Apple TV Gets Dolby Atmos Sound and 'Zero Sign-in' Feature

Apple TV introduced its 4K model last year, and made a name for itself with access to a ton of 4K HDR movies and TV shows. Viewers who have watched the Apple TV 4K for themselves know good it looks, but now, Apple wants to make sure that streaming box's aural component matches its visual chops.

Credit: Apple

(Image credit: Apple)

Dolby Atmos will debut on Apple TV 4K this fall, and the films and TV shows that utilize it won't cost any more than usual. Furthermore, Apple's signature media player will also eliminate tedious TV app sign-ins with a novel "zero sign-in" feature.

Jen Folds, senior Apple TV designer, gave viewers a sneak preview of Apple TV's new features at the WWDC 2018 conference in San Jose, California. Dolby Atmos integration in Apple TV 4K is exactly what it sounds like. This fall, Apple will add Atmos functionality to a huge variety of movies, including Mad Max: Fury Road, Justice League and Jumanji. Like 4K and HDR, Apple will not charge anything extra for Dolby Atmos features; you can simply use them if you have access to the right hardware.

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For those who have never heard a Dolby Atmos device, its advantages over a standard left/right speaker can be profound. Rather than simply move sound back and forth between two parallel channels, Dolby Atmos can imitate surround sound, making viewers feel as though sound is coming from all around them, even without a sophisticated hardware setup.

Folds continued to discuss Apple TV's upcoming features, leading into its inventive "zero sign-in" feature. At present, Apple TV has "single sign-in" functionality, meaning that you can put in your cable, satellite or cable replacement credentials just once, and Apple TV will fill them in automatically for all of your channel-specific apps. For example: You can sign in with your cable provider one time, and every app from SyFy to ESPN to Disney will automatically recognize you as soon as you download it. (In practice, it doesn't always work this smoothly, of course.)

The new zero sign-in feature will eliminate even the single inputs of credentials. As long as a viewer is connected to a cable provider's broadband network, the Apple TV will automatically recognize his or her credentials, and apply them instantly. For example, if you get both cable TV and Internet through Charter Spectrum, your Apple TV will understand your subscription package and apply it without you ever having to enter a single username or password. The functionality sounds promising, although such a system sounds like it would introduce a number of potential security holes.

Speaking of Charter Spectrum, Folds explained that Apple TV would embrace cable companies – like Spectrum – that want to broadcast live TV through an Apple TV rather than a traditional cable box. Instantaneous live cable TV should be available on Apple TV sometime later this year.

Finally, Folds introduced a brand-new Aerial screensaver: the Earth itself, based on high-res photos taken from the International Space Station. Users can also now control Aerial screenshots, guiding the video feed's direction and focus. It's perhaps not the most important new feature on the Apple TV, but good news for people who find screensavers fascinating, nonetheless.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.