can be programmed to use any infrared remote, not just a universal remote. In a pinch, you can use an old, unused remote, even one from a stereo, to control your Apple TV.

Tip: If you’ve lost your Apple Remote, you’ll need to use the Remote app on an iOS device, or a Bluetooth keyboard, to run through the steps below to teach the Apple TV about the replacement remote.

Follow these steps:

  1. On the Apple TV, navigate to Settings > General > Remotes > Learn Remote. If you’re using a universal remote, choose an unused device on the remote, then select Start on the screen.

    The Apple TV walks you through the process.

  2. For each button shown on the Learn Remote screen, hold down the corresponding button on your remote until the bar at the bottom of the screen is full (Figure 3). If you make a mistake, press the Menu button on the Apple Remote to back out and start again.
    Figure 3: You can choose almost any button on your remote to stand in for various Apple TV commands, including some you won’t find on the Apple Remote." />

    Figure 3: You can choose almost any button on your remote to stand in for various Apple TV commands, including some you won’t find on the Apple Remote.

  3. Enter a name for the remote. (As always with the Apple TV, typing goes faster with the Remote app or a Bluetooth keyboard).

After entering a name, you’re technically done, but you’ll notice one button missing in the guided setup: the Play/Pause button! You’ll be prompted to either complete setup, or Set Up Playback Buttons.

The best part of using a separate remote is that doing so enables more capabilities than the Apple Remote provides. You can set separate play and pause buttons, rewind and fast forward, previous and next chapter, and even skip back and skip ahead (which rewind or fast-forward your media 30 seconds). Set these just as you set the basic buttons.

Tip: If you can make buttons on your TV remote do double-duty for the Apple TV without causing confusion, you can get by with a single remote that can turn on the TV, adjust volume, and control the Apple TV.

If you later decide that the buttons you chose aren’t ideal, you can make changes by navigating to Settings > General > Remotes and choosing your remote’s name from the list. You can rename the remote, delete it entirely, or redo the basic or playback buttons.

Control Apple TV with the Remote App

One of the best features of the Apple TV is that you can control it with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. You can use the touch screen to navigate menus, and better yet, you can enter text directly with the on-screen keyboard instead of hunting and pecking with the Apple Remote. You can even access content from a Home Sharing-enabled iTunes library with the touch of a button!

Set Up the Remote App

To get started, download the free Remote app [9] from the App Store.

Note: The Remote app works over Wi-Fi, so your iOS device and Apple TV must be on the same network.

Once it’s installed, open the Remote app. To use it with your Apple TV, tap Set Up Home Sharing, then enter your Apple ID credentials.

Next, you’ll see a grid of available devices you can control in the app (Figure 4) .

Figure 4: Apple’s Remote app works via iTunes Home Sharing and lets you control multiple Apple TVs and Mac-based iTunes libraries." />

Figure 4: Apple’s Remote app works via iTunes Home Sharing and lets you control multiple Apple TVs and Mac-based iTunes libraries.

If your Apple TV isn’t listed, you’ll have to enable Home Sharing on the Apple TV. Open Settings, then choose General > Remotes > Remote App. Select Turn On Home Sharing and enter your Apple ID credentials. After you’re logged in, you’ll be asked if you’d like to use that Apple ID for the iTunes Store, if you haven’t already set that up. Select Yes to save yourself some typing later.

Tip: Once you enable Home Sharing on the Apple TV, it can also access any Mac-based iTunes libraries on the local network that are signed into the same iTunes account, via the Computers app. See Computers in the next chapter.

You’ll then see a screen telling you that Home Sharing is on. Select OK to finish.

Use the Remote App on the iPhone

Let’s take a tour of what you can do with the Remote app. Open it and choose your Apple TV from the list of options.

You should now see the Control screen, which lets you simulate pressing buttons on the Apple Remote (Figure 5). The large area in the middle of the screen is called the gestures area and acts like a trackpad, letting you swipe in different directions to control the Apple TV. Tapping the gestures area is the same as pressing the Select button on the Apple Remote. To navigate, swipe your finger over the gestures area. For example, swiping up would do the same thing as pressing Up on the Apple Remote.

Figure 5: With Apple’s Remote app, you can either use interface control (left), or media control (right)." />

Figure 5: With Apple’s Remote app, you can either use interface control (left), or media control (right).

There are three buttons on the bottom of the screen. From left to right: Options [image link], Menu, and Play/Pause. The Options button is a quick way to access options during playback. For example, while watching an iTunes movie, pressing Options lets you quickly select chapters, subtitles, audio tracks, and AirPlay Speakers. The Menu and Play/Pause buttons behave just as they do on the Apple Remote.

