One-Remote Apple TV Home Theater

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Apple TV 4K

Apple TV 4K HDR (about $179, also in 64GB version for gaming nuts.) bigger. I'd get mine at B&H or at Crutchfield.

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September 2017   Apple Reviews   Audio Reviews   All Reviews



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The 4th-generation Apple TV and newest 4K Apple TVs use HDMI CEC to allow them to control volume, power (and possibly more) for everything plugged together via HDMI. Not only can the Apple TV control all this via HDMI so you don't need any other remotes, the Apple TV remotes work over radio (RF) so you can hide everything behind your TV or in a cabinet and voilà, everything is magically controlled with nothing else visible, all from one tiny Apple remote. Cool!

Since everything is controlled over HDMI from the Apple TV, you can hide your receiver and everything else in a cabinet as well.

I go a few steps further and run a huge audio system, also all controlled by this same tiny remote, so for the first time ever I have a full custom home theater run off one tiny remote so my whole family can use it — not three remotes or a big, slow, clunky custom Crestron or RTI remote like in the old days just to run our TV and cable box.

I use the most basic 32GB version of the 4th generation Apple TV, and it's extraordinary. The newest 4K version does even more, and in 4K if you need it.

The basic 32GB Apple TV is all you need, unless maybe you like to play way too many video games. Personally I use my Apple TV for Netflix and for playing my 25,000 song music and video library from iTunes on my Mac Pro. The basic Apple system lets me store terabytes of my movies and music on a big external drive in my office with my Mac, and enjoy it all seamlessly in my dark, silent movie theater hundreds of feet away.

I feed the Apple TV's HDMI output into a basic Yamaha A/V receiver which feeds my TV via HDMI, and all the complex systems of my movie theater are now controlled by nothing but the tiny remote of the Apple TV!

I use a smart power strip to control the power to the rest of the big audio system automatically along with the rest of the system, so again, only one tiny remote runs everything. I plug the receiver into the CONTROL socket on the strip so the strip (and thus all my Hi-Fi gear) turns on and off with the receiver. Heck, I could even control my 50-year-old McIntosh tube amps this way.



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Get an Apple TV & A/V Receiver

Start with a current 4th generation Apple TV or new Apple TV 4k and plug it into a modern A/V receiver via HDMI.

Either of these Apple TVs will control your TV and the rest of the audio system via HDMI CEC. (Older Apple TVs won't.)

By "modern" receiver I mean one that can be controlled remotely via HDMI, which is most of them.

I use a basic Yamaha receiver, but any brand should be fine.

Hint: you don't need a fancy receiver that goes on and on and on about being able to decode 237 different audio formats or has any more than 5.1 channels. All the movies you actually want to see of course are encoded in ways you'll be able to hear them; do you really think you'd ever buy a major DVD or Blu-Ray disc or watch something on Netflix for which you'd get nothing but silence? Of course not. All those cockamamie audio formats or more-than-5.1-speaker systems are thrown in for marketing to scare you into paying too much for a receiver; any quality brand like Yamaha that also has preamp outputs is more than enough to sound awesome.

The receiver is only used for master control and basic audio output for the serious audio gear you'll be supplying. 99% of the audio comes from the front speakers; it's better to put your money into great front speakers than to spread a limited budget around into too many poorer speakers. You don't need multiple elevated front speakers or more than two rear speakers for fantastic sound — but people would love to sell you all this if you have unlimited budget. If money matters, put it into the best front speakers you can; even running just two great full-range stereo speakers in a 2.0 audio system sounds great on a finite budget.


Connect Sources You Don't Need

Blu-Ray, DVD, SACD and CD

Hook up any other sources like DVD, SACD and Blu-Ray players to the HDMI inputs of the receiver. If you use any other sources than the Apple TV you'll have to use the disc player's remote to control it — but power control and input source switching should all be controlled magically by your A/V receiver. Each time you press a different remote for a different player, the system should magically switch to it.

I have a DVD/Blu Ray player hooked up, but never use it. Instead I use the code for the digital download that comes with all the DVDs or Blu-Rays I buy and use that code to load the movie into my iTunes library, which I play from iTunes on the Mac. Ditto for music and CDs and DVDs (how to load DVDs into iTunes): I load them into iTunes, and it's at my fingertips with the tiny Apple TV remote. These are more reasons I use everything Apple; it's not that they make the best computers or iPhones, it's that everything you own or do all works together across all these devices.


AM, FM and Shortwave Radio

While you can control most A/V receivers via an app on your phone, you'll get better sound by playing the station's online "Listen Now" stream on your iPhone, and then mirroring it to the Apple TV.

I'm serious. I worked in radio engineering for years, and you don't want to know all the nasty things we do to process the audio to make it louder than every other station. Online feeds are usually much less processed than the over-the-air feed, and therefore sound much better than any FM or other tuner ever could.


YouTube and more

Again, just mirror any of this to the Apple TV from your phone or iPad or anything else Apple.


Plug in your TV or Projector

Hook up your TV (or projector) to the receiver's HDMI output. This way the receiver is the center of everything and the Apple TV controls it all via HDMI via the tiny Apple TV remote.

Heck, I can throw away the Apple TV remote and control all this with the free Apple TV Remote app on my phone! My 10-year-old son runs this all from his Apple Watch!


Hook up your Surround Speakers

Hook any sort of surround speakers to the receiver's rear speaker outputs.

