Fix Flickering Apple TV 4

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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.

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13 comments

  1. Thank you for the great article! I had this flickering issue myself a few times.

    I always restarted the Apple TV, but as you’ve said, the problem persisted after restart.

    The way to fix it was to switch off the TV (not the Apple TV) and then turn it on again.

    (or perhaps I haven’t waited long enough after the restart)

    1. Glad you liked it. That issue just happened to me yesterday, and I figured out why it happens. It can happen when Apple TV has problems connecting to the iTunes Store. This can be due to one’s Internet connection or if Apple’s data center is having problems. The latter issue was happening yesterday. When I launched Netflix, at first I saw static which gradually got worse, and then it was flickering on and off. (That can’t be good for my TV!) I’ve had this happen with other apps and with just the Home screen.

      I think it’s buggy exception handling. It gets stuck retrying the connection to the iTunes Store, which causes system-wide video problems. I also notice that the entire operating system is very slow. That’s why most developers limit the number of retries when doing exception handling. It’s amazing that it can happen, however. It seems to indicate that tvOS is poorly architected. With proper OO design, retrying connections to an external resource should not cause such a ripple effect. It’s a showstopper bug, and it’s been a problem for almost a year. It’s almost as if Apple assumes their data center will be up all the time. The reality is, they are far worse at running a data center than Google or Amazon.

      Did you experience this issue with tvOS 10? I just upgraded because I figured, tvOS 9.2.2 is pretty buggy, so there’s nothing to lose. I’ve only used it one night, and I don’t see the Siri improvements. Maybe Siri is more capable, but it’s definitely slower. Only two out of three attempts to “skip forward one minute” (to bypass opening credits while binge watching) worked. Overall, Siri is much slower, but it may be due to problems with Apple’s data center. The only thing that mildly impresses me is dark mode. I can only hope the lack of new features was made up for by purging defects. I don’t mind if a major release doesn’t pack in a bunch of features (that I probably won’t use). If the basics don’t work, it’s a failure. If the screen flickers and the OS slows down, that’s pretty bad. I really hope they fixed it, but I mean, it’s been almost a year. The Apple TV team just isn’t very good.

      1. Thank you for the reply and sorry for the delayed comment. I just saw that you’ve answered it, didn’t got any notification whatsoever.

        I’ve updated to tvOS 10 and I haven’t experienced the flicker in the meantime.

        Also, I wasn’t able to replicate the slow Siri and App Store issues. I must be honest that I haven’t used Siri all that much lately. Just got used to the touchpad (hint: I use multiple light taps instead of swipe to browse and it’s much better experience for me).

        I would suggest that you try different DNS settings on the Apple TV and see if it will have any improvement for Siri or the App Store.

        1. I haven’t had the flicker come back with iOS 10 either. I hope they fixed it!

          I tried tapping the touch screen, and it’s a great way to move one item at a time. Thanks for the tip! Combined with swiping, it makes navigating the UI much easier. I noticed this behavior with AirPlay a few days ago. I accidentally tapped the Touch surface and it skipped to the next track. That’s an iOS 10 feature. AirPlay didn’t work with the Siri Remote, beyond pausing, prior to iOS 10. I prefer to just launch apps and change settings with Siri.

          Altering the DNS settings could help Siri, but it may have a negative side effect of making Netflix or some other service less responsive. But I see your point — changing DNS could use a different set of Siri servers, which are less impacted. Maybe I can find a sweet spot where Siri works. But when I have Siri problems or screen flickering, a lot of people around the world are having iTunes Store problems. I’m not sure how Apple sets up their network. I’m assuming they mirror and use CDNs. But I do know that, compared to Google, Amazon and Netflix, they are the least reliable. I have an accurate meter of when their data centers are having problems — “How to Fix Cannot Connect to iTunes Store” gets a lot of hits. This seems to happen every September when Apple releases the new operating systems. They need to do a better job of capacity planning.

          1. Thanks, I’m glad if the fast tap is useful.

            I’m guessing you were using Google Play Music when you tap to go forward a song?

            It’s not an iOS 10 feature, I’m still on iOS 9.3.5 and it’s there as well. I think it’s another nifty little feature of the Google Music app while you use AirPlay (I love it how it works, BTW).

            Your “How to Fix Cannot Connect to iTunes Store” article is great! Thanks for sharing it, those solutions are very useful.

            And I know exactly what you mean, I’ve also bothered with it and made a video on the same topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VkapK_xfqSY

            Sorry again for the late reply. I just saw your comment by chance. Is there any way to enable notifications for replies on my side?

