Apple TV 4 can sometimes cause the display to flicker during use. This article covers how to fix a flickering Apple TV 4.
Apple TV 4 is a relatively new product. Compared to other Apple products, it just doesn’t offer the quality one would expect. Some of the quirks are cosmetic, however, a TV appliance should be able to playback video flawlessly. Any defect with video playback, such as a flickering screen, is a “showstopper” bug. Apple engineers should make this a top priority, however, this problem has persisted across several updates. It’s yet another sign that Apple’s quality is in decline.
Why Does My Apple TV 4 Flicker?
I’ve owned my Apple TV 4 for less than a year, and this flickering issue has come up five times. It seems to happen when there is a network issue, but can also happen with certain video apps. Once the flickering problem starts, it usually gets worse and persists throughout the system. No matter what app I am using, video will flicker. It even happens on the Home screen and Settings menu. One may even see a blank screen for up to a second.
The first few times this problem arose, I was having problems with my Internet service provider. I wasn’t playing video. The problem started simply by navigating the Home screen and Settings menu.
The problem happened again recently. It prompted me to write this article. I was watching news on the CBS News app, and the video became glitchy during a commercial. The video started flickering and stuttering. The problem got worse. I exited and closed the app, but the flickering screen persisted on the Home screen and Settings screen. It got to the point that it was difficult to even navigate the menus. I started to get concerned that it may damage my television. The flickering was actually causing my TV to make a clicking sound.
I can only speculate as to the cause, based on my observations and experience as a software engineer. tvOS is not an open source operating system. I can only suspect that the video playback runtime is corrupted by certain network conditions. This doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem with the user’s Internet service provider. The problem I experienced with CBS News seems to be in their data center. I checked my Internet connection and it was fine. The problem with CBS News has been continuing for a few days now.
There is some speculation that this may be due to a faulty HDMI cable. In my experience, this is not the cause. It’s certainly possible that a bad cable could cause this problem, but I use top-of-the-line Monster cables. My solution to the problem did not require swapping out the HDMI cable.
I think there is a problem with the core video playback runtime in tvOS. Under certain conditions, the video runtime gets corrupted. While this can happen when watching video in an app, I’ve had it occur on the Home screen. Let’s take a look at how to fix it.
How to Fix a Flickering Apple TV 4
Restarting your Apple TV will fix the flickering problem, but there’s more to it. You must wait a few minutes after the Home screen appears. I learned this the hard way. After recently experiencing the problem, I restarted my Apple TV and started using it immediately. The flickering resumed, even though I didn’t even start watching video. The Home screen was flickering. It’s as if the video playback runtime didn’t have a chance to reinitialize. Perhaps the network overhead of connecting to the iTunes Store on start up caused the problem again? I can only speculate, as Apple TV 4 is figuratively and literally a black box.
You can restart your Apple TV by going to Settings > System > Restart. This may prove difficult if the flickering is severe. In that case, simply hold down the Menu and Home (TV glyph) buttons on the Siri Remote until you see the front light on your Apple TV flash rapidly. Release both buttons when the light starts flashing. Your Apple TV will restart.
When your Apple TV restarts and the Home screen appears, remember to wait. Two minutes seem about right. It all depends on the speed of your Internet connection and Apple’s data center. You want to wait beyond the time it takes for the iTunes Store content to appear in the top marquee. I waited for two minutes after the Home screen appeared, and it worked. The first time I restarted, I used it immediately, and it started flickering again. From what I can remember, this same thing happened when I experienced the problem several months ago.
If rebooting does not solve the problem, it’s possible that your HDMI cable is the culprit. Swap it out with a better cable. Although I own a Monster cable, you’ll probably do fine with any quality cable. Just don’t use the cheapest one you can find. My research revealed that the HDMI cable swap fixed the problem for some people. For others, it didn’t work. My hunch is that they restarted their Apple TV and started using it immediately. They may have done this a few times. The flickering issue will persist across restarts unless you wait. I only recommend looking into the HDMI cable if restarting and waiting doesn’t work.
