The Ins and Outs of the Latest Apple TV Upgrade [UPDATED]

| John Martellaro's Blog

Apple recently released an Apple TV upgrade, version 5.2. For most customers, it's a profitable and painless upgrade. But for a few users, it could present a problem. John Martellaro explains.


On November 29, 2011, Apple released update 5.1.1 for second and third generation Apple TVs. Unfortunately, a few customers reported problems conducting the upgrade over Ethernet. TMO's Jim Tanous explained in early December. The update fails leaving the user up in the air about what to do. For some, the Apple TV was bricked, requiring that it be removed from the TV, connected to iTunes and restored.

Some users may have decided to wait until the next major upgrade, assuming Apple would fix the problem then. Apparently, however, Apple slipped in a fix around January 1st, 2013 that solved the problem with the 5.1.1 upgrade over Ethernet. That's reflected in Apple's version notes. [UPDATE: Jim Tanous and I noticed that Apple appears to have backdated its release notes to finally, properly reflect just exactly when the Ethernet bug was fixed.] This may have gone unnoticed by a few, and it certainly slipped by me. And that's what caused me to write this note.

In any case, the solid working strategy back in December, for users with version 5.1, was to disconnect the Ethernet cable, if used, and do the 5.1.1 update over Wi-Fi. So far, so good.

Then, with a solid update to 5.1.1, customers could be confident that they could conduct the recent update to 5.2 on January 28th without a problem on either Ethernet or Wi-Fi.

A Possible Problem

For those users who use an Ethernet cable and overlooked the slipstream fix for 5.1.1, they may have been waiting for Apple to make the fix in the next version -- which turned out to be 5.2.

All along, Apple TV customers who delayed the update, waiting for 5.2, have been confronted with an update message at boot. That message on January 28 is exactly the same because no version number for the currently active update is provided. That could have left some customers wondering whether the latest 5.2 update had propagated completely. (Apple pushes the updates incrementally, so some may not get the newest update right away.)

That's what happend to me on January 28th. If I left the Ethernet connected and tried the update, and 5.2 was not the active update, I might have ended up getting 5.1.1. That's quite okay because Apple slipstreamed a fix for 5.1.1 on Ethernet. But I didn't know that at the time, and so it concerned me.

Of course, a good workaround and strategy would have been just to unplug the Ethernet cable, and I would have had a successful update from 5.1 to any version: 5.1.1 (old), 5.1.1 (fixed) or 5.2.

Apple's Strategy

I can't fault Apple for its progress in fixing the 5.1.1 update to work properly on Ethernet. But it does annoy me that, when presented with an update notice, no version number is displayed. (Samsung does this for its Blu-ray players, and I haven't heard of any resulting suicides as the result of an exposed version number.) It also annoys me that during that time when the original 5.1.1 update was available, Apple didn't have the OS check to see if Ethernet was connected, then suppress notices to update until a fix was in place.

I know that Apple wants to keep the version numbers suppressed because they might worry or confuse some users. A simple notice that an update us available and should be applied is deep enough for most people. (And for those very few who ended up with an inoperable device, a connection to iTunes for a restore or a trip to an Apple genius solved the problem.  Even so, is that a better, simpler path than explicit version numbers?)

However, if there's any story at all to be told here, it's that it can be frustrating for customers who are trying their best to apply what they've learned on the Internet to be confronted with excessive, infuriating simplicity. Of course, as soon as you dig a little deeper, as I did,  it all sorts out.

I wouldn't object to a "More Info" box on these updates so Apple can post short status notes and supply the version number. For those who aren't interested, it can be ignored. It seems like the adult thing to do.

The Good News

With all that, it's safe to say that any Apple TV (2G/3G) customer, no matter where they started, can safely upgrade to version 5.2 now.

[UPDATE: After I did my own update, via Ethernet, from 5.1 to 5.2, I found that I could not access Apple's movies and TV shows. Nor my iCloud music.  But Netflix worked fine, so I knew the connection was good.  I guessed that I needed to logout of my iTunes account and login again. (Settings -> iTunes Store -> Accounts.)  That solved the problem.]

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All this and not one mention of what the update actually does?


Seems those Apple engineers (and their bosses) sending out software updates don’t have to comply with Apple’s UX or UI guidelines.


So how does this article reflect the title of it? Nothing in it to explain the ins and outs of the latest upgrade. Just wasted my time.

John Martellaro

umm, Tsheridan: that was covered in the several links to the Jim Tanous articles. One was the TMO news story.


