How to Make Apple TV Screensavers

Life Beyond Aerial

How to use your own images to make Apple TV screensavers
You won't need a focus group to create your own image-based screensaver collections on Apple, TV. (Image c/o Getty Images).

The Apple TV comes with a range of beautiful screensavers, including its Aerial collection of moving images of places across the planet. The system also provides professional image collections, album cover art and more. Apple has provided a great series of collections, but you can also create your very own screensaver sets using your own images if you follow this guide.

What You Will Need

  • Your Photos
  • Apple TV 4, or later
  • An Apple ID
  • iTunes
  • A camera, or smartphone, or iPhone
  • A computer

What is a Screensaver?

Merriam-Webster describes a screensaver as “A computer program that usually displays various images on the screen of a computer that is on but not in use.” Screensavers also help preserve pixel quality on your display. 

Apple TV can work with images in two ways: you can use it to look at images from your own image collections; or create customized image collections to be used as a screensaver. The first sets of images only appear when you request them, while screensaver will begin to automatically appear on screen when your Apple TV is left unused, just like Apple's own screensavers can do. We're talking about using your own content as a screensaver in this report.

Controlling Apple TV Screensavers

Screensavers are controlled through Apple TV’s Settings.

Tap Settings > General > Screensaver to find the five different types of screensaver you can use on Apple TV.

These include Aerial, Apple Photos, My Music, Home Sharing, and My Photos. We’ll talk about just two of these (Home Sharing and My Photos) in this article, the others are explained in more depth here.

Hint: Apple regularly publishes new Aerial videos but only a few are stored on your Apple TV at any time.

  • To download and use Aerial videos you’ve not yet seen, open Settings > General > Screensaver.
  • Choose Type > Aerial.
  • Tap Menu once to back and you’ll see a new option ‘Download New Video’. You can now choose to download new videos monthly, weekly, daily, or never.

Preparing Your Images for Apple TV

The Apple TV Human Interface Guidelines recommend you ensure images are clear and easy to see, because people watching your screensaver are likely to be looking at it from across the room.

This means that when you put together your own image collection for use as an Apple TV screensaver, you’ll get better results if you follow those Apple guidelines for still and video images used in apps -- it pays to match the professionals, right? Apple says developers creating apps should ensure images fit within the following guidelines:

  • Apps should be designed for a 16:9 aspect ratio
  • Images should be at a screen resolution of 1,920-x-1,080 pixels.
  • Apple TV plays MPEG-4 video at 640-x-480 pixels, 30fps.

When you are choosing images for use in these collections you may want to use Photos (Mac), Pixelmator (Mac, iOS), Photoshop (Mac and Windows), Microsoft Photos (Windows), or another image editing package to edit your images on your Mac, PC, or mobile device.

In some cases you may need to crop images in order to get them into a 16:9 aspect ratio (or a ratio of this), as they will look better on your television screen if they do.

The idea is that if the images you hope to use are edited to support one of those recommended formats then they'll look a lot better when displayed on your Apple TV.

When it comes to video Mac users may choose to import any video assets they wish to use into iMovie to edit and then output at 640 x 480 pixels. This will avoid the letterbox effect you may sometimes see when using smartphone-generated video as a TV screensaver.

Making brilliant images is a great skill.

If you want to share them with your family, you may want to take a look at these good resources to help you use image-editing software to get more from your images:

  • The Hidden Editing Powers of Photos for OS X (Macworld)
  • Tips to Get the Most Out of Windows 10's New Photo App (PC World)
  • Opening and Editing Images in Photoshop (Adobe)
  • Pixelmator Tutorials (Pixelmator)

The iPhone Photography School is another great resource to help you capture even better images on your smartphone.

Once you have perfected the images you wish to use as a screensaver, you must gather them together into a folder on your computer. You can place this inside Apple’s Photos app if you wan to use My Photos to drive your screensavers. You can also use iTunes and Home Sharing. Instructions for both methods are below:

Using My Photos

Once you have logged into your iCloud account you will be able to use My Photos to show your own images taken from iCloud Photo Sharing or My PhotoStream as screensavers. Tap Settings > General > Screensaver and choose My Photos. A tick should appear to show it has been enabled. Click again and you will be able to choose an album to use as your screensaver collection.

