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 “,” these chapters are available only to ; see “ ” for details.
The Apple TV isn’t just a great device to watch movies and TV — it’s also a fantastic hub for all your audio. This chapter kicks off with a quick look at the important topic of improving sound quality and then cruises through the most important audio apps on the Apple TV.
In, I talk about how you can buy music from Apple and play your previous purchases. And, in , I look at how you can play featured stations created by Apple or make your own. Of course, you can also access music from , even if its not from Apple, or you may want to learn how to . Plus, you can also listen to  on your Apple TV.
With all the music covered, it’s time to talk about. Finally, the chapter closes with a careful look at how to  to an Apple TV.
The Apple TV is a fantastic home audio system, but it needs speakers! If you’re playing music over tinny TV speakers, it won’t sound much better than an old-time wax cylinder.
To improve your audio, consider adding more hardware:
Which one to choose? Only you can decide, but I will share my setup. I connect my Apple TV’s video directly to my television with HDMI, but I connect the Apple TV’s audio to a Sony home-theater receiver via an optical audio cable (the receiver is old, so it doesn’t accept HDMI input). Attached to the receiver is a set of old 2.1 (two speakers plus a subwoofer) Sony speakers that originally came with a home stereo. The speakers are actually from a 5.1 (five speakers plus a subwoofer) surround-sound set, but I don’t have the extra three speakers connected for a few reasons. First, I hate having wires strewn across my living room. Second, some movies still don’t support 5.1 correctly, which is annoying. Third, music sounds terrible over 5.1, and I hate having to switch between the two. For me, 2.1 sounds great and comes with fewer headaches.
The advantage of my setup is since audio and video are completely separate, I don’t have to turn on the TV to hear audio. Remember, the Apple TV wakes up when it receives an AirPlay signal. So, I can pull a song up on my iPhone, in any audio app, and send it via AirPlay to my big speakers in the living room. When I do this, my song travels wirelessly via AirPlay to my Apple TV. The Apple TV routes it through the optical audio port to a cable that transmits the tune to my Sony home-theater receiver and then blasts the sound out of my speakers, waking everyone in the house.
If my old receiver ever bites the dust, I happen to have an AirPort Express next to my TV, so I can plug a set of speakers into that and set up the AirPort Express as an AirPlay receiver.
The Music app on the Apple TV is your portal to iTunes music — your prior purchases, your iTunes Match library, and music you can purchase from the iTunes Store.
To access music from the iTunes Store, find the Music app in the main menu. Before opening the app, when you’ve highlighted its icon, you might notice that, like the Movies and TV Shows apps, a Cover Flow menu appears at the top of the screen, showing a sample of your music and the top songs in the iTunes Store.
Select the Music icon to open the app, and you see your iTunes music collection and what’s available for purchase (Figure 1).
In Music, the default view is Top Music (Figure 1, above), which shows the most popular songs and albums in iTunes. For more viewing options, press Left or Right to select Music Videos, Genres, and Search from the navigation bar.
To buy a song or album, simply select it with your remote. You can preview individual songs before purchase. When you’re ready, select the Buy button, which has the price listed (Figure 2), then select OK at the confirmation screen.
To listen to your music, select the leftmost button in the Music navigation bar. The name of this button changes depending on your iTunes account:
No matter what the view is named, the menu is the same. You can view songs by artists, albums, genres, and more. Also, you can play any available playlists or select Shuffle Songs to play your entire music library randomly. Shuffle also appears as an option as you delve further into your music, so, for example, you can shuffle songs in a genre or playlist (Figure 4).
To see the currently playing track, select Now Playing.
While viewing the Now Playing track, press Play/Pause to…well, you know (Figure 5). Press Left once to skip back to the start of a song, and press it again to skip to the previous song. Press Right to skip to the next song. If you hold Left or Right, you can scrub (rewind or fast forward) within the current song.
Hold Select while viewing the Now Playing track to view even more options (Figure 6). You can create a temporary playlist based on the current song with Genius, work with Up Next (see the sidebar just ahead), view all songs by the artist, view all songs on the album, or select and control the volume of AirPlay speakers.
Unlike video, audio keeps playing as you move around the interface, even on the main menu. If you step away from the Apple TV, it will show the currently playing track instead of the screensaver. To stop the music at any time, press Play/Pause. But once it’s stopped, if you want to turn the music back on, you’ll have to do so from inside the Music app.
