- 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 comes in two models: Apple TV 4K, which supports 4K Ultra HD and HDR video, and Apple TV HD, which supports 1080p. The 4K version 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.
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.
The Apple TV 4K models support 4K Ultra HD and HDR video, while the Apple TV HD supports 1080p HD. The 4K model also has some higher-end tech specs for wireless, Ethernet, etc.
Here are some of the other key features common to both models:
- 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
- Pairs with Apple AirPod and AirPod Pro headphones for private listening
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.
NOTE: If you purchase a new Apple TV, you get a free year of Apple TV+, the streaming service from the company launched in 2019. (After the free year it’s $4.99/month.)
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.”
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 was 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.
NOTE: In 2019, Apple launched its own standalone streaming service, Apple TV+. If you purchase an Apple TV, it includes a free subscription for one year—a $60 value—reducing the cost differential quite a bit.
On the positive side, I really 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. If you’re not, then you might want to check out Amazon Fire TV or Roku streaming media players, which offer the same basic features (and some additional ones) but at much lower price points.
Getting started with the Apple TV
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.
Congratulations. You’re now ready to enjoy your Apple TV!
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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.