Using Home Sharing

If your Mac or PC and Apple TV are on the same Wi-Fi network you can also use Home Sharing to create and enjoy your own photo screensavers on Apple TV, though you will need to authorize both systems with your Apple ID.

  • Gather all the images you want to use together in one folder.
  • Open iTunes, go to File>Home Sharing and you will be able to choose which images to use with Apple TV.
  • You can use some or all of your Photos collection, selected albums, or choose a folder from your drive. You can choose to include videos.
  • Select the folder of images you have perfected for use as a screensaver.

Controlling Screensaver Settings

Once you’ve chosen between Home Sharing and My Photos as a way to get your image collections working on Apple TV you need to explore the different screensaver transitions and other settings.

To find out what is available open Settings>General>Screensaver, where you will find numerous controls:

  • Start After: This setting allows you to choose when your screensaver runs, you can delay start for up to 30 minutes.
  • Show During Music and Podcasts: When you set this to Yes your screensaver will work whenever you play music or podcasts on your device.
  • Preview: Lets you Preview how your screensaver will look. This is a good way to test how the images in your collection will appear, and is a good way to check through the different screensaver transitions you can use.

You also find a selection of different transitions that you can use. These animate what happens between each image. The best way to get to know which one(s) you prefer, or those most appropriate to your project is to try each one. They include:

  • Random: Your Apple TV will play through all your selected images using randomly selected transitions taken from the following options.
  • Cascade: All your images will appear in small onscreen thumbnails. Image contents will cascade across the screen.
  • Flip-Up: Your images will flip to the front and slide out of your screen.
  • Floating: Photos float up the screen at various sizes. Over time your TV will show you numerous simultaneous images.
  • Origami: Multiple images appear on your TV, a random number will appear onscreen at any time and new images will appear to fold into place.
  • Reflections: Images appear on your screen with a slight reflective element at the bottom.
  • Shifting Tiles: Numerous images are shown on your television. New images appear in what feels a random pattern on your screen.
  • Shrinking Tiles: Images appear on screen. These appear to shrink in order to create space for new items to become visible.
  • Sliding Panels: Panels of images will appear. These will seem to slide off screen to be replaced.
  • Snapshots: Images will appear one on top of the other. Pictures will be stylized in order to replicate the feeling of looking through a collection of physical photos.
  • Ken Burns: One of the best effects. Ken Burns adds a sense of movement to your images. You can define the time spent on each slide and assign numerous transitions that take place between each one, these will be familiar to iMovie users.
  • Classic: This is a selection of transitions used on previous generation Apple TVs. These let you define how long each image will appear and provides you with a host of additional transitions you might enjoy to use.

Third Party Apps

There are numerous apps you can use to provide different screensavers on your Apple TV. You cannot yet define an app to use instead of an Apple screensaver in Settings, instead you need to disable screensavers on Apple TV and remember to launch one of these apps when you are done using TV, which is limiting. However, for a taste of how third party apps can provide an alternative to Apple's built-in screensaver, take a look at these three apps:

  • Living Art TV ($1.99): This beautiful collection of scenes from a group of artists who create ambient videos for public installations. These include seascapes, fireplaces, aquariums, a duck pond and rainforest waterfall views.
  • Atmo: HD Scenes of Aquarium, Fireplace and Nature (free): This is a comforting series of scenes, with more views available as in-app purchases.
  • Earthlapse (free): This app provides you with a stunning series of images of the Earth taken by NASA from the International Space Station.

I Don't Want a Screensaver! I Just Want a Slideshow

If you want to display your own images, of a family holiday, a photo session, or a collection of interesting photos while playing music on Apple TV at your party, you can. Take a look at How to Use Photos on Apple TV to help you set this up.

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