- The Apple TV is a streaming media player, which means it lets you watch videos, listen to music, play games, and use other types of apps from the Internet on your TV.
- The Apple TV supports 4K Ultra HD and HDR video. It has 32GB and 64GB options, but are otherwise identical.
- To set up the Apple TV, simply plug it into an HDMI port on your TV and use the included remote to follow the on-screen instructions to connect to the Internet and select the apps you want.
This post has been updated to include information about the Apple TV 4K that was released in the fall of 2017. You can also still get the previous generation’s 32GB model, which does not support 4K or HDR video.
What is the Apple TV?
The Apple TV is a streaming media player, which means it takes content from the Internet and displays it on your TV.
List Price $179.00 (32GB), $199.00 (64GB)
Here are some of the key features of the Apple TV:
- Supports 4K Ultra HD and HDR video (learn more about these terms)
- Dedicated app store
- TV app provides guide and search capabilities across multiple popular apps
- Siri voice capabilities for search and other functions
- Remote has a touchpad for swiping in addition to buttons, volume buttons, Bluetooth, and can be used as a motion controller for compatible video games
- Works with third-party controllers for sophisticated gaming
- Enhanced performance and connectivity
What can you do with an Apple TV?
Watch Streaming Videos
In addition to Apple’s own digital video options, the device also supports most of the other top entertainment providers: Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, HBO GO/HBO NOW, WatchESPN, PBS, YouTube, etc.
Unfortunately, Apple seems to have removed all information about what apps it supports from its website. If you want to know if a particular streaming content provider is available, your best bet is to Google the name of the provider plus “Apple TV.”
IMPORTANT: Buying an Apple TV does not give you access to the content you can watch on it, just like buying a TV does not give you access to cable TV shows. You need to have accounts with each streaming service that provides the content (some free, some paid) and/or subscribe to a cable/satellite package that gives you permission to access shows from specific networks through the Fire TV. For example, if you pay for HBO through your cable provider, then you can use the HBO GO app to stream their shows for free by using your cable company login. If you do not have cable or your package doesn’t include HBO, you can purchase the HBO NOW service and use that app to watch their shows.
Listen to Streaming Audio
Again, it’s not surprising that the Apple TV supports Apple Music and it also has a built-in Pandora app. For other major music services like Spotify and Sirius XM, you’ll need to use the AirPlay feature.
The Apple TV App Store has a whole slew of games you can download to the device.
Use Miscellaneous Apps
Like with games, the App Store has a bunch of other types of apps: social media, photo sharing, media server, shopping, weather.
Cast Video and Audio from a Mac, iPhone or iPad
I’m not sure what version of iOS introduced AirPlay, but if your Mac or iOS device has that feature, you can use it to send streaming video and audio content to your TV through the Apple TV. Unfortunately, if you only have Windows and Android devices, you’re out of luck.
Mirror Your iOS Device’s Screen
The AirPlay feature also lets you mirror your full phone or tablet screen on your TV. This is useful if you want to see any non-streaming content from your device on your TV. For example, maybe you want to access your email on a big screen or browse a certain website or scroll through your Instagram feed or play Pokémon GO—anything you’re doing on the device will display on your TV.
My Two Cents
Disclosure: I am the opposite of an Apple fangirl, i.e. I generally find most Apple products to be subpar, especially for their cost. This is amplified in the Apple TV, which is more than a year behind the other three of the Big Four players (Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Google Chromecast) in terms of supporting 4k and HDR content. It also doesn’t have some of the extras available with some of these other models, like a USB port for playing your personal media on an external drive. And yet it’s still significantly more expensive than the others.
On the positive side, I do like the AirPlay feature. Of all the various casting/mirroring functions I’ve used on all my various devices, including my Windows PC, I find AirPlay to be the easiest and most stable. I guess that’s one of the advantages of not having an open-source platform. 🙂 On the flip side, this feature does you no good if you don’t have a Mac or iOS device.