With iTunes Radio you can create custom “radio” stations based on an artist, genre, or song, and stations you create in iTunes on your computer or in the iOS Music app also appear on the Apple TV. You can tailor each station to emphasize or exclude certain artists. iTunes Radio is free, but ad supported unless you pay Apple $24.99 per year for iTunes Match, at which point the ads disappear from iTunes Radio. One particularly cool thing about iTunes Radio is that it sometimes plays upcoming albums for free.
To start, open the iTunes Radio app from the main menu. In the default Stations view, you see featured stations along with any stations that you’ve created (Figure 8). To play a station, select it.
The playback controls are a bit different from those in the Music app. Play/Pause works as you would expect, but you can’t scrub inside a track or skip to a previous track. You can press Right to skip to the next track, but there’s a limit of six skips per hour per station.
Press Left, Right, or Up while listening to a song to display more options (Figure 9). For example, you can add the current track to your iTunes wish list, make a new station from it, or tell iTunes Radio to never play it again. The options vary a bit depending on whether you’re listening to one of your own stations, a featured station, or an unreleased album being previewed on iTunes Radio.
If you tire of viewing a song’s options, press Menu to return to the player controls while the song keeps playing. To return to the Stations pane, press Menu again.
You can base a new station on an artist, album, or genre. To get started from Stations view, either scroll down and select the Add Station icon or scroll up to the nav bar and select Add Station.
From the Add Station menu, select a genre station or select Create a Station to create a custom one (Figure 10).
After selecting Create a Station, type the artist, song, or genre you want to base the station on. As you type, suggestions appear to the right. Once you see something you want, press Right and select it. The Apple TV adds your new station to your My Stations list and begins playing it.
Now that you’ve made an iTunes Radio station, you may want to improve it — or get rid of it. To accomplish these tasks, begin by pressing Up to open the nav bar and then select Edit Stations.
Here’s a rundown of the important options:
The last button in the navigation bar in iTunes Radio is History. Although you can look in this view to remind yourself of what you’ve heard recently, Apple’s aim is to encourage you to buy music. History has two sub-views, one showing songs that have recently played (Figure 13) and the other showing songs you’ve added to your Wish List. Press Right and Left to switch between the sub-views.
Select a track to hear a 90-second preview. A button to the right of each track name displays the song’s price. Press Right while a track is highlighted to highlight the price button, and if you want to buy the track, press Select. When the confirmation appears, press OK and the song is yours.
In the Music app, you can play music from the Apple cloud, but that’s no help if you want to listen to the music stored in iTunes library on your computer. To pull off this trick, set up Home Sharing both on the Apple TV and in iTunes., in Chapter 4, has complete directions.
Once you’ve made the necessary Home Sharing connection, open the Computers app (it’s on the main menu) and select Music. The playback controls are identical to those described earlier in this chapter, in.
Still have your music collection trapped in plastic discs? The bad news is that the Apple TV won’t play them. The good news is that it’s easy to rip CDs to your iTunes collection on your computer, where they can be accessed by your Apple TV, or sent into the cloud with iTunes Match.
Before we rip a CD, let’s fix our settings:
Option #1: To save storage space, choose AAC Encoder from the Import Using pop-up menu. Then choose iTunes Plus from the Setting pop-up menu. These options tell iTunes to rip CDs in a way that matches the typical quality of songs in the iTunes Store.
Option #2: To produce a larger file with CD-quality audio, choose Apple Lossless Encoder from the Import Using pop-up menu.
Now, insert the CD into your computer’s optical drive (or an external drive). If you need to buy an optical drive, you might as well leap to Blu-ray—see in Chapter 6, for recommendations.
In unusual situations, you might see a dialog asking you to clarify which album you’ve inserted. Select the best choice, and click OK (Figure 16).
Back in Step 2, if you chose an option that included importing, then iTunes begins ripping your CD. Otherwise, iTunes does whatever you chose back in Step 2.
To rip the CD manually later on, click the Source pop-up menu in the upper-left, choose the CD, and then click Import CD near the upper-right. iTunes asks you to confirm your import settings before it begins ripping.
After the rip, if iTunes doesn’t eject your CD automatically, open the Source pop-up menu near the upper left and click the Eject button adjacent the CD’s name in the menu.