However, the Remote app’s gesture controls can be slippery. It’s easy to overshoot your target without the tactile feedback of pressing a button on the Apple Remote.

Fortunately, the Remote app gives you not only control over the Apple TV’s interface, but direct control over content. You can control content playing on the Apple TV just as you would any local content on your iPhone by tapping Done in the upper right of the Control screen to switch to the Computers screen, then tapping the Now Playing button in the upper-right corner of the Computers tab.

On the Now Playing screen (Figure 6), you see the currently playing title featured prominently on the top. In the middle of the screen is a track position scrubber. Drag the knob to scroll through the title’s timeline. On the bottom is a button that skips ten seconds back, a Play/Pause button, and Next and Previous buttons, which skip forwards or backwards 30 seconds, respectively. Press either Next or Previous to rewind or fast forward. The longer you press the button, the faster the Apple TV rewinds or fast forwards. Release the button to continue playing.

Figure 6: The Now Playing view gives you direct access to the media’s control, including play, pause, and time." />

Figure 6: The Now Playing view gives you direct access to the media’s control, including play, pause, and time.

To exit Now Playing and return to the Computers screen, tap the Back button in the upper-left hand corner.

You can also access content directly from shared iTunes libraries to play back on the Apple TV—tap Done in the upper-left hand corner of the Control screen, then tap More in the lower-right, then tap Computers to switch to the Computers tab. In the Computers tab, you should see any iTunes libraries available on your local network, where “available” requires the host computer to be turned on, iTunes to be open and signed into the same Apple ID as the Apple TV, and Home Sharing to be enabled. (To learn how to set up Home Sharing in iTunes, see Computers in the next chapter.)

Tap a shared iTunes library, and you come to a screen that gives you direct access to your content (Figure 7). The toolbar on the bottom of the screen lets you switch between content types. The defaults are Playlists, Artists, Control (which returns you to the Control screen for using the Apple TV interface), Search, and More, which offers other options, such as viewing Movies, TV Shows, Genres, Composers, and so on, plus lets you search the iTunes library.

Figure 7: With the Remote app, you can access your entire iTunes library to play back on the Apple TV (left). You can rearrange the default tab shortcuts (right)." />

Figure 7: With the Remote app, you can access your entire iTunes library to play back on the Apple TV (left). You can rearrange the default tab shortcuts (right).

If you don’t like the default tabs in the toolbar, you can change them by tapping the More tab, then tapping Edit in the upper-right. That displays the Configure screen, with a grid of icons that you can place in the toolbar. Just drag the item you want in the toolbar on top of an existing button to replace it. Tap Done in the upper-right when you’re happy with the layout (Figure 7).

Type with the Remote App

Perhaps the best part of using the Remote app is that you can type into text fields with your iPhone’s virtual keyboard instead of hunting and pecking with the Apple Remote. Whenever you navigate into a text field, your iPhone vibrates and displays a text field you can type into. To dismiss the onscreen keyboard, tap Hide in the upper-left. To bring it back up, tap the keyboard icon [image link] in the upper left.

Tip: If you store your passwords in a password management app like 1Password, you can copy them from that app and paste them into the Remote app to log into services like Netflix more easily.

Use the Remote App on the iPad

The capabilities of the iPad version of Remote are identical to its little sibling, but the interface is rather different (Figure 8). Here’s a quick overview of the differences.

After you select your Apple TV from the device list, you won’t be taken to the interface controls, but rather media controls. The controls should be familiar if you use the Music or Video apps on the iPad. Tapping the media artwork near the top of the screen while something’s playing brings you to the same Now Playing interface that’s available on the iPhone.

To take direct control of the Apple TV’s interface, tap the cross in the upper right. To the right of that button is a button that enables or disables the onscreen keyboard — when available.

Access iTunes libraries by tapping the action label in the lower-left corner. Select a library, and the relevant content appears in the Remote app’s interface. Unlike the iPhone’s interface, you cannot customize this list. You choices are Music, Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, and iTunes U.

Figure 8: The iPad version of Remote offers the same capabilities as the iPhone version, but with a different layout." />

Figure 8: The iPad version of Remote offers the same capabilities as the iPhone version, but with a different layout.

Become an Apple TV Keyboard Jockey

If you skipped Chapter 1, Set Up Your Apple TV [10], you might have missed the fact that you can control your Apple TV with a Bluetooth keyboard. Here’s how to set up and use a keyboard with the Apple TV.

Note: While any Bluetooth keyboard should work, Apple only officially supports its own Wireless Keyboard, so that’s what I use here. If you use another make of keyboard, refer to its instructions.

