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New Apple TV 4K feature only works with a product Apple has killed

One of the Apple TV 4K (2021)‘s coolest features appears to be limited to the HomePod, a product the company has officially discontinued. Confused? So are we.

Apple has recently been making announcements that seem, well, poorly thought-out to put it kindly. When it announced that it would be adding a lossless audio option for every single track on Apple Music, it also acknowledged that none of its wireless AirPod line of earbuds and headphones is currently compatible with the new format.

Now that the new Apple TV 4K is starting to ship and the first reviews are trickling in, we’re learning of another odd situation, once again involving audio.

The new Apple TV 4K supports HDMI 2.1, which brings things like 4K Dolby Vision at 60 frames per second (fps). It also means the new streaming media device can handle HDMI ARC/eARC connections, which lets a connected TV send audio back to the Apple TV 4K.

It’s something of an unusual feature for a streaming media device. Normally, HDMI ARC/eARC is used to send audio from a TV to an audio device, like a soundbar or an A/V receiver. But since an update to tvOS in 2020, both the 2017 and 2021 models of Apple TV 4K can take any audio they receive and output it wirelessly to a set of HomePod speakers, effectively turning the HomePods into a soundbar alternative.

Audio settings screen on the Apple TV 4K (2021)

The result: The 2021 Apple TV 4K can act as a simplified A/V receiver, taking any TV audio (even if that audio comes from another HDMI-connected device like a cable box or game console) and pushing it to a set of HomePods.

This is all good news for Apple TV 4K (2021) owners, except for one very odd fact. The feature only works with the HomePod, which Apple chose to discontinue earlier in 2021, and it does not work with the HomePod mini.

And while Apple is still selling off its remaining inventory of HomePods, they’ll all be gone shortly. At that time, the only folks who will be able to make use of the new Apple TV 4K’s ARC/eARC feature are those who jumped on the now-defunct HomePod train.

Howard Bouchevereau/Unsplash

A cynic might say that this restriction on ARC/eARC to just HomePods is a calculated and temporary move to help Apple offload its remaining HomePods. After all, Apple places no such restrictions on the HomePod mini when the Apple TV 4K is outputting its own sources of audio wirelessly (from the many tvOS apps it can run).

But as with the bizarre Apple Music lossless audio situation, I suspect there’s a deeper strategy at play here and much will be revealed at Apple’s upcoming Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2021, which kicks off on June 7.

If Apple has more to say about HDMI ARC/eARC support at that time, we will be sure to update you.

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Simon Cohen
Contributing Editor, A/V
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like…
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