Apple pushed out its tvOS 16.1 update this week, one that brings a significant number of improvements to the company’s family of streaming boxes. Many of the changes are designed to make the Apple TV experience more user-friendly, with an emphasis on Siri voice control.
The most visible overhaul involves the icon that pops up when you press the Siri remote’s mic button, which has been moved from the screen’s center to the lower right corner to make it less obtrusive.
Another Siri enhancement is a search bar that occupies almost the screen’s full height and lets you scroll vertically through results (see above pic). For example, with horror movie season in full swing, I said “Hey Siri, show me some John Carpenter movies.” The search results turned up a wide-ranging selection of the famed director’s works, and I could click on any one to see which app the movie was available to stream from.
Here are the other key tvOS 16.1 upgrades as listed on Apple’s ‘About Apple TV’ support page:
- Shared Photo Library support lets you see your favorite moments from the entire family.
- Create a Shared Photo Library on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, then select Shared Library in the Photos app.
Apple Fitness Plus
- Work out and meditate with Apple Fitness Plus on Apple TV — now all you need is an iPhone to receive onscreen coaching, timers, and trainer callouts while also tracking your estimated Move ring progress.
- Matter, the new smart home connectivity standard, is now supported, enabling a wide variety of smart home accessories to work together across ecosystems.
Of these upgrades, Shared Photo Library is the most immediately appealing because it lets you use the Shared Photo Library feature first introduced in iOS 16 to turn your TV into a constantly updating family photo gallery, one that family members can contribute to and build over time. What better screensaver could there possibly be?
The upgrade I’m most excited about, however, is Hey Siri support for AirPods, which lets you execute Siri voice commands on an Apple TV 4K using the AirPods’ built-in microphone. I’m usually not one to watch TV or movies using headphones – I have spent too much time and effort building up my home theater system for that – but when I learned about this tvOS 16.1 feature, I knew I had to try it out.
Headphone theater in action
To use AirPods with the Apple TV 4K, all you need to do is choose them as an audio output in the Control Center by selecting the sound output icon. Upon doing this, I was presented with a list of my available AirPlay speakers and headphones, and I selected the AirPods Pro 2.
Having already tested out the AirPods Pro 2 with its Personalized Spatial Audio and head-tracking features linked wirelessly to the Apple TV 4K, I knew it was capable of delivering a potent virtual surround sound experience, one with clear and well-positioned dialogue. So while I wasn’t surprised by that, I was surprised by how addictive the experience of using Siri Voice commands with Apple’s streaming box via the AirPods Pro 2 would be.
Saying “Hey Siri, open HBO Max” launched the app, and I then issued voice commands to play House of the Dragon, season one, final episode. Asking Siri to fast forward 30 minutes whisked me forward 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’s remote control.
Searches like the one I had requested for John Carpenter movies could also be carried out hands-free via voice command, and if I were using HomePod or AirPlay 2 speakers for audio output, volume adjustment as well. (You need to rely on the Apple TV 4K’s Siri remote to make volume adjustments with AirPods.) These are all very cool and useful upgrades, and they make using the Apple TV 4K, which currently sits at the top of our best streaming device list, better than ever.
What’s next for tvOS? Version 16.2 will reportedly add the ability for Apple’s streamer to recognize different user voices and deliver personalized recommendations and watchlists, making it even more of a home hub. Until that update arrives, I’ll likely be doing more hands-free viewing while wearing AirPods, so I can let Siri do all of the drudge work.
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Al Griffin has been writing about and reviewing A/V tech since the days LaserDiscs roamed the earth, and was previously the editor of Sound & Vision magazine.
When not reviewing the latest and greatest gear or watching movies at home, he can usually be found out and about on a bike.