An under-the-radar use case for an Apple TV is to mirror or extend the display of a Mac computer. But is it actually any good? We tested it.
There have been plenty of great performance advantages that have come with the Apple Silicon, and there are only a few downsides to the Intel transition. One of them, unfortunately, is external display support. Base Mac models — computers with an M1, M2, or M3 chip — can still only power one external display. At this point, it’s fair to reason that this is an intentional limitation from Apple designed to push power users to a Pro or Max version of its chips. But is there another way? It’s possible to use wireless external displays with an Apple TV, essentially bypassing this hardware limitation. I tried it, and here’s what it’s like to use an Apple TV as a secondary Mac display.
Why you’ll love using an Apple TV as an extended display
The latency is surprisingly quite low
The first thing I noticed when using an Apple TV as a second display for my M2 MacBook Air was how low the latency was. Any time you use a wireless device, whether it’s a wireless display or wireless earbuds, you expect some latency. However, it wasn’t all that noticeable on the Apple TV. Moving the cursor on my Mac felt natural on the Apple TV, and the experience was incredibly responsive. There are some caveats here, which we’ll get to in a bit. But if you expected latency to rule out using an Apple TV as an external Mac monitor, I can confidently say it won’t be an issue. AirPlay is superb for this sort of thing since it connects directly to your Mac and doesn’t need a separate internet connection.
There are a bunch of different uses and customization options
When you connect an external monitor to just about any computer, you get a bunch of display settings to configure to your preferences. On a Mac, you also get more settings that determine how the monitor interacts with other products through continuity. Surprisingly, just about every setting remains available when a Mac is connected to an Apple TV. You’ll miss out on a few exclusives to Apple displays, like true tone brightness. But otherwise, you can customize an extended Apple TV display just like a regular wired monitor or TV. That includes changing the resolution, scaling, continuity preferences, and more.
It’s a fairly cheap solution to a common problem
Using an Apple TV as another monitor might be appealing because it’s much cheaper than a hardwired dock. Thunderbolt docks that add multiple external display support to base-model Apple Silicon Macs can cost hundreds of dollars. By comparison, the cheapest Apple TV 4K costs $130 and also offers smart TV features. However, that isn’t even what I’m referring to. You can use older Apple TVs as an extended display, and I’ve found a bunch of third-gen Apple TVs on eBay for under $30. I even bought one, and it’s more than serviceable for use as an extended display. An Apple TV is cheaper than a great Thunderbolt dock at that price.
Why you’ll hate using an Apple TV as an extended display
Your cursor tracking speed setting will be infinitely frustrating
It isn’t all great, though. If you’re using an Apple TV with a significantly bigger or smaller screen than your Mac’s, cursor tracking speeds will be an annoyance. This is very noticeable when using my M2 MacBook Air with a 50-inch TV, but it won’t be as bad if you’re using a 16-inch MacBook Pro with a 24-inch monitor. To be fair, this isn’t exactly a limitation because of the Apple TV. You’d run into the same issue by using a 50-inch TV with a Mac via an HDMI cable. However, there is a downside to this use case, if you want to use a big-screen TV as an external monitor.
It’ll require a minute or two of setup each time you want to use it
The biggest downside of using an Apple TV as an external monitor for Mac is the required setup. With a wired monitor, you typically set it up once and forget about it. With an Apple TV, you’ll need to connect your Mac to this external display each time you want to sit down and use it. There’s a toggle right in the Control Center, but it still requires an action that would be unnecessary with a wired display. It’s also worth noting that depending on your Apple TV and monitor power settings, you could also have to turn those devices on before using AirPlay. Altogether, using an Apple TV can add a few minutes of setup each time you use your Mac.
Should you use an Apple TV as a second Mac screen?
With the mentioned limitations, I’d recommend that users connect a TV or monitor to their Mac with a physical cable whenever possible. However, for as little as $30 on the secondhand market, I think using an Apple TV is a great alternative to buying a Thunderbolt dock. It’s also convenient for TVs that you want to use for content consumption most of the time, but as an external display occasionally. Though it makes sense in certain situations, I’d certainly prefer Apple to fix external display output for base M3-series chips than have to recommend users to employ this hacky workaround.