While ripping a CD, iTunes tries to import album art into the ripped file, but sometimes it can’t. Fortunately, it’s easy to add it yourself:
After a bit of processing, iTunes adds the artwork to the imported CD.
To listen to your album through your Apple TV, you can AirPlay it from your Mac, add it to an iTunes Match library, or turn on Home Sharing.
In addition to custom iTunes Radio stations, the Apple TV offers more traditional Internet radio options. To find them, go to the main menu and open the Radio app.
The Radio app offers a wide selection of stations (Figure 20), but unfortunately you can’t add your own. Select a station to start playing it, or hold Select while a station is highlighted to add it to your Favorite Stations list.
While listening to a station, you can only play or pause, there are no other playback controls. To remove a station from your favorites or to select an AirPlay speaker, hold Select while listening to a station (Figure 21).
With the Podcasts app on your Apple TV (Figure 22), you can watch, listen to, and subscribe to all your favorite podcasts. In theory, your subscriptions, playback positions, and stations sync via iCloud with iTunes on your computer and the app for iOS, but as I describe in the TidBITS article , syncing doesn’t always work like it should.
The top navigation bar in the Podcasts app has four buttons leading to views where you can find new podcasts: Top Podcasts, Genres, Providers, and Search.
Once you find a podcast that looks interesting, you can play a single episode or subscribe to it:
You can play a podcast directly from its iTunes Store listing, or from the My Podcasts or My Stations view.
No matter how you select a podcast, here’s how to control playback. First, if you’re watching a video podcast, the controls are the same as they would be for any other video, as I explained in in Chapter 6, with one key difference: the audio keeps playing even if you exit the playback screen. As with any audio, you can stop playback at any time by pressing Play/Pause, but you’ll have to go back to the Podcasts app to restart the show.
Just as video podcasts inherit a trait of audio controls, audio podcasts have video-like controls: To advance or step back by 1/20th of the episode length, press Right or Left. Or, to fast-forward or rewind, hold down Right or Left.
The Apple TV doesn’t offer many ways to manage podcasts, something that’s better done in iTunes or the Podcasts app, you can do a couple of things in My Podcasts view:
Back in Chapter 5,, you learned how to send AirPlay video from your Mac with iTunes and the AirPlay Mirroring/Display features in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and above. Now it’s time to learn some tricks specific to audio AirPlay.
Just as AirPlay Mirroring and AirPlay Display let you send video from your Mac to your Apple TV, you can do the same for audio. Press the Option key and click the volume icon in the menu bar. You see a list of all available audio outputs, including AirPlay devices (Figure 24).
Sending AirPlay audio to one device is neat, but you know what’s really impressive? Sending AirPlay audio to all the AirPlay devices in your house! That’s right, with iTunes, you can AirPlay audio to multiple devices to fill your whole house with sound. Forget expensive multi-room audio systems; if you have a few AirPlay devices, like speakers, an AirPort Express, or an Apple TV, you can make the party a lot more fun on the cheap.
In iTunes on your Mac, click the AirPlay icon; then choose Multiple from the popover. Click the bubble next to each device you want to send audio to — the bubble turns blue and gains a check mark. You can send audio to as many devices as you like, but Apple suggests that performance may suffer after three to six. To control the volume of a device, adjust its slider in the popover.
When the party’s over, you can either uncheck each item individually, or choose a single device from the popover.
Transmitting all audio from your Mac is cool, but you may hear unwanted sounds as well, like error beeps. And it’s cool that iTunes can output to multiple AirPlay receivers, but what if you want to do that with another application?
Airfoil from Rogue Amoeba makes such AirPlay wizardry possible. It costs $25 for either the Mac or Windows version, or you can buy both together for $40.
Once you’ve installed Airfoil, launch it and select your source app from the menu at the top of the window. Below the menu is a list of receivers. To send audio to a receiver, select the Transmitbutton aligned with it. (You might have to quit and reopen the source application before Airfoil will AirPlay the audio.) You can send audio to multiple outputs, and you can adjust the output volume for each AirPlay device with the slider underneath the Transmit button.
Don’t have enough speakers to go around? With Rogue Amoeba’s free apps for iOS, Mac, Android, Windows, and Linux, you can turn your devices into Airfoil receivers!
I’ve shown you all the great audio features of the Apple TV, but with AirPlay and an iOS device, the possibilities are endless. Here are some of my favorites.
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