How to customize screensavers on your TV

What to watch when you're not watching your Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, or Google TV.
a lake and hills on a tv
Apple TV's aerial screensavers take you to far off places. Image: Apple

The humble screensaver was first introduced on computers to minimize the risk of burn-in on the display–where static images would be ‘burned’ into the screen if nothing moved for an extended period of time. That’s how they got their name.

Nowadays burn-in is much less of an issue, but the screensaver remains, and has expanded to TVs. On these bigger screens its purpose is primarily decorative, so you might see sweeping landscapes or curated artworks whenever you pause a movie and go and do something else for a few minutes.

Depending on your attention span and schedule, you might find your TV spends a lot of time showing its screensaver—so it’s worth spending a few minutes making sure it’s set up to show something interesting, fun, or beautiful.

Apple tvOS

If you’ve got an Apple TV 4K plugged into your television set, your eyes can enjoy the gorgeous, high-resolution, slow-motion screensavers Apple has provided. They include clips of deserts, forests, and cityscapes, and you can tap on the clickpad on the Siri remote to get information about what you’re looking at. Press left or right on the clickpad to switch between different screensavers.

The only other screensaver option is to display a slideshow of your own photos. To switch between the different options, load up the Settings app on the Apple TV 4K home screen, then choose General and Screen Saver. You can switch to your own photos, choose which of Apple’s screensavers you want to see, and set the delay time for the screensaver.

apple tv with a dinosaur show and the device in the foreground
The Apple TV 4K comes with plenty of built-in screensavers. Image: Apple

Android TV and Google TV

For those of you with a television or dongle running Google software, the process of changing the screensaver is pretty similar whether you’re using the older Android TV or the newer Google TV. By default, a curated collection of photos is shown, but you can change this to your own pictures if you want.

From the home screen, select the settings gear icon in the top right, then choose Device Preferences and Screen saver (Android TV), or System and Ambient mode (Google TV). You’re able to switch between Google’s photo picks or your own, or an experimental mode where a wider range of sources are used to find images. You can also adjust other settings, such as when the screensaver starts.

Personal photos are pulled from Google Photos, so you can use the app for Android or iOS to set up a particular screensaver selection, if you’d like to. Note that there are also third-party screensaver apps you can install on your TV or attached device, including Ambient TV and Photo Gallery and Screensaver.

Amazon Fire TV

The screensaver situation on Fire TV televisions, dongles, and boxes is somewhat complicated, because it’s not consistent across devices—and Amazon seems to change it up fairly regularly as well. However, no matter your device, you should be able to press the menu button (the three horizontal lines) on the remote while the screensaver is showing to access its settings, including timings.

The newest Amazon Fire TV Omni sets and the 2nd-gen Fire TV Stick 4K Max come with an Ambient Experience as the default screensaver, which is essentially the same screen you’ll see on an Echo Show, with added widgets and functionality on top of a curated slideshow of photos. On other devices, you’ll simply get the photo slideshow.

In either case, press the menu button to make changes, and to switch to your own photos—including daily memories or recent photos. This may require some curation in the Amazon Photos app, which you can get for Android or for iOS (you can set up a list of favorite images to use as a screensaver, for example).

a tv mounted on the wall with amazon fire open
The newest Fire TVs give you an Echo Show-like ambient mode. Image: Amazon

Roku TV

To change the screensaver on a Roku TV or Roku device attached to a TV, press the home button on your remote (it looks like a little house), then choose Settings and Screensaver to make changes to timings and content. You’re able to pick from a selection of built-in and third-party screensaver options, including your own photos (which you need to set up on the web with your Roku account).

Note that Roku themes (pick Themes from Settings) include a wallpaper and screensaver, so those are options too. You can also head to the Screensavers category of the Roku Channel Store to find a variety of different third-party screensavers you can install on your device, including ones based around photos of nature and landmarks. If your Roku device supports 4K, you also have the option of a salt water aquarium simulation, so you can get the vibes of a fish tank without the maintenance.