Pair Your Keyboard

Turn on your (unpaired) keyboard and navigate to Settings > General > Bluetooth. Under Devices, select your keyboard and press Select. You’ll then be prompted to enter a code on the keyboard and press Return. If pairing succeeds, you’ll be notified. Select OK to continue.

Control the Apple TV with your Mac’s Keyboard

With the $4.99 Type2Phone [11], you can control your Apple TV with any keyboard connected to your Bluetooth-enabled computer.

Once you have the app, you need to use it to pair your computer to the Apple TV. Follow these instructions to the letter or pairing may fail!

  1. Open System Preferences > Bluetooth. Be sure that Bluetooth is on and it shows that your computer is discoverable.
  2. Keep the Bluetooth preference pane up, and launch Type2Phone.
  3. In Type2Phone, click “Click here to connect” in the upper left (Figure 9), then choose Connect to a New Device. A popup appears. Ignore it for now.
  4. On the Apple TV, open Settings > General >Bluetooth. Wait a minute, and your computer should appear in the Device list as a keyboard. Select it. You might have to do this twice.
  5. A pairing request popup appears on your computer, asking if you want to pair to the Apple TV. Click Pair. If pairing is successful, you should see the keyboard icon pop up on the left, and your computer’s keyboard will be marked as Connected.
Figure 9: After opening the Bluetooth preference pane, ensuring that Bluetooth is on and your computer is discoverable, open Type2Phone, click “Click here to connect,” then choose Connect to a New Device." />

Figure 9: After opening the Bluetooth preference pane, ensuring that Bluetooth is on and your computer is discoverable, open Type2Phone, click “Click here to connect,” then choose Connect to a New Device.

You can now control your Apple TV with your computer’s keyboard. However, Type2Phone must be the in the foreground. If you switch to another application, it disconnects. If that happens, switch back to Type2Phone, click “Click here to connect,” and choose your Apple TV from the device list.

Unpair Your Keyboard

If you later decide that you want to use your Bluetooth keyboard with another device, go to Settings > General >Bluetooth, and select your keyboard from the list. You’ll be presented with the same screen as when you first paired the keyboard. This time, select Forget this Device to free your keyboard from the grip of the Apple TV.

Tip: If you want a keyboard that can easily switch between controlling your Mac and your Apple TV, check out the Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K760 [12], which can switch between three Bluetooth devices. It usually retails for $80, but has been seen for as little as $50.

Using the Keyboard

While using a full keyboard to control your TV might seem like overkill, it’s actually pretty simple. Use the arrow keys to navigate, press Return to simulate the Apple Remote’s Select button, and use Esc when you would press Menu on the Apple Remote.

You can use the keyboard’s media keys, but they’re fairly limited. For instance, if you play music from the Apple TV’s Music app and jump back to the home screen, the Play/Pause key will pause the music, but pressing it again won’t resume it.

One distinct advantage of controlling your Apple TV with a keyboard is that you can cut through menus with ease. Whenever you’re at a long menu, start typing what you want, just as if you were using LaunchBar. For instance, if you’re in the Artists tab in Music, start typing the artist’s name you want to listen to. You should jump straight to that artist, saving yourself a lot of time and menu digging.

Read More: About [13] | Chapter 1 [14] | Chapter 2 [15] | Chapter 3 [16] | Chapter 4 [17] | Chapter 5 [18] | Chapter 6 [19] | Chapter 7 [20] | Chapter 8 [21] | Chapter 9 [22] | Chapter 10 [23] | Chapter 11 [24]

[1]: http://tidbits.com/article/14269
[2]: http://tidbits.com/member_benefits.html
[3]: http://tidbits.com/article/14266
[4]: http://tidbits.com/article/14270
[5]: #TametheAppleRemote
[6]: #PairaThirdPartyRemote
[7]: #ControlAppleTVwiththeRemoteApp
[8]: #BecomeanAppleTVKeyboardJockey
[9]: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/remote/id284417350?mt=8&at=10l5PW
[10]: http://tidbits.com/article/14269
[11]: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/type2phone/id472717129?mt=12&at=10l5PW
[12]: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007VL8Y2C/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B007VL8Y2C&linkCode=as2&tag=9to503-20
[13]: http://tidbits.com/article/14266
[14]: http://tidbits.com/article/14269
[15]: http://tidbits.com/article/14270
[16]: http://tidbits.com/article/14291
[17]: http://tidbits.com/article/14303
[18]: http://tidbits.com/article/14328
[19]: http://tidbits.com/article/14361
[20]: http://tidbits.com/article/14383
[21]: http://tidbits.com/article/14407
[22]: http://tidbits.com/article/14430
[23]: http://tidbits.com/article/14449
[24]: http://tidbits.com/article/14473