The Setup: TCL Roku TV + Apple TV

TCL makes great budget TVs. I got a TCL TV with built-in Roku in 2019. All was well and fine until I set up a Raspberry Pi on my network. I wanted to set up ad blocking for all my devices and installed Pi-hole, a DNS based network wide ad blocker. It is faster than browser extensions and also works on devices where I can’t install ad blockers.

20000 Calls Per Day

Having Raspberry Pi on my network revealed the amount of logging the TV was doing. For example, between March 1, 2021 and March 10, 2021, Roku made almost 300,000 requests to a logging endpoint.

By April, I had decided to convert the TV to “dumb” TV by resetting it and not giving it an internet connection. This (somewhat conveniently) overlapped with Apple’s announcement of their updated Apple TV 4K.

The Problem: No Volume Control

Apple TV arrived in late May. Initial setup went well. There were a few things that I had to tinker with.

Out of the box, Apple set the TV to always be in Dolby Vision/HDR if possible. This made the colors look washed on my TV. So, I changed default video to 4K SDR and then turned on match content color mode and frame rate.

Once done with setup, I was disappointed to find that that volume buttons on the Apple TV remote didn’t work. I could live with 2 remotes, but I prefer fewer things lying around.

Teaching Roku Controls to Apple TV Remote

Fortunately, Apple has an option to teach volume controls to the Apple TV remote. You can point the TV remote at Apple TV, and it learns the IR signals.

I pointed my Roku remote at Apple TV, pressed the volume up button.

Nothing happened.

Some internet searches later, I learned that new Roku TV remotes don’t use IR. More internet research pointed me to a few possible solutions.

Roku IR Remote Buying and Returning (or… what didn’t work)

One of the reddit threads talked about getting an IR remote and using that to teach the signals to Apple TV. The remotes start from $5 on Amazon, and that was a good enough solution for me. I could have that remote lying around just in case I need to set up the TV again.

Turns out, all those remotes are not equal. The first remote I ordered didn’t work at all with the TV. Additionally, it didn’t have volume buttons. I should have checked screenshots better!

I went ahead and ordered a second remote, this time with volume buttons. I pointed it at the TV and it… didn’t work!

I could point both new remotes at my phone camera and see flashing IR light when I pressed the buttons. This confirmed that they were working. Additionally, they were marked as compatible with my TV. Then why did they not work?

I went back to reddit to explore more options. Buried in this 1 year old thread, I found a helpful tip.

Battery Flipping Adventures (or… what worked)

Turns out the Roku remotes have IR. But, the remote only switches to IR if it thinks the battery is low. And you can actually trick the remote into switching to low battery mode by removing and inserting the batteries. There’s a quick window where you can press the button, and it emits IR signal.

I did that a couple of times, and it worked. And now my Apple TV remote can control TCL TVs volume!

Maybe Roku or Apple can fix this

This experience highlighted how not all combinations of hardware and software can be tested by companies. TCL does not have any incentive to test and address these small issues because they can sell the TV for low prices due to Roku’s subsidizing.

I do expect Apple to be better here. They are known to make the products that “just work”. And while it is not possible for them to test all TVs, they are a company publicly taking pride in making usable and amazing products. They can throw some money at testing with different TVs and have these configurations available out of the box.