I reviewed the links when I read the article. As I stated, there is nothing in your article which explains the ‘ins and outs’ of the latest upgrade as the title of it suggests. Having upgraded my APTV3 I already know what the upgrade gives by way of features. My point is that, as an example, I personally have found the upgrade flaky, with poor wifi connectivity. I accept that is just my own experience with it, but that is an example of an ‘out’ (or con) and provides the reader with some insight into the ‘ins and outs’ (or pros and cons) of making the leap of faith. Notwithstanding your latest update to the article at the end, nothing in your article provides any review of the upgrade itself, simply stating we can safely upgrade. I do appreciate the time you have taken to write the article, but the title drew me to it precisely because I wanted your perspective on the ins and outs of it, not a confirmation that we should go ahead with it. Therefore a waste of time.


Politely toTs: ‘ins and outs’ doesn’t mean pros and cons.  It means the intricate details, or the winding path, or the ramifications of an action.


Well, if I may be curmudgeonly, the headline should then be “The Ins and Outs of Installing the Latest . . .”


John wrote:
“With all that, it’s safe to say that any Apple TV (2G/3G) customer, no matter where they started, can safely upgrade to version 5.2 now.”

I beg to differ.  5.2 has not solved the upgrade issues.  It fails to install on my ATV3.  My unit is connect with ethernet.  I was able to update to 5.1.1 previously with no problem. I did not have to remove the ethernet cable and connect with WiFi. Today I attempted to upgrade to 5.2.  The firmware package downloaded without incident (about 15 minutes). The process proceeded through Step 1. Then announced “The update was not successful”.

I restarted the ATV and tried a second time, with the same result. At this point, I don’t know whether to try the WiFi ‘fix’, disconnect it and take it to a Genius Bar, or just forget about the update.

John Martellaro

kyphos:  Thanks for that report.  Another person told me that it took over two hours for the update to finish—on a good broadband connection.  Something is still going on with the updates, for a few people, and I don’t know that anyone has a feel for what’s going on. 

It’s a favorite product of mine, and I’ll continue to keep an eye on things.

Steve LeVine

I’m on the latest Apple TV device and had the latest previous update. Updating today to the 5.2 (excellent Wi-Fi connection.) Download was quick. Rebooted automatically and it’s only 50% done with Step 1 of 2 after a full hour! They definitely still have something wrong with the update. It’s bad enough by Samsung DVRs from Time Warner Cable are flaky. I don’t need my Apple TV to brick.


Thanks for posting your experience, sad as it is. I was thinking of disconnecting the ethernet cable from my ATV3 and trying the update over WiFi (since that was the ‘fix’ for some of the previous 5.1.1 update problems). But having read your post, I think I’ll leave it as is. I’d rather have a functioning ATV with old firmware than end up with it bricked.

Deb Barrows

Hi - Thanks so much for writing this article. I wasn’t able to select movies, so I sign off iTunes and sign back in and I could search and select movies. Wasted too much time searching and calling Apple.


Apple’s universe is getting progressively more complicated, and less of a “plug n’ play” experience. The itunes update has had an abysmal learning curve, to learn to do the things that were in the open, and now are hidden in drop down menus, inability to sort some columns under certain views, as in the past, and progressively more manual “tweaking” in my iphone5’s email settings. Looking forward to future “improvements” that return to a simpler plug n play experience, where everything, “just works.”


After four or more attempts to upgrade my ATV3 to 5.2 over a Fast Ethernet connection, I finally gave in and tried doing it over WiFi.  (Readers will recall that the 5.1.1 upgrade was problematic for some over wired ethernet). I was going to pass on the 5.2 upgrade, but my ATV keeps popping up reminders that an update is available. The only way to make the nagware go away permanently is to accept the upgrade.

So I reconfigured the ATV to use WiFi, restarted, and commenced the upgrade one more time. The download (approx 500 MB) actually went quicker over WiFi.  That’s odd - my wired network is a GigE backbone with a Fast ethernet LAN switch serving the ATV. Even so, the download over WiFi completed in about 1/3 the time.  The upgrade process then progressed smoothly, and my ATV is now running 5.2. I did not have to log out and log back in in order to access my music and movie rentals.

Despite the mystery with the wired connection, I’ve gone back to wired for day to day use of the ATV. It seems to be happy with the new firmware.  I’m less than happy with Apple’s (in)ability to thoroughly regression test their firmware and upgrade procedures. It’s quite perpelexing that the upgrade would fail when a wired connection was used to download the file.

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