When you pair AirPods to your iPhone, the wireless earbuds are automatically paired to iPads, Macs, and Apple Watches with the same iCloud account thanks to automatic setup. Apple TV has not been included in the devices that automatically pair, however, but that’s changing with tvOS 11.
Starting with the first tvOS 11 developer beta, AirPods appear as a new speaker option automatically on Apple TVs with iCloud accounts connected to iPhones with AirPods paired. This means you can play music or easily listen to video from Apple TV through AirPods without using the TV speakers.
AirPods with Apple TV work just like other connected Bluetooth speakers or headphones, but the automatic setup feature means you don’t have to manually pair AirPods to tvOS 11.
Prior to tvOS 11, connecting AirPods to Apple TV required the method used to pair the wireless earphones to non-Apple products like Android devices: hold a button on the AirPods case, look for AirPods as Bluetooth speakers in the Settings app on Apple TV, and manually pair.
tvOS 11 is still limited to one iCloud account at a time, however, so shared Apple TVs will still need to manually pair. For me personally, I never bothered to pair AirPods to the Apple TVs in my home, but I can see myself using AirPods with Apple TV now thanks to the convenient setup feature.
Other tvOS 11 changes include a new Home Screen Sync feature for keeping app installs and arrangements the same across iCloud-connected Apple TVs and a new automatic switching feature between dark and light mode. tvOS 11 is currently only available as a developer beta, although the first tvOS public beta will start later this month.