Are Apple TV screensavers real?

Los Angeles International Airport as seen in a very real Apple TV screensaver.
Los Angeles International Airport as seen in the Apple TV screensaver. Phil Nickinson/

You’d be forgiven if you asked the following questions while watching a high-resolution screensaver on Apple TV 4K:

Are Apple TV Screensavers Real? Or are they CGI?

It’s a fair question, and one we ask ourselves from time to time whenever new videos – also called aerials given their perspective – hit the platform. If you haven’t seen it yet, we’re talking about high-resolution imagery that is shot at a high frame rate and then played back in slightly slower motion, giving it a slow-motion effect. Is. The video appears to be optimized for high dynamic range (aka HDR).

In a word, they are amazing.

It’s not often you hear the word cinematography when it comes to screensavers. Those of us of a certain age may remember a flying toaster or, later, a pretty realistic aquarium. Apple TV screensavers are like screen savers on steroids, and they’ve been ridiculously realistic for years.

What might make you wonder if Apple TV screensavers are fake is the high dynamic range. Oversimplified, this means you’re seeing a larger range of colors and better contrast. So something is not just red, it is In fact Red. The same is true for the rest of the spectrum. And that kind of thing really stands out against the darkness of the night, or the blackness of space, or the deep blue ocean.

Video quality also matters a lot. And the short version is that using great equipment and shooting in 8K resolution – if not higher – and then scaling up to 4K yields some incredible footage.

Screenshots of nine Apple TV screensavers that are absolutely real.
Screenshots of Apple TV screensavers in no way do justice to their resolution or color dynamic range. screenshot

Some screensavers also generate more ambiguity than others. Flying over Central Park in New York City, or downtown Los Angeles, or Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai – these are all well-known places with moving people and pieces. The same applies for even higher perspectives, such as the view from the International Space Station. Flying over Europe and Asia, or North America, we see familiar landmasses and landmarks.

Where things get a little more surreal is underwater. Cinematographer Roger Munns worked with the BBC’s Natural History Unit and gave sobering details about shooting some underwater Apple TV screensavers in 2019.

Munns wrote, “This was a unique project in terms of the challenges it presented our team.” “Trying to emulate the style of aerial images, but with much less technique and grip and, most importantly, with dynamic animals rather than static landscapes, was extremely difficult.”

Munns compared shooting with his red DSMC2 Helium camera at 8K resolution, underwater, with all the marine life in it, to “stepping up to a tee and trying to drill a hole over and over again until you find one or It doesn’t go away or it gets dark.” For anyone who has never played golf – or even for everyone – that is quite impossible for a professional, and absolutely impossible for an amateur without some kind of divine intervention. If you really want to get into the technical aspects, director and cinematographer Phil Holland goes into even more detail about shooting in 8K resolution.

so. Apple TV screensavers are real.

And consider that Munns is talking about some of the earlier Apple TV screensavers. Since then they have become more unreliable, as far as there is any yardstick for this type of thing.

This kind of thing isn’t limited to Apple TV. On the official side of things, MacOS 14.0 Sonoma adds the same type of screensaver directly into the operating system. And on the third-party side, Aerial Dream lets you add an Apple TV screensaver to some flavors of Google TV (Chromecast with Google TV doesn’t allow this). There’s also an Aerial app that will expand what’s available on your Mac. And there’s a Chrome extension that will load them in a new tab of the Chrome browser.

The really cool part? Apple is constantly adding more screensavers. And, yes, they are real.

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