How to use Zoom or FaceTime with an Apple TV (or any TV)

Make other people’s faces larger, but watch out for the audio.

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Apple/Zoom Video Comunications

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Speaking for myself and seemingly everyone I know, we are all on Zoom, FaceTime, Teams, Hangouts, Meet, Webex, or some other videoconferencing tool all the time, whether for paid work, volunteering and nonprofit involvement, the PTA, or socializing and family conversation.

Unless you’ve got an iMac and it’s set up in the right place, you might find yourself squinting to see everyone on screen—or leaning in or balancing a laptop on your lap. It’s distracting for you and anyone with whom you’re conversing.

There’s a better way, if you have an Apple TV or a newer TV that supports video streaming over AirPlay 2: you can use AirPlay or AirPlay 2 to stream your Mac, iPhone, or iPad’s screen to the TV. If you purchase an HDMI adapter for a Mac or a mobile device, you can instead hardwire yourself into any TV with an spare HDMI port.

Set up your device relative to the TV set

If you’re using the built-in webcam in your Mac, iPhone, or iPad, you need to set it up in such a way that you’re looking at least mostly in the direction of its camera. It’s often hard to place a devices safely above a TV set, so you might want to position it on a surface just in front of the TV.

Looking past the device, to other people it looks like you’re looking into the camera—and at them—instead of off to the side.

mac911 apple tv with camera IDG

Positioning the device with the camera in front of the TV helps you look in the right place.

I have a GorillaPod flexible tripod and a Glif iPhone camera mount that I use for photography, and they work perfectly well for setting up my iPhone on a small table in front of the TV. Small tripods or stands for iPhones and iPads are readily available at almost any price. With a laptop, a small table or a few books can put it in position, since you can angle the lid with the camera to your best advantage.

With a laptop, you could also purchase an external webcam for $30 to $80 with a clip or stand. Attach the webcam to the top of the TV set or at least right near it, making sure you have a long enough run of USB cable to reach your computer.

Stream via AirPlay

You can send you video and audio output for your entire device over AirPlay.

On a Mac: From the Displays preference pane, select your Apple TV from the AirPlay Display menu. You can also check “Show mirroring option in the menu bar when available,” which makes the AirPlay menu faster to access. When done, use the menu in the preference pane or the system menubar to set AirPlay Display to Off.

In iOS or iPadOS: Swipe up (iPhones with a Home button) or down from the upper-right corner (iPads, iPhones with Face ID) to show the Control Center. Tap Screen Mirroring and select your Apple TV. When finished with a session, show the Control Center again and tap Stop Mirroring.

You can have already launched or started a video chat or you can start after connecting.

It makes sense to rotate an iPhone or iPad into the landscape position to match the wide orientation of a TV set. The mirroring will follow that rotation. There’s one exception: FaceTime on iPhones stopped rotating via AirPlay several releases ago of iOS. It works fine in all other apps—include Zoom, Hangouts, etc.—and on iPads. (Apple’s failure to fix this is baffling.)

AirPlay passes the audio to the Apple TV by default. This can result in echoing and ever-louder feedback loops, depending on how loudly you have sound coming out of your speakers and where your input device’s mic is positioned.

On an iPhone or iPad, you can’t separately control audio output. But in macOS, you can use the Sound preference pane to choose the built-in speakers or headphone jack on your Mac.

You can also pick an audio output source in most of video chat software. In FaceTime, choose the Video menu and then select an audio output option. In Zoom, click the upward-pointing arrow next to the mic icon and select an output option. In Skype, select Skype > Audio & Video Settings and then choose an output option under Speakers. (Depending on the software, you may not be able to control output volume select within the app unless you switch system audio output to the same device and use the Sound preference pane to set the volume.)

If you choose to have the sound carried by your TV set or receiver, you can reduce feedback and echo by adjusting the input settings in the Sound preference pane. Click the Input tab and use the slider to find the right balance between being audible to people on the call and avoiding distracting sound. You should adjust output volume on the TV or receiver and input value to find the right set of levels.

Connect via HDMI

An alternate to AirPlay, and one that works with any HDMI-equipped television set, is to use a USB-C, Thunderbolt 2, or DisplayPort adapter or dock with an HDMI jack.

Mac output: A seemingly endless number of adapters exist for Macs at all prices—as one example, this USB-C to HDMI adapter with passthrough USB-C power and a USB Type-A port from Monoprice.

iPhone/iPad output: You need a Lightning-to-HDMI adapter, an easily acquired item. Apple’s version, the Lightning Digital AV Adapter, is $50. A number of third-party adapters with similar features can be found all over, but read reviews carefully. This Aictoe adapter via Amazon is just $18 and at this writing has largely positive reviews about compatibility and quality.

Remember to buy an HDMI cable of the right length to reach from your TV to your device if you don’t own one already.

Though HDMI can handle both audio and video in a single digital stream, you can opt where audio goes in a Mac via the Sound preference pane (or by holding down Option before clicking the speaker icon on the system menubar). In iOS and iPad, Lightning adapters route audio locally instead of via the TV set. Depending on your setup, you may be able to modify that. Some TVs need to have their audio input changed in a nested menu to HDMI to handle incoming sound.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Ian.

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You can plug directly into your TV set and control the sound separately—you can send it over HDMI or use internal speakers or speakers or headphones you plug in.

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