Other users have reported that doing a full system reset (to factory settings) fixed the problem. I recommend this as a last resort, because you will need to reinstall and reconfigure your apps. You will need to login to Netflix or other video services all over again. It’s a real hassle. Again, I think people did this because they restarted their Apple TV and started using it immediately.
You can restore your Apple TV to factory settings by going to Settings > System > Reset and choosing Reset and Update. Follow the on-screen instructions. When this process has completed, your Apple TV will need to be reconfigured. You’ll have to go through the same initial setup process again. Rest assured, you won’t lose any video game scores or in-app purchases. You still own all of your apps and iTunes purchases. You will simply have to reinstall your apps and re-authenticate with some apps. The App Store displays a list of apps that you own, but aren’t installed on your system. Launch the App Store and view the Purchased screen to view all of the apps you own. You can install them directly from the Purchased screen.
Who’s to Blame?
Participants in online discussions are well aware of the delusional enablement emanating from rabid Apple fanatics. Some people can never blame Apple for problems. They will claim that the app developer is at fault. That’s not the case here. This is due to poor quality assurance by Apple.
If the developer was at fault, this wouldn’t happen on the Home screen. I have had this problem occur before I launched any third-party app. Furthermore, anyone who has developed software knows that developers aren’t responsible for the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Core features, such as video playback, are services provided by tvOS. App developers don’t write their own video playback runtime. They’re part of tvOS, and not the app. Even if developers could override the API and do something that could cause system-wide video problems, that would be Apple’s fault. Apple needs to ensure that video playback is robust and handles all exceptions. I have looked at the tvOS APIs and developers don’t create their own video playback runtime. This is entirely Apple’s fault — it’s a defect within tvOS.
I like my Apple TV 4. I use it almost every day. I don’t have cable. It’s how I watch TV. That said, it could be a better product. It simply isn’t the quality that one would expect from Apple. They’re not putting their best and brightest engineers to work on Apple TV. I can understand that. Apple needs to focus on the iPhone, as it accounts for 2/3’s of the company’s profits. Apple TV isn’t a priority.
As with all Apple products, Apple TV comes at a premium price. Apple customers gladly pay this price and expect a quality product. That’s simply not the case with Apple TV 4. Although this video flickering defect has only happened five times in less than a year, that’s five times too many. This is a “showstopper” bug. Apple’s engineers should be working on this with the highest priority. Instead, I have seen this bug persist across several updates.
Apple needs to take a serious look at their engineering process. Are their quality assurance tests adequate? Do they find these bugs, but decide not to fix them? I know for a fact that other users have reported this bug to Apple. They know about it. It’s possible that they can’t reproduce it. They may have chosen to log it but not fix it. Perhaps the bug reports from users are a needle in the haystack.
This quality problem extends beyond Apple TV 4. Try selecting text on a web page with your iPhone or iPad. It’s quite buggy. That problem has persisted for years. Instead of fixing it, Apple has decided to market iOS as a professional operating system, in order to sell a new, expensive iPad Pro. What’s professional about buggy copy/cut/paste functionality? Even the 1984 Macintosh did that FLAWLESSLY.
Apple needs to start making quality a priority. Tim Cook is a marketing guy. He seems to believe that marketing is the “deus ex machina” miracle that can sell any product. That belief will eventually erode Apple’s brand loyalty. Slick marketing can’t make up for defective products. Read reviews of Apple TV 4. People have returned their units shortly after purchase. The dissatisfied customer feels that they bought a bleeding edge product.
Come on, this is Apple not Motorola. At least a Motorola TV would have been inexpensive! Apple can’t charge a premium price and deliver mediocrity without losing customers. Apple needs to invest in engineering and take a good, hard look at their engineering process. Using clever marketing to sell defective products is short-term thinking. Maybe a few rabid fanboys will be delusional enough to believe it. Other people will just return the defective item and buy something else.