The single sign-on feature, which lets you input your cable/satellite username and password just once and remember it across multiple apps, is nice and I also like that you can use Siri to spell things into text fields, like your login credentials, with your voice.
But generally speaking, I would only recommend the Apple TV over its competitors if you’re already heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem with phones, tablets, iTunes, Apple Music, etc.
NOTE: The process for setting up the Apple TV is basically the same as it is for any streaming media player:
- Connect the Apple TV to your TV and plug it in. Switch the input on your TV for the port you’re using.
- Connect the Apple TV to the Internet.
- Connect to the content providers you want to watch/use.
In addition to reading the detailed steps below, check out this unboxing/setup video I made for the new Apple TV. It uses the previous generation of the player, but the process should generally be the same.
Connect the Apple TV to your television and plug it in
You’ll need an HDMI cable with full-sized plugs on each end to connect the player to your TV. This doesn’t come with the device; you’ll need to provide your own. Plug one end of the cable into the box and the other end into one of the appropriate ports on your TV.
Note the number of the port (e.g. HDMI 1, HDMI 2…) and use your television remote (NOT your Apple TV remote) to switch to that input. You’ll know you’re on the right channel when you see the Apple logo on the screen.
Note: If you don’t have your television’s remote, your cable/satellite/universal remote probably has an Input button but if it doesn’t your TV should have a button on it to switch inputs. When you want to go back to watching regular TV, use the Input button to switch back to the port where your TV signal goes into the TV.
Then connect the power cord to the box/stick and plug it in. Note that there is no on or off switch for the Apple TV; it’s always on (but uses very little energy when it’s not actually in use).
Connect your Apple TV to the Internet
To connect to Wi-Fi, simply follow the instructions on your TV. If you have an iPhone or iPad with iOS 9.1, you can use its Bluetooth capabilities to transfer your Wi-Fi and Apple account settings to your Apple TV.
Otherwise, you’ll be prompted to enter that information using your remote, the top part of which is touch screen that you can swipe and click.
Tip: When you’re navigating any menus on the Apple TV, the Menu button on the remote acts like a Back button, taking you to the previous screen.
Once the Internet connection is made, you’ll be walked through a number of screens to enter your Apple ID account info, select some settings options (location services, time zone, Siri usage, etc.) and agree to terms and conditions. After all that, you’ll arrive at the Apple TV home screen.
Now you can…
Start watching TV!
The initial home screen includes buttons for Apple content (movies, TV, apps, photos, music) and search, home sharing, and settings. You can install additional content provider apps (e.g. Netflix, HBO GO) from the Apps section.
Playing your iTunes library from your computer to your TV
In iTunes on your computer, go to File > Home Sharing > Turn On Home Sharing.
NOTE: The path could also be Advanced > Turn On Home Sharing, depending on what version of iTunes you have. Also, you can set up sharing on multiple computers.
You’ll then be asked to log into your iTunes account.
From the Apple TV Settings button, click through the menu from Computers > Turn On Home Sharing.
Again, you’ll be asked into your iTunes account. Make sure you use the same account you used for your computer. After you’ve set up sharing, go back to your Home screen and click the Computers button. You will be taken to a screen that lists the libraries from your computer’s iTunes app and you can click through to access your content.
Casting and mirroring from your iPhone or iPad using AirPlay
NOTE: AirPlay will only show up if there’s an Apple TV on the same network in the vicinity. The following screenshots show me casting an episode of The Luddite Lounge to my TV from the Pocket Casts app. With casting, you can play the video or audio on your TV and still do other things on your iPhone at the same time.
If you want to mirror your entire screen, you just click the Mirroring option to turn it on. At that point anything you do on your iPhone or iPod will show up on your TV.
Congratulations. You’re now ready to enjoy your Apple TV!
You may also be interested in:
Frequently Asked Questions about Streaming Media
The links below will take you to the Streaming Media FAQ page that has answers to questions relevant to streaming players and content in general.