8 hidden features of macOS Catalina

MacOS Catalina is here, and with it, a bunch of top-line features: Mac Catalyst, new apps, Sidecar, Screen Time, and Voice Control. But as you might expect, Catalina also includes dozens of small feature changes that are worth investigating. Here are a few of the most interesting hidden features in macOS Catalina.

Home theater at last

For the first time, the Mac will have access to the 4K HDR versions of popular movies and TV shows. This comes courtesy of the new TV app—but it has limits. All Macs introduced in 2018 or later are capable of playing videos in HDR and Dolby Vision formats for high dynamic range, and can play audio encoded with the high-quality Dolby Atmos format.

apple tv high life Apple

4K HDR movies and TV shows are available in the Apple TV app, but only certain Macs can play them.

As for full-on 4K HDR streaming, it’s enabled only on 2018 and later MacBook Pros and 2017 and later iMacs with the T2 chip. Unfortunately, that means that older 4K and 5K iMacs are out of luck.

Revert after a bad upgrade

Have you ever installed a software update only to discover that it has broken other software you depend on to do your job? Catalina adds a new feature that takes a snapshot of the system disk just before applying an update, and allows you to restore your Mac to that state via macOS Recovery. (Restart your Mac and hold down Command-R to boot into macOS Recovery.)

This is a clever use of the snapshot feature of the APFS filesystem, but it takes up a lot of disk space (since your drive has to save very bit of your pre- and post-upgrade Mac). Snapshots are only retained for a day, and if you don’t have enough free space available they won’t be available at all.

Still, this is a really great feature—that ironically is being introduced in an OS version that intentionally breaks compatibility with more than a decade of macOS apps. At least you’ll be able to roll back after the next one.

Quick picture in picture

Apple has expanded ways you can get video into Picture in Picture, one of my favorite feature additions of recent years because I like my video to float above all the other windows on my Mac. In Safari, if video is playing, you can click and hold on the audio icon in the Smart Bar and then click on Enter Picture in Picture. I used to have to use a bookmarklet to do this, but it’s now enabled right within Safari.

safari picture in pictureIDG

In Catalina, you can use the new Enter Picture in Picture option to create a floating window with video playing.

Apple has also added support for Picture in Picture to QuickTime Player. There’s now a PIP button on the in-window floating control bar that will get your video floating above it all with one click.