This post has been updated to remove references to the third-generation Apple TV, which Apple discontinued in October 2016.
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 $149.00 (32GB), $199.00 (64GB)
Here are some of the features of the Apple TV:
- Siri voice capabilities for search and other functions
- Dedicated app store
- Remote has a touchpad for swiping in addition to buttons, volume buttons, Bluetooth, and can be used as a motion controller (like a Wii remote)
- 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, Hulu, HBO GO/HBO NOW, WatchESPN, PBS, YouTube, etc.
Note: 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 service that provides the content (some free, some paid) and/or subscribe to a cable/satellite package that gives you permission to access specific networks on the Apple TV.
Listen to Streaming Audio
Again, it’s not surprising that the Apple TV supports Apple Music. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have any other streaming music services. However, if you have iTunes 10.5 or later on your computer and you have content that didn’t originate from the iTunes store—for example, music you uploaded from CDs—you can play it through your Apple TV. (This same feature lets you play videos from your iTunes library through the device as well, even if you purchased them elsewhere.)
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 an iPhone or iPad
I’m not sure what version of iOS introduced AirPlay, but if your iPhone or iPad has that feature, you can use it to send streaming video and audio content to your TV through the Apple TV.
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 scroll through your Facebook or Twitter accounts on a large screen or access your email or browse match.com profiles—anything you’re doing on your device will display on your TV.
So is there anything NOT to love about the Apple TV?
Well, since nobody’s perfect, there are a few things:
- The Apple TV doesn’t support 4K or HDR video. The Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and Google Chromecast streaming players all have at least one model that does support those.
- There are no apps for Amazon Video or Amazon Music, so if those are your primary sources of content and you don’t have an iPhone or iPad with the apps that you can mirror to your TV, you’re probably not going to want an Apple TV.
My Two Cents
In 2015, when the new Apple TV came out without 4K or HDR support, it wasn’t that big a deal. Although a couple of the other players supported those formats, there weren’t yet a lot of TVs out there that did or content that was being made in them.
A year later, not supporting those features is a pretty big negative, especially considering the Apple TV is so much more expensive than the other players.
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. 🙂
I would say that if you’re already heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem with phones, tablets, iTunes, Apple Music, etc., then this is probably the best player for you because it’s so tightly integrated with all those services. If you also want to play Amazon videos on your TV, you could always add an Amazon Fire Stick or Roku Streaming Stick, which are both inexpensive options, especially considering everything else you get with them.
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:
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 Roku 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.