Hands-on with Apple TV 5.4 Beta: iTunes Radio, Conference Room Display, custom subtitles

Apple TV 5.4 Beta (Conference Room mode, iGen 001)

To go along with the recently released iOS 7 Beta 1, Apple has also made a companion Apple TV beta software available for download to its registered developers. The pre-release code enables such new capabilities as iTunes Radio free music streaming, a new Conference Room Display setting and fully customizable subtitles.

The first beta of what would later become the Apple TV 5.4 software update was posted to Apple’s portal for developers after last Monday’s keynote. The pre-release version is meant to be used for testing AirPlay with third-party iOS apps. As we haven’t had a chance to cover it extensively, here’s what to expect in terms of features…

As pointed out by the French blog iGen.fr, the upcoming software lets you stream iTunes Radio using the built-in Music app, much in the same way the stock iOS 7 Music app does on iPhones.

Also new is a handy Conference Room Display mode.

Upon enabling, it lets your Apple TV provide on-screen instructions that will appear with your screensaver. The instructions basically deal with connecting an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad to the Apple TV through AirPlay technology.

You can customize this screen with your own message and choose a photo as the background, effectively replacing the usual Home screen icons with your welcome message, as depicted top of post.

This mode can be enabled in Apple TV Settings, along with a brand new Prefer Cloud Playback toggle to tell your Apple TV to stream content straight from iCloud instead of your iOS device.

Here is Conference Room Mode in action.

A third handy addition includes the ability to customize the style of subtitles on the Apple TV. You can tell the set-top box to prefer closed captioning or subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing and change how your subtitles look.

There are preset choices, but you can also create a new subtitle style from scratch. Available customization features include your choice of typeface (including the new newspaper style Lapin font), font size, color, opacity, text edge and video override styles and more.

A preview window complete with a subtly-animated backdrop of clouds is also available, providing a sample caption so you can immediately tell what a custom subtitle style will look like, so yu can make on-the-fly adjustments.

This feature is actually available on iPhones running iOS 7 Beta 1, as depicted below.

iOS 7 (Subtitles 001)iOS 7 (Subtitles 002)

On the iPhone, iPod touch or Apple TV (and presumably iPad), the ability to customize movie subtitles is in Settings > General > Accessibility > Subtitles & Captioning.

iOS 7 (Subtitles 003)iOS 7 (Subtitles 004)

If you’re not satisfied with a few included typefaces, you can add any font that comes preloaded in iOS 7. Here’s your preview window in full screen on an iPhone 5.

iOS 7 (Subtitles 005)

It’s worth mentioning these settings only apply to content downloaded from iTunes.

I’m a heavy iTunes user and rent a lot of movies from the iTunes Store on a regular basis. This however doesn’t change the fact that I’m deeply dissatisfied with Hollywood majors as only one out of each x movies comes with embedded subtitles.

I assumed that all recent releases would have to come with at least English subtitle.

That unfortunately remains wishful thinking.

The Apple TV Software version 5.4 Seed 1 is available for the second and third-generation Apple TVs. Release notes mention a bunch of known issues that indeed are the norm for beta releases.

Do you like what you’re seeing so far?