          2. Yeah, that tapping tip is great. It also works in a lot of apps. I don’t use the Home screen anymore. I use Siri as much as possible. But it’s great to use within Netflix.

            Yes, Google Play Music, over AirPlay, will skip tracks with a tap or swipe.

            The “How to Fix Cannot Connect to iTunes Store” article is one of my most popular articles. I put a lot of effort into it. Thanks for posting your YouTube video. I’ll check it out!

            I had comment subscriptions before, but it was an all-or-nothing deal. If you subscribed, you would be notified if anyone posted a comment anywhere on the site. I looked on ifttt.com for some way to automate it. The problem is that I am using WordPress Jetpack comments. If I used Disqus, I could have thread-specific comment notification through social networking apps like Facebook. I’ll look into it. Jetpack has had a few upgrades and there may be some plugins that can accomplish this task. It’s not a top priority, as it’s not requested much. I also need to ensure that the comment system allows for anonymous comments. Some of the better commenting implementations require some valid social media account or email account.

          3. Ugh! I had the flicker come back last night when I was watching Netflix. I closed all of my apps, restarted and waited for a few minutes after the Home screen came up. It worked, but I am really dismayed that they didn’t fix this problem with tvOS 10. I have to admit, tvOS 10 is much better than tvOS 9.2.2, but this is a serious issue. Once again, it seems like the iTunes Store was having some problems.

  2. I had this Black flicker problem with Apple tested cables on all apps. On-off, unplugged, reboot from menu, finally factory reset – nothing helped. Then I remembered I had reset the “Chroma” setting to 4:2:2 prior to trouble starting. The Apple TV tested the chroma change and said it was functional, it was not. A Chroma change back to 4:2:0 solved the problem. Try this before anything else. It’s easy & it worked for me.

    1. I only had to restart my Apple TV and wait, and then it worked. My problem was due to ISP issues. There is (was?) a bug in tvOS that causes the screen to flicker if there is a problem with the Internet connection. Ugh, that Apple TV team!

      Thanks for the tip. It will help anyone who experiences this problem. I believe this is only an issue with the new 4K Apple TV. I still have the older 4th Gen Apple TV (and a really old Apple TV 2).

  3. I have had this problem on several Apple TVs. I have owned every model of the Apple TV with the exception of the first one. It used to happen when my apple TV was hooked up to my Pioneer kuro. Now that I have the Apple TV 4K it happens through my LG OLED also. The problem goes away with a restart but recently has become so unbearable that I watch content the LG, my xbox one S or the PS4.

    I am seriously sick of this nonsense. My other set top boxes work completely fine. There is nothing wrong with the HDMI cables I am using. They are high speed and of above average quality. The other set top boxes do not exhibit this flaw they run rock solid and the xbox even enables me to enjoy my Netflix content and some games in atmos. I have been waiting for atmos on Apple TV since September 2017.

    As of this writing my Apple TV 4K is unhooked. Maybe I will hook it up in a year or so when apple gets their act together. The Apple TV is not worth the money or the aggravation.

    1. Amen. It is a true POS. It is, by far, Apple’s worst product. That said, it is better than many of the other streaming media players, apart from game consoles.

      After more than a year without a flicker, it came back after the tvOS 11 update. This is par for the course, because the tvOS team is horrible. They get the core of tvOS handed to them on a plate, because it is just a variant of iOS. Even then, they manage to screw it all up. The Apple TV/tvOS team has been reintroducing old bugs with every release — regressive defects.

      One of the things that really irritates me is using Siri to turn on a feature like Reduce Loud Sounds. Sometimes it works, but then the tvOS team breaks it. They break it in a way that it seems like Siri changed the setting, but then I go to Settings and it is the same. I have resigned myself to just making the change in Settings. It is annoying, because I make this change all the time. I listen to music with a full dynamic range, but watch TV with Reduced Loud Sounds activated.

      I try not to let this tarnish my overall image of Apple too much. The Mac, iPhone and iPad are pretty amazing. I understand why Apple TV is so bad. They can’t make a viable product out of it because Viacom is stymying the cable-over-the-Internet evolution. As long as people can’t replace cable with an Apple TV, the product makes no sense. These bundles like Sling TV, DIRECTV NOW, etc. are all missing channels, usually Viacom ones. So, of course, Apple can only put their worst developers on Apple TV. They’re horrible. You’d find better talent at some no-name startup, partly because the equity would attract talented developers. There’s no good reason a talented developer would work at Apple in the first place. The ones assigned to Apple TV? Horrible.

  4. Thanks so much for this article, so glad I found it and can enjoy my Apple TV again. Patience after restart is key. ?

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