Apple TV and tvOS: Everything you need to know about Apple's digital media streamer

Got questions about Apple TV? We've got answers.

Apple TV 4th gen
Apple

Update 8/7/17: In the HomePod firmware leak, eagle-eyed developer Guilherme Rambo has spotted references to an upcoming 4K Apple TV with support for HDR10 and Dolby Vision. See our Apple TV FAQ below for more information.

Apple TV has grown up a lot since its iTV days. It’s not just for iTunes rentals anymore—Apple TV handles just about anything we watch, from House of Cards to Game of Thrones and Major League Baseball games.

Since Apple opened up its tiny streaming box to developers, it’s gone from fun to indispensable. With an extensive library of apps, Siri support, and a drop-dead simple interface, Apple TV is one of the underrated players in Apple’s lineup. Just like all those years ago, it’s still the device that “completes the story” of Apple’s entertainment ecosystem, and even without some of the bells and whistles of its competitors, Apple TV is still one of the best streaming boxes you can buy.

And we’ve got everything you need to know about it. Whether you’re buying your first one or just want to learn a few more tricks, make sure to bookmark our guide to Apple TV and tvOS as we keep it updated with all the latest news, features, tricks, and tips.

Apple TV (4th generation) specs

Size and weight

Height: 1.4 inches
Width: 3.9 inches
Depth: 3.9 inches
Weight: 15 ounces

Capacity

32GB or 64GB

Chip

Apple A8 chip with 64-bit architecture

apple tv ports Apple

You’ll need to bring your own HDMI cable to hook up Apple TV to your TV set.

Ports

HDMI 1.4
802.11ac Wi‑Fi with MIMO
10/100BASE-T ethernet
USB‑C
Bluetooth 4.0
IR receiver

Video Formats

  • H.264 video up to 1080p, 60 frames per second, High or Main Profile level 4.2 or lower
  • H.264 Baseline Profile level 3.0 or lower with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps per channel, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats
  • MPEG-4 video up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats

In the box

Apple TV
Siri Remote
Power cord
Lightning to USB Cable

Pricing

32GB: $149
64GB: $199

Apple TV (4th generation) review

Apple last updated Apple TV in 2015, and at the time, we had this to say: “AirPlay is an extremely convenient way to mirror your Mac or iOS device’s screen to your television, and Apple TV is of course the only set-top box that can play content rented or purchased from the iTunes Store.” Read our full review.

Apple TV FAQ

Can I watch 4k content?

Not yet Apple last updated the Apple TV in 2015, before 4K TVs exploded, so we’ll have to wait for the fifth generation model to see if Apple jumps on the high-resolution bandwagon. Apple TV features an HDMI 1.4 port, which is technically capable of streaming 4K content at 30fps, but rumors suggest the next model will have an HDMI 2.0 port for streaming 4K videos up to 60fps. Amazon, Roku, and Nvidia all offer 4K DMR boxes if it’s something you need to have. A dissection of an early release of the HomePod firmware (which spilled a bunch of beans about the upcoming iPhone 8) by developer Guilherme Rambo found a reference to a non-existent 4K Apple TV, suggesting that a new model could arrive sooner than later.

What about HDR and Dolby Vision?

Also no. However, the HomePod firmware does include references to both HDR10 and Dolby Vision, which suggests Apple might be launching a new model soon. While Roku and Nvidia are already selling boxes that support HDR, none of their digital media streamers support Dolby Vision yet.

What do I need to get started?

Pretty much all you need to buy is an HDMI cable. Any one will do, so stay away from high-priced cables.

apple tv siri remote Susie Ochs/IDG

Your Siri remote has a Lightning charging port, but don’t worry, you won’t need to use it very often.

Why does the Siri Remote have a Lightning port?

The Lightning port on the Siri Remote is for charging. Depending on how often you use it, you shouldn’t have to plug it in more often than once every few months. To check the battery level, head over to Remotes and Devices inside the Settings app, select Bluetooth, and you’ll see a battery indicator next to Remote.

tvOS FAQ

How do I know if I’m running the latest version?

You can check for software updates by heading to the Settings app and opening the System tab. Select Software Updates and scroll up to Update Software. If an update is available, you will be prompted to download and install it. You can also choose to turn on automatic updates.

I didn’t hear anything about tvOS at WWDC. Is there a new version?

Yup, tvOS 11 is coming out in the fall, but it doesn’t bring any cool features like iOS 11 or macOS High Sierra. Among the usual performance enhancements, tvOS 11 features home screen sync (for keeping multiple Apple TVs organized), automatic dark and light mode switching, support for AirPods, and AirPlay 2.

When can I get it?

Apple will be releasing tvOS 11 to the general public in the fall, likely in mid-September alongside iOS 11.

apple tv update IDG

Now everyone can try out the tvOS 11 beta.

What if I want it earlier?

For the first time, Apple has included tvOS in the Beta Software Program, so you can download the latest version of tvOS 11 on your Apple TV right now. To get it, you’ll first need to sign up for the beta program at Apple.com if you haven’t already as part of the iOS or macOS betas. Then, head over to the Settings app on your Apple TV and find System. Open it, select Software Updates, and click Get Public Beta Updates to turn on over-the-air downloads. Select the Agree button and then scroll up to Update Software. Finally, click Download and Install, and wait for your Apple TV to restart.

