Apple this week released its tvOS 16.1 update, which brings a significant number of improvements to the company’s family of streaming boxes. Many of the changes aim to make the AppleTV more user-friendly experience, with an emphasis on Siri voice control.
The most noticeable overhaul is the icon that appears when you press the Siri Remote’s mic button, which has been moved from the center of the screen to the lower right corner to make it less distracting.
Another improvement to Siri is a search bar that takes up nearly the full height of the screen and lets you scroll vertically through results (pictured above). For example, with horror movie season in full swing, I said “Hey Siri, show me some John Carpenter movies.” The search results yielded a wide selection of works by the famous director, and I could click on any to see from which app the film was available.
Here are the other key tvOS 16.1 updates listed on Apple’s “About Apple TV” support page:
- Shared photo library support lets you see your whole family’s favorite moments.
- Create a shared photo library on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, then select Shared Library in the Photos app.
Apple Fitness Plus
- Train and meditate with Apple Fitness Plus on Apple TV. Now all you need is an iPhone to receive on-screen coaching, timers, and coach calls while tracking your Move ring progress estimate.
- Matter, the new smart home connectivity standard, is now supported, allowing a wide variety of smart home accessories to work together in ecosystems.
Among these upgrades, Shared Photo Library is the most attractive as it allows you to use the Shared Photo Library feature first introduced in iOS16 to turn your TV into a constantly updated family photo gallery, a gallery that family members can contribute to and grow over time. What better screen saver could there be?
Question The support is also an important upgrade for the Home Hub, as it will allow you to extend Apple TV-based smart home control to devices outside of the Apple HomeKit ecosystem.
However, the upgrade I’m most excited about is Hey Siri support for AirPods, which lets you perform Siri voice commands on an Apple TV 4K using the AirPods’ built-in microphone. I’m usually not one to watch TV or movies with headphones on – I spent too much time and effort building my home theater system for this – but when I heard about this tvOS feature 16.1, I knew I had to try it.
Helmet theater in action
To use the AirPods with the Apple TV 4K, simply choose them as your audio output in Control Center by selecting the audio output icon. While doing this, I was presented with a list of my AirPlay speakers and headphones, and I selected the Airpods Pro 2.
Having already tested the AirPods Pro 2 with its Custom spatial audio and head-tracking capabilities linked wirelessly to the Apple TV 4K, I knew it was capable of delivering a powerful virtual surround sound experience, with clear, well-positioned dialogue. So while it didn’t surprise me, I was surprised at how addictive the experience of using Siri Voice commands with Apple’s streaming box through the AirPods Pro 2 would be.
Saying “Hey Siri, open HBO Max” launched the app, and then I issued voice commands to play Dragon House, season one, last episode. Asking Siri to fast forward 30 minutes got me to a specific scene I wanted to rewatch, and I could pause, resume, and stop playback without having to reach for the Apple TV 4K remote.
Searches like the one I requested for John Carpenter movies could also be done hands-free via voice command, and if I used HomePod or AirPlay 2 speakers for audio output, volume adjustment as well . (You have to rely on the Apple TV 4K’s Siri Remote to make volume adjustments with the AirPods.) These are all very nice and useful upgrades, and they make it possible to use the Apple TV 4K, who currently sits at the top of our best streaming device list, better than ever.
What’s next for tvOS? Version 16.2 will add the ability for Apple’s streamer to recognize different user voices and provide personalized recommendations and watchlists, making it even more of a home hub. Until that update arrives, I’ll probably do more hands-free viewing while wearing AirPods, so I can let Siri do all the heavy lifting.