The surround speakers do nothing more than provide provide ambience 99.9% of the time; they don't need to be that good. In my case I use the ones mounted in my ceiling that came with my house; I don't even know or care what they are (my real speakers come later). In Hollywood we use full-size, full-range speakers to monitor and mix the surround channels because we need to be sure that the sounds of planes flying overhead don't shift their timbre as they fly over, any crummy speakers are just fine for reproducing birds chirping, trees rustling, crowd noise or other ambient sounds at home to help tell the story that the main speakers and picture are telling. Feel free to spend big on surround speakers, but if your budget has limits and you're not fielding five B&W 800s in your living room, the surround speakers can be basic.

I'm using a receiver that has preamp outputs to feed a serious audio system as I explain below for the front channels, or feel free to run a basic system directly from any receiver and call it quits right here and skip to Programming.


Main Speakers

Here's where I start to digress from the $99 home-theater-in-a-box. We're going to use a monster stereo system driven from the receiver's front-channel preamp outputs for 99% of the sound.

I skip the center speaker because I've been too lazy to install a proper one, but this means my setup sounds best only sitting in the center where good stereo speakers do a great job of creating a phantom center. If you have a center speaker, use it — but know that the center speaker is the most important speaker in the system and it should be as good as your Left and Right if you do use one. The center is not the "dialog" speaker; the center speaker tells most of the story.


Configure your A/V Receiver

Here's the next clever part: I'm going to set up my receiver to use my particular arrangement of speakers for incredible results. I do this in the SETUP MENUS.

This is what I hooked up to give me stereo bass with stereo subwoofers even though no receiver, even those with two subwoofer outputs, has stereo bass outputs. I use the FRONT LEFT and FRONT RIGHT preamp outputs, run them full-range and use an external crossover to get stereo bass!

No big deal; hook up whatever you have or want.

Note: It's much less expensive to use any basic A/V receiver with preamp outputs than to use a simpler A/V preamp. While an A/V preamp is an A/V receiver minus the multi-channel power amp, they sell for more because preamps are upsold to fancy installations. The least expensive A/V preamp costs way more than just getting a nice receiver and simply ignoring the extra power amps. A receiver has more in it, but sells for less due to marketing rather than technical reasons.

I go in the receiver's menu system and configure it to SMALL for the rear surround speakers, and of course set it for whatever other speakers I have. My house just happened to come with four discrete rear speakers; so long as you have at least two, you're golden so long as you program your receiver to know what you have.

I set the FRONT LEFT and FRONT RIGHT SPEAKERS to FULL RANGE (LARGE) and for NO CENTER speaker, and yes, for NO SUBWOOFER. This programs all the bass from all channels, including LFE, to go to the FRONT LEFT (FL) and FRONT RIGHT (FR) preamp outputs to rock my house.

What? NO SUBWOOFER? Simple: because we're going to use not one, but two subwoofers for stereo bass! Movies have full-range subwoofer signals in all of their channels; there is no such thing as a "subwoofer channel." The LFE (low-frequency effects) signal has a 240 Hz bandwidth and is routed to whatever speakers you have with Bass Management controlled by how you set your speaker settings. Movies have bass in stereo and spread across all the speakers as well as the extra LFE channel. In a one-subwoofer system, at least six discrete channels of bass are mixed into mono and crammed into that one subwoofer. Ideally you'd have subwoofers for every channel, but in the system I'm describing we're using two. These two subwoofers will have stereo bass, and also have the LFE signal routed to and shared between them. In a 5.1 system, we have six channels of bass; every channel is recorded full-range and the LFE channel also has bass.


Connect your Main Speakers

I feed the FL and FR preamp signals into a low-level active crossover set to 40 Hz at 18 dB/octave.

These pro crossovers are hard to find today for home use with RCA connectors. Good luck; you might need to enlist the help of a pro audio engineer to get this part hooked up, or see how to connect stereo subwoofers. I'm taking the full-range FL and FR signals, which contain all the bass and LFE information, and feeding them into two large speaker systems, each with its own subwoofer.

The high-pass outputs feed a Crown D-150A Series II power amp which drives a pair of B&W 802 speakers, and the low-pass crossover output feeds a pair of 15" 1kW B&W ASW850 subwoofers (all gear I just had lying around).

While I only have a 65" TV for now before I put in a new Sony 4K projector, the speakers are 11 feet apart in my 19-foot-wide theater for a huge soundstage, with the seats 13 feet away from the TV. I'd put the speakers farther apart, but there's a door in the way. The two huge subwoofers are hidden in opposite sides of a wide cabinet that runs the width of the room.



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You will of course need to program and calibrate a few things. You may need various remote controls for setup, but you can put them all away when you're done.

The system usually recognizes everything, but be sure to program the TV's speakers to stay off and then the Apple Remote should control the receiver's volume directly. Likewise, the receiver should automatically switch to whichever audio and video input is active.

Feel free to run any calibration routines with your receiver. You'll probably need the receiver's remote for this.



Top   Intro   Installation   Programming   Usage

To turn everything on, just press anything on the Apple Remote to wake up the Apple TV, which wakes up everything else.

To turn it all off, either just walk away and if you've set the Apple TV to sleep automatically, the Apple TV goes to sleep and everything else turns off with it.

If you want to turn it off manually hold the top right TV SCREEN button on the Apple Remote a few seconds, then just tap the touch controller to select SLEEP NOW, and the whole system turns off.





This ad-free website's biggest source of support is when you use any of these links to approved sources when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Buy only from the approved sources I use myself for the best prices, service, return policies and selection.

Thanks for helping me help you!

Ken, Mrs. Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.


© Ken Rockwell. All rights reserved. Tous droits réservés. Alle Rechte vorbehalten.


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16 September 2017