How is AirPlay 2 different from Airplay?

The original AirPlay was essentially an easy way to get content from you iOS devices to your TV screen. With version 2, AirPlay has expanded its capabilities. You can now stream audio to multiple sources, meaning your Apple TV will act as a hub that lets you send music all throughout your house, not just your main home theater system. Additionally, your Apple TV can double as a AirPlay “speaker,” so you can send audio from your Mac or iOS device to your surround sound system with just a tap.

apple tv app store IDG

It’s easy to download and install apps on Apple TV.

How do I download apps?

Just like on Macs and iOS devices, Apple TV has a dedicated store for downloading and installing apps. Select the App Store icon on your home screen, and you can navigate and search for apps like you do on your other devices. And they’ll all be designed to look their best on the big screen.

Is Amazon Prime Video available?

Not yet, but soon. Amazon has been one of the few holdouts on tvOS, but Tim Cook announced at WWDC that the video service would finally be coming to Apple TV. No timeframe was given, but presumably it will be available around the time tvOS 11 lands in the fall.

What’s Single sign-on?

With Single sign-on on Apple TV, you won’t have to repeatedly enter the username and password for your cable provider every time you want to watch an app that requires it. The list of providers it works with is lengthy, but missing most of the major players:

  • Blue Ridge
  • Cable ONE
  • CenturyLink Prism
  • Comporium
  • DIRECTV
  • Dish
  • Fidelity Communications
  • Grande Communications
  • GVTC
  • GTA
  • Hawaiian Telcom
  • Hotwire
  • Liberty Cablevision of PR
  • MCTV
  • MetroCast
  • Northland Communications
  • Service Electric
  • Service Electric Cablevision
  • Shentel
  • Sling TV
  • Vast Broadband
  • Vyve Broadband
  • Wave
  • WOW!

If your provider is represented, you’ll only need to sign in once and every app that requires a cable log-in will automatically be filled in with the appropriate credentials. If you’re a Comcast, Fios, Cox, or other subscriber not listed, you’ll still be able to store your username and password in Settings, but each app that requires it will still prompt you to sign in individually.

Is there a post-play option like Netflix?

If you’re a Netflix binger, you’re aware of the feature that lets you automatically jump to the next episode when watching a TV series. When the 4th generation of Apple TV released, it originally had a similar autoplay option, but it was removed in tvOS 10. So, if you want to sit on your couch and continuously watch a TV season purchased through iTunes, the only way to do it is to set up a playlist in iTunes and use Home Sharing to stream it.

But post-play is available in the Netflix app, right?

Yup. Select a TV show and it will automatically begin playing the next episode when it finishes.

apple tv tv app IDG

The TV app is like your cable TV guide, only more personal.

What’s the TV app?

The TV app landed late last year as part of the tvOS 10.1 update, and it serves as a sort of smart grid for the things you’re watching (or might want to watch). Inside you’ll find links to your purchases and rentals, things you might like, and whatever you’re in the middle of watching (like the latest episode of Game of Thrones, for example). However, you won’t find any original programming from Netflix represented in the TV app.

On my iPhone, TV replaces Movies and TV Shows. Why are they still on my Apple TV?

On Apple TV, the TV app functions as more of a guide than a streaming platform, so you’ll be shuffled off to the appropriate app when you find something you want to watch.

How can I play games?

To play a game on your Apple TV, you can download one in the tvOS App Store. Most games use the Siri Remote as a controller, but some will require the purchase of a third-party Bluetooth gamepad.

Can I still stream games from my iPhone?

Yes! To turn on AirPlay Mirroring, swipe up from the bottom of the screen on your iOS device to access the Control Center, and tap the AirPlay icon to mirror the content to your screen. Then you can play the game as you normally would, using your iPhone or iPad as a controller.

apple tv siri IDG

Siri’s smarts are on full display with Apple TV.

How do I use Siri?

There’s no wake command for Siri on the Apple TV, so you’ll need to press and hold the microphone button to speak to it. When you’re done, let go of the button and it will (hopefully) carry out your request.

What can Siri do?

Siri on Apple TV isn’t nearly as robust as it is on the iPhone, but it’s still a pretty useful companion. You can find content using a variety of criteria, including movie name, genre, director, or actor, and there are all sorts of things you can ask while something is streaming, such as, “What did she just say,” or “Skip ahead 10 minutes.” Additionally, you can control Apple Music, launch apps, check the weather, or get sports scores, as well as watch live content using Live Tune-in. You can find a comprehensive list of Siri commands here.

What’s Live Tune-in exactly?

Some channels that offer live streams can use Siri to quickly tune in to a broadcast. You can things like, “Watch ESPN live,” or “Show me the Warriors game,” and Siri will automatically switch your Apple TV to the in-progress stream. Supported channels include:

  • ABC News
  • CBS
  • CBS News
  • CNN Go
  • Cooking Channel
  • Disney Channel
  • Disney Jr
  • Disney XD
  • DIY
  • ESPN
  • Food Network
  • FXNOW
  • HGTV
  • TBS
  • TNT
  • Travel Channel
1 2 Page 1
Shop Tech Products at Amazon