Restoring your Apple TV (when its white light is flashing)

I’ve been a very happy Apple customer for a couple of years now, their adagium “everything just works” is holding with very few instances that it does not “just work”. One of the biggest exceptions however is my 2nd gen Apple TV. I bought the thing shortly after it came out, so I’m guessing it’s about two years old now, and the first year everything was fine and good. After one of Apple’s many Apple TV software updates however, my troubles started and although I can’t say they’re completely over now, I was able to manage somewhat of a mutual cease fire agreement with it so I can still watch my stuff.

That took a lot of troubleshooting and many (many!) hours of searching the web, which is why I thought I’d share this with you all, so you won’t have to, hoping that you’ll be able to handle your Apple TV’s bugs far more quickly after reading this article.

Most of the workarounds below are not of my own devising; I did however, for mine and now your convenience, make a summary of everything I’ve read and tried out, to figure out the most relevant steps and put them in the order that worked for me.

Again, I have a 2nd generation Apple TV, so these steps are primarily aimed at 2nd gen devices. They probably won’t work for 1st gen devices and I’m not sure about 3rd gens either but you could try since Apple TV 2 and 3 have much in common. 

So here we go.


Apple TV 2 is not working, doesn’t seem to connect with your TV and/or your computer’s content (black TV screen). Its little white light is flashing once or twice per second.

Working towards a solution

Step 1. The first thing to try is: take your Apple TV’s remote control and press both your menu button and the down arrow, holding them simultaneously for approx. 5-10 seconds until the white light starts flashing rapidly. Normally this would restart your Apple TV. If you’re lucky, this will do the trick for you and you can enjoy your content once again. Done!

Step 2. If step 1 does nothing for you, or if your Apple TV tells you to “Connect to iTunes”, then try the following:

  • disconnect all cables from your Apple TV, including the power cord
  • connect your Apple TV to iTunes on your computer with a micro USB cable. After that, connect the power cord as well. If you’re wondering if you even have a micro USB you can check out the image below. Perhaps you have some other gadget that uses these, like your smartphone (not an iPhone), a Kindle, an MP3 player, etc. Otherwise you’ll have to buy one. They’re not expensive. Here’s a picture:
  • your Apple TV will now show up in iTunes. Select your Apple TV in the source list and click Restore. Wait until it’s done; this may take a while since it’s not only resetting to factory settings but iTunes will also download and install the latest software version. Ready? Then done! Now you can hook up your Apple TV to your TV again and go have fun.

Step 3. If step 2 didn’t work because your Apple TV didn’t show up in iTunes at all, try the following:

  • Disconnect the HDMI, power and USB cable
  • Wait for 10 seconds
  • Reconnect the USB cable
  • Immediately hold the menu and play buttons on the remote for 15 seconds
  • Apple TV 2 should now start flashing the LED wildly and appear in iTunes with the restore button.

If it still doesn’t show up, maybe it’s your mini USB cable (even if it works just fine with other devices). Sometimes you need to wiggle the USB plug or put a little weight on it in order to have a reliable connection. Or just try another cable if you have one, sometimes that helps too.

If that still doesn’t work, try the above but add the power cord after the third bullit (and before the 4th).

Step 4. Sometimes step 2 doesn’t work and iTunes tells you the restore has failed because “an unknown error occurred” and then some number, like 1602, 1611, 2006 or 2009. I mostly got 1602, but I know other people have gotten the other ones as well.

Now it’s getting tricky for I’ve read a number of possible solutions by different people, depending on their respective situations I guess. The one that worked for me was:

  • First, try to restore again, taking the above steps; sometimes this really helps
  • If it doesn’t and the error message in iTunes keeps persisting, then ignore the error message and hook your Apple TV back up to your TV anyway. In my case, nine out of ten times the Apple TV had been restored after all, in spite of the error message in iTunes!

Other solutions might be (I haven’t tried these because the above worked for me, but other people have):

  • Try a different mini USB cable
  • Try holding your mini USB absolutely stock still during the entire restore process (this will take several minutes, so just hang in there)
  • Reboot your computer
  • All of the above

Now what?

So, what if this restore thing is working for you now, but the blinking white light just keeps returning? Will you have to keep restoring it like every month or so?

There was a period that I literally had to go through that every week, and it seriously bummed me out. Still, I wasn’t ready to buy a new one yet, since I’d only had the thing for a little over a year, I mean, come on!

So I kept on digging a little deeper. After much searching and reading I concluded that it somehow had something to do with my Apple TV’s communication with my router. The experiences I was having confirmed this: the blinking white light usually happened either when the Apple TV was waking up from sleep, or when it had been restarted after for instance, a software update (did I mention there’s quite a lot of those?).

So I thought: you know what, my router is like 5-6 years old anyway, I’ll buy a new router – and I did: I got an Apple Airport Extreme. That definitely sped things up for my other devices, but in the end it didn’t do away with my Apple TV troubles.

Then I remembered another tip I read about from a very technical person: if you didn’t want to go through all their very technical steps (including completely reprogramming your router etc.), you could simply leave your Apple TV on all the time!

So simple it’s actually brilliant. It has turned out to be the single most useful tip in all of my troubled time with my danged Apple TV! I went into its settings menu, turned off its automatic slumber mode and refused all software updates from then on so as to avoid the mandatory restarts.

From that moment on my Apple TV 2 has never stopped working. No more flashing white lights! 🙂 🙂

So yeeeeaaaaah! I’ve been a happy Apple user ever since. Even including my li’l ol’ Apple TV.

Micro USB port

So, do you have an Apple TV, and if so, what are your experiences?