You launch iTunes. It immediately recognizes that your Apple TV is connected and initiates a sync. Nothing unusual so far.
Normally, assuming no changes have been made to what is being synced, this should take a matter of seconds. Except this time, something unexpected happens. iTunes begins copying several hundred files to your Apple TV. No error message or warning appears. The files just copy as if you had newly added them to Apple TV’s playlists. This is especially odd because you recognize these files as ones that have been previously synced and should already be on your Apple TV.
Depending on how much data needs to be copied, and the speed of your network connection, this recopying can take from minutes to hours.
Making matters worse, the exact same thing may happen again and again, as often as several times a week. It probably doesn’t happen every time you launch iTunes. But often enough to be really annoying.
How do I know all of this? Because it’s happened to me. It has also happened to numerous other Apple TV owners, as described in an Apple Discussions thread and a MacRumors Forums thread.
The recopied music appears to be DRM-protected music. The consensus theory is that somehow, at some point, either Apple TV itself or iTunes is blocked from connecting to the iTunes Store. Without this connection, there can be no confirmation that you are authorized to play the protected files. The result is that the files are deleted from the Apple TV. When you next sync Apple TV in iTunes, after iTunes Store access has been restored, the authorization is recognized and the files recopy. In my case, a temporary loss of Internet access from my cable modem appeared to be the triggering event.
While I understand the need to block unauthorized playing of protected music, there must be a better way to deal with this than to have massive amounts of data potentially get deleted from an Apple TV every time a cable modem gets a hiccup and loses its Internet connection. Presumably, the better way will have to come from Apple in the form of an iTunes or Apple TV update. I have contacted Apple about all this and they intend to reply. If appropriate, I’ll include their response either in an update to this column or in next week’s column.
In the meantime, the only effective solution I can suggest is to pay to have all of your music upgraded to the DRM-free iTunes Plus version. I understand that this will not be a welcome solution for many people.
A final note: As annoying as this problem can be, there’s one that’s even worse: All of the data on your Apple TV could get deleted. After copying it back at the next sync, it may get deleted again a few weeks later. According to an Apple Discussions thread, Apple Geniuses have confirmed that this is a known problem. The cause is a corrupted Apple TV drive. The hopeful solution is to do a factory restore of the Apple TV. If that fails to work, the drive is apparently beyond fixing. It’s time to get an new Apple TV.