How to Fix the Apple TV 2 “Blinking White Light of Death”

This is one of those public service announcement blog posts that I write whenever I run into a non-trivial technical problem.  My hope is always that the time I take to write this up will save someone time & money in the future.

The AppleTV 2 Blinking White Light of Death

Problem is simple: Your AppleTV 2 has a blinking white LED that never stops, and all it displays on the TV is an image instructing you to connect the device to iTunes.

Cause: Most likely, you interfered with a firmware update. In my case,  I had selected an option on my AppleTV 2 to update its firmware.  However, before it was complete, the power to the device was cut.

Mission: Find a Micro USB Cable

I didn’t realize it was possible to physically connect your AppleTV 2 to your computer.  This blog post was my first clue on what had caused my issue, and how to solve it.  Unfortunately, it sounded like he never was able to solve the problem directly.

It’s a bit strange that Apple decided to put a Micro USB port on the AppleTV 2.  However, after reading this support article on the Apple website, I was determined to try to fix it myself.

Finding a Micro USB cable turned out to be non-trivial.  To the casual observer, the Micro USB and the Mini USB look very similar.  The Mini USB is used by Blackerries, hard drives, and countless devices.  The Micro USB port is a bit smaller, flatter, and more oval.

Apple actually does not carry the cable in store, although you can get one online.  The trick was finding a device that uses the Micro USB.  In my case, I found them stocked next to the Sony eReader.

iTunes Saves the Day

I plugged the new Micro USB cable into a powered USB 2.0 hub.  Given some of the issues reported by others, I suspect that it’s possible that the power draw of the AppleTV might be a bit more than typical USB ports can handle.  In any case, the Apple TV showed up in iTunes 10.5.x.  I clicked the “Restore” button, and a couple of minutes later it was done.

No issues at all with the device – it was literally reset to a factory clean state.

Since an overwhelming number of support articles and comments I found online suggested that this didn’t or wouldn’t work, I thought I’d put this blog post out there.  Hopefully it will help someone in their hour of need.



36 thoughts on “How to Fix the Apple TV 2 “Blinking White Light of Death”

  1. I may be an idiot, but I don’t see where you would plug in the micro usb cable. I have an older macbook and don’t see an plug to fit a micro usb.

  2. The Oct 2012 update bricked mine also – although the update went the same as previous updates and the unit worked for a few minutes. Then, next time I restarted it got stuck on Whats New? screen (the Continue button would not respond.) After about 7 minutes wait it went to the Home Screen but without response from the remote (I changed in a new battery too.) Then it went to the screensaver and stayed stuck on that. It refused to soft-reboot. I could not restore it either as it would not show up in iTunes/Devices (‘tried two cables.)

    iTunes (via Micro USB) on my Macbook would not recognize the ATV2. (I tried all kinds of permutations.)

    So I tried putting the ATV2 in DFU (Device Firmware Update) mode using iTunes in Windows 7 (Pro) on Parallels (7). This worked.

    Here is How to Put the Apple TV into DFU Mode: (I had to try variations on this to get iTunes to see the ATV2 in Devices.)

    Note: You will need a micro-USB cable to connect your AppleTV with iTunes for Windows running.

    Step 1: Connect the ATV2 with MicroUSB to computer.

    Step 2: Hold menu+down for 6 seconds to reboot. (As that did not work for me I had to disconnect/reconnect power instead.)

    Step 3: Then immediately hold Menu+Play to go into DFU mode. (Rapid flashing followed by less rapid flashing.)

    It (eventually after restarting iTunes, Windows etc) showed up in Devices. I had to babysit the update as there are a number of messages to be OK-ed and at one time iTunes for Mac began starting up.)

    Back to normal (for now.)

    This process was tenuous and required patience. There’s probably a hardware issue on some devices (different vendors?). Apple should exchange these defective units for refurbished ones. After all it’s their software update that broke the units.

  3. This worked for me too – thanks.
    One additional note that may help others… If you have downloaded iTunes 11, this local restore may not work as you will get an error saying your device cannot be found.
    So dont waste your time if you get this error. Find a mac/pc with v10.7 or older.
    Luckily, I had not updated my 2nd laptop to the newer version and was able to restore using iTunes 10.7 using Adam’s instructions. But it took me a couple of hours to figure out that it was all to do with the latest software. Recent posts on apple community blogs helped… Thanks again.

  4. Have also same problem after upgrading ATV 2 to the last firmware. iTunes 11 doesn’t find my device. On Apple support site I found this that helped me: You can download the firmware and do a manual update. After the update just reconnect to your TV and you’re done. Now it works as usual.

  5. New iTunes 11 will not detect atv2 if it is hosed. Delete iTunes 11, reinstall 10.7, rename iTunes 11 library something else and copy previous library version back into user/$uname/Music/iTunes folder and remove date from filename. Then open itunes 10.7 plug in atv2 and it will download new formate and fix atv2. Mine was jailbroken, but this got it booting again. If you need to jailbreak, then just continue from here. This will update atv2 to the most recent version, so if calibrating make sure seasonpass is updated first.

  6. It’s almost a year since you posted this, but I’m so glad I found it! I tried everything and this worked for me. I thought I was going to have to buy a micro USB and then realized I have one for my Kindle and it worked great. Thank you!!!

  7. Thanks, Adam. Your example/advice got me out of the “blinking white light of death” fix on my Apple TV. For any of the rest of you out there who have the same problem, I was able to use my Nook Touch micro USB cable to connect my Apple TV to my computer to remedy this situation. Thank goodness for this blog, because the graphic that came up on my television screen really didn’t explain how this fix was supposed to work. Geez, Apple. Bad show.

    Thanks again, Adam.

    Bob in Greensboro

  8. Thanks — worked for me. The latest Apple TV upgrade released yesterday is causing widespread “bricking”, so more people will be on the web seeking help. That is how I got on this page — just wanted to let visitors to the site know that this works for the latest (6.0) Apple TV update and with iTunes 11.1.

    Thanks for your generosity Adam.

  9. Thanks! I ran into the blinking light of death while upgrading to Apple TV 6.0. I just wanted to note that not all micro USB cables will work. I first tried the micro USB cable that came with my bluetooth speaker, but since that cable apparently only has the wires necessary for charging, it didn’t work. When I switched to the micro USB cable that came with my Kindle, iTunes 11 instantly recognized the Apple TV and I was able to restore and update the software.

  10. Worked exactly as described. Hard part was figuring out what a micro USB port/plug looked like. Quick online search revealed lots of detailed tech specs/protocols but no helpful images. Turns out the Sony PS3 3D glasses charge via micro USB-to-USB connector cable, and I had several of these cords already. Voila – instant recognition by iTunes and software reset in 5 minutes.

  11. Thank you so much for this post and leaving it up for so long. Two of our three ATV2s updated without a hitch. Number three, not so much. We were just about to throw it out when I found this post. Currently it is plugged in and restoring. Thanks for saving us $100 that we didn’t need to spend!

    • The right solution is to reinstall / clean install the device, then jailbreak again if you want. One of the liabilities of hacking any system / device is having to reset back to the original config at times.

  12. Wow…I actually fixed my Apple TV by myself using your suggestions!!
    Make sure you read through the posts first as I too couldn’t find where to plug the cord in.
    Note: My laptop did the restoration then gave me a pop up saying it had failed. I decided to try it anyway and lo and behold…it had restored it!
    Thank you for the help!!!

  13. thanks. This was awesome.. been planning to cancel my cable, but wanted to make sure I could fix the ‘blinking white dot of death first.’..totally cool. thanks a bunch. Almost as fun as fixing my belt on my lawn blower!

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