I've been using my AirPods Pro to watch TV — and it's a game changer

Putting an AirPods Pro earbud in my ear
(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Apple doesn't market the AirPods Pro as a great way to hear your favorite shows, but maybe they should. Because they're not just one of the best wireless earbuds on the market, but they can be an essential part of your TV watching experience.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, which is most of the AirPods Pro lifecycle, I've been casually using these headphones as a part of remote watch parties, so I could hear my friends in Google Meet or Discord in one ear while I listen to a horror movie or sports event with the other.

But then things changed over the last weeks. How? Well, now I feel like the AirPods Pro are just a part of how I watch TV now — at least when I'm on my own.

The moments that changed my mind

Philippine Velge and Mackenzie Davis in Station Eleven

Philippine Velge and Mackenzie Davis in Station Eleven. (Image credit: Ian Watson/HBO Max)

I first saw a usefulness to listening to a TV show or broadcast with AirPods Pro in because of how sound can leak into wherever I'm watching something. I live on a street that is highly congested with loud traffic and passersby, so I've often used headphones to try and block out those sounds. The noise-canceling powers of AirPods Pro really came in handy when I can't stop someone from honking outside.

But the traffic isn't always bad, so what changed?

I believed that it was actually raining outside my window.

Part of my journey as a TV watcher as of late has involved breaking a very bad habit: not being focused on the show or movie at hand. It led me to watch The Witcher better, as I focused more on the show and less on my phone. The AirPods Pro, I'll argue, enable this to an even better degree, with this heightened intimacy between your ears and the sounds of the show.

This became even more true, though, as I watched the Station Eleven finale. In a scene where Kirsten (Mackenzie Davis) and Alex (Philippine Velge) were talking, the rain in the background sounded far more real than any rain in any show I'd ever heard. In fact, I believed that it was actually raining outside my window. I even thought "rain wasn't in the forecast," and walked over to check for myself.

In that moment, I realized that AirPods Pro were going to be my primary means of watching TV going forward. Sure, I can already imagine plenty of people with multi-channel surround sound systems writing in and saying I've created a poor imitation, but I don't need that kind of rig yet, and I love how these headphones can fill that void for me.

The obvious problem with watching TV with AirPods

As you may be able to guess, I'm not watching a lot of TV with other people in the room. This is both just the way that the pandemic affected my life, and a byproduct of watching too much pro wrestling (and not living with any other fans of the art form).

This method of streaming won't work for larger families, though it could technically work for couples, as you can share audio on two AirPods or Beats headphones from the Apple TV 4K (one of our picks for the best streaming devices). But unless you watch TV at home the way Alamo movie theaters ask you to enjoy their films — silently — this isn't meant for more than one person. People like to react together in the moment. It's only human.

How to try it for yourself (with or without Apple)

Curious how this works? You don't even need AirPods to try out something similar, as watching TV with headphones in is nothing new. Roku devices, via the Roku mobile app, have supported both wired and Bluetooth headphones for years. So, with one of the best noise canceling headphones and a Roku, you too can test out my weird new ideal. 

But since I personally prefer the (admittedly pricier) Apple TV 4K, I'm using my AirPods Pro — and it's a pretty seamless process. As long as your iPhone and Apple TV are using the same Apple ID, this should run super-smoothly. After I turn on my Apple TV and open my AirPods Pro case, I usually see a little prompt to pair the two devices, that says a simple tap of the TV button (also called Control Center button) on the remote will pair the two.

If that doesn't work, you can pair AirPods with an Apple TV in a few steps. Start by holding down on the TV button, and selecting the AirPlay button on the screen that pops up. Your AirPods should be an option on that screen. Having trouble? Hold the pairing button on the back of your AirPods case until the light turns white.

Try it out for yourself, and let me know what you think by dropping me a line at henry.casey@futurenet.com.

Looking for more TV? We've got recommendations with the 7 new shows to watch this weekend on Netflix, Amazon, Apple and more.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.