You can use any of Apple's HomePods — the original HomePod (discontinued), HomePod mini or newest second-generation HomePod — and turn them in TV speakers. All you need is a HomePod (any model) and an Apple TV.
For the best sound, you should get two HomePods and configure them as a stereo pair. The catch with this, however, is that the pair of HomePods need to be the same exact model; meaning you can't use a first-generation HomePod with a HomePod mini or a second-generation HomePod.
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Have you always been able to use HomePods as TV speakers?
No, you haven't always been able to use HomePods as your TV's default speakers.
It wasn't until May 2021 — when the HomePod mini was also released — that Apple rolled out an tvOS update that, for the first time, brought support for HDMI ARC and eARC to the Apple TV 4K. At this time, it also rolled out an update to the HomePod (both the original and the mini) that introduced a new Home Cinema mode that allowed you to set one or two HomePods (paired in stereo) as the default speakers for your Apple TV. The update also crucially brought support for Dolby Atmos to the HomePod (but not HomePod mini).
Before this update, the big caveat was that the HomePods completely relied on the Apple TV 4K to work. This meant if you changed inputs, say to play Xbox or watch cable TV, the sound wouldn't come out of the HomePod(s) but out of your TV. So for people who didn't exclusively steam content on their Apple TV, it didn't make sense to use a HomePod (or two) as your TV speakers. Thankfully that's since changed.
Can you designate HomePods as rear-channel speakers?
The simple answer is: no.
You can't designate two HomePods or two HomePod minis as rear-channel speakers, which is a little bit of a bummer as it would surely deliver an even more immersive Dolby Atmos experience. It's a little unfortunate because many of its competitors, like Sonos, allow you to do this. (In a Sonos home theater system, you can designate two Ones or two Fives as rear-channel speakers when paired with its Sonos Arc.)
Do all HomePods support Dolby Atmos?
No. Only the first- and second-generation HomePods support Dolby Atmos. You need a big HomePod. The HomePod mini does not support Dolby Atmos.
A quick primer: Dolby Atmos is a pretty crucial feature for modern home theater systems. It creates virtual channels that trick your ears into thinking that sound is coming from all around you — left, right and above — instead of just right in front of you. To watch movies or shows that support Dolby Atmos, you need to have a smart TV that supports Dolby Atmos or you can use a streaming stick that supports Dolby Atmos, like an Apple TV 4K or a Fire TV Stick 4K. In the case of HomePod, you don't need a TV that supports Atmos because the Apple TV 4K can play Dolby Atmos audio over AirPlay 2.
(A quick point of clarification: If you have an older TV that doesn't support Dolby Atmos, you can buy a streaming device that supports Dolby Atmos. You then connect that streaming device directly to your Dolby Atmos soundbar or AV receiver via "HDMI In" and then connect the soundbar/AVR via "HDMI Out" to your TV. But there's a catch because some Dolby Atmos soundbars, like the Sonos Arc, don't support an “HDMI Input” port and therefore can't play Atmos content on older TVs. So before buying a Dolby Atmos soundbar, be sure to make sure it will work with the setup you currently have.)
Do all Apple TVs support Dolby Atmos?
No. The now-discontinued Apple TV HD — so the non-4K models — do not support Dolby Atmos. This means that if you pair two HomePods (which support Dolby Atmos) with an older Apple TV HD, it still won't play Atmos. You need an Apple TV 4K (and it can be 2017-, 2021- or 2022-released model.)
How to pair your HomePods with your Apple TV
It's actually pretty easy to set up an Atmos system with one or two HomePods and an Apple TV 4K (either models from 2017 or 2021 will work). Here are the steps:
- Make sure your iPhone, HomePod(s) and Apple TV 4K are all running the latest software.
- In the room where you have your TV and Apple TV 4K setup, place your HomePod. If you have one HomePod, place it centrally (where a soundbar should be). If you have two HomePods, place them on either side of your TV.
- Open the Home app on your iPhone and make sure your HomePod(s) is in the same "Room" as your Apple TV 4K. If you have two HomePods, you can then configure them in a stereo pair.
- Turn on your Apple TV 4K. You should see a message asking you if you use the HomePod as your TV Speakers.
- Select Use as TV Speakers to turn on home theater audio.
How to set your HomePod as your TV's default speakers
If you have a new-ish TV that supports HDMI ARC or eARC, you can set it up so that all audio — from your cable box and gaming consoles, for example — plays out of your HomePods. All you have to do is first make sure that your HomePods are set up as the default speakers for your Apple TV (by following the previous, above, instructions) and then follow the below steps.
- Go the Home screen on Apple TV.
- Select Settings > Video and Audio > Default Audio Output.
- Under Default Audio Output, make sure that HomePod is selected.
- Under Audio Return Channel (Beta), select Play Television Audio.
- You'll know ARC or eARC is turned on when it says On (ARC) or On (eARC).
If you have any other issues setting this up, go to Apple's support page, here.
How much does the ultimate Apple home theater system cost? (And is it worth it?)
As for cost, the price to build the ultimate Apple Dolby Atmos system isn't astronomical. You should buy two HomePods (even if one is enough for Atmos), which Apple is now selling for $299 a pop, and an Apple TV 4K which costs $129 (or less). That's a grand total of $727 if you buy the HomePods at full price. It's an investment, of course, but one that will save you the price of a new TV, and that is even lower if you already have a HomePod.
For context, most Dolby Atmos soundbars and home theater systems run between $500 and $1,200. Those, of course, need a new TV that supports Dolby Atmos too. It may not be the perfect alternative for everyone, but if it fits the bill for you, it's a terrific deal.