Apple’s HomePod is getting a lot more useful as a home cinema speaker for Apple TV 4K owners. Apple has confirmed to The Verge that an upcoming software update will let the speaker output Dolby Atmos audio as well as 5.1 and 7.1 channel audio from Apple’s streaming box.
The feature will work best when you have two HomePod speakers paired up, but also works with just one. The new $99 HomePod mini, though, will not support the new home cinema functionality.
Dolby Atmos support arrives as Apple is overhauling how the HomePod works with its streaming box. For starters, tvOS 14.2 beta 3 allows Apple TV 4K owners to set the HomePod as their streaming box’s default speaker output, according to 9to5Mac, meaning it shouldn’t constantly force users to reselect it as their audio output as it previously did when connected over AirPlay 2. For now, this functionality appears to require access to a non-public beta version of the HomePod’s operating system, however.
The HomePod is also getting new surround sound functionality, using its spatial awareness features to offer virtual surround sound audio. As noted on Apple’s website, the “home cinema with Apple TV 4K” feature is only supported by the more expensive HomePod since the $99 HomePod mini lacks its spatial awareness or beam-forming technologies. The HomePod mini can still be used with the Apple TV 4K using AirPlay 2, however.
Apple’s forthcoming update means the HomePod will catch up to the Amazon Studio, which has been able to provide Dolby Atmos audio for Fire TV streaming devices since its release last year.
If Amazon’s implementation of the feature is anything to go by, however, then HomePod and Apple TV 4K owners could be in for a treat. When my colleague Dan Seifert tried out the feature last year, he found Amazon’s speaker offered sound quality that was comparable to a larger and more expensive Dolby Atmos soundbar.
Update October 15th, 6:49AM ET: Updated to clarify that setting the HomePod as a default Apple TV 4K speaker currently requires a non-public beta.