Apple releases tvOS 17 with minor updates to Spatial Audio and Dolby Vision

Apple tvOS redesigned control centre
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple has begun rolling out its latest tvOS software updates to all of its compatible devices. iOS 17 and iPadOS 17 launched on iPhones and iPads last night, and now it's the turn of tvOS 17, which brings plenty of new user interface, picture and sound features to the Apple TV 4K (2022)

This latest version of the operating system is coming to all generations of Apple TV released since 2015. That includes every generation of Apple TV 4K and the now-discontinued Apple TV HD. Apple has stressed that not every feature will be available for every generation of Apple TV, however seeing an eight-year-old streaming box be updated to the latest software version is impressive no matter how you look at it. 

So what's new? We'll start with picture and sound features as that's what we're most interested in, and unfortunately, it's rather slim pickings this year. While that's not technically the end of the world, as the Apple TV 4K (2022) already looks and sounds mighty fine, we were hoping for a little more in the way of upgrades.

The only real news on the picture front is an update to Dolby Vision 8.1, which Apple itself hasn't shared much about. From what we gather, Dolby Vision 8.1 allows Dolby Vision content to play in HDR10 when connected to displays that don't support it. This is a big win for Samsung TV owners, as the brand still sides with HDR10+ on its sets despite Dolby Vision being the more widely used standard. However, it looks like this is more focused on media server apps and downloaded content and less on streaming. 

There are, thankfully, a few more updates to sound, but they hinge mostly on owning AirPods. The first is shared Spatial Audio, which really does what it says on the tin. It allows you to share Apple's immersive Spatial Audio system across two pairs of AirPods, providing they're compatible with Apple Spatial Audio; that's the AirPods Pro, AirPods Pro 2, AirPods 3 and AirPods Max. It's worth noting that enabling this will disable dynamic head-tracking audio, so be warned. 

AirPods Pro 2 also gets to use its latest talents with this new tvOS version with Adaptive Audio and Conversation Awareness. This will allow the AirPods Pro to automatically switch between full ANC and transparency mode, and to lower media volume if it detects a conversation, meaning you won't have to scramble to pause your movie, TV show or music if someone tries talking to you. 

Finally, we have an audio feature that seems somewhat needlessly exclusive to the HomePod 2. Apple has introduced a Dialogue Enhancer mode with tvOS 17, which utilises the second generation HomePod as a centre channel of sorts, in order to separate speech from the background audio. 

That's all for sound and picture upgrades, but thankfully there's more in the way of UI and features. First off, the control centre gets a revamp with a more iOS-centric design. Here you'll find quick access to power, wi-fi and Bluetooth connections, the search function, audio output and a quick way to switch users. 

FaceTime is also making its Apple TV debut with this latest tvOS version, although you'll need an iPhone or iPad in order to take advantage of this feature. You can either start a call on your Apple TV or begin a call on your phone or tablet and then transfer it to the TV via Apple's Handoff feature. You'll then need to set your iPhone or iPad up next to your TV with the rear cameras facing you and voila, FaceTime will be working on the big screen.

Elsewhere there is a litany of smaller features like a "find my remote" function, a plethora of new screensavers, third-party VPN support and updates to Apple Fitness+. 

To download the update, navigate to the settings app on your Apple TV home screen, find the "system" tab and then select "software updates" - your Apple TV should take it from there and upgrade to tvOS 17.


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Lewis Empson
Staff Writer

Lewis Empson is a Staff Writer on What Hi-Fi?. He was previously Gaming and Digital editor for Cardiff University's 'Quench Magazine', Lewis graduated in 2021 and has since worked on a selection of lifestyle magazines and regional newspapers. Outside of work, he enjoys gaming, gigs and regular cinema trips.