Apple TV 4K and tvOS: What you need to know about Apple’s video streaming device
Got questions about Apple TV? We’ve got answers.
By Macworld staff
Apple TV has grown up a lot since its iTV days. It’s not just for video rentals and purchases anymore—Apple TV handles just about anything we watch, from House of Cards to Game of Thrones and Major League Baseball games, and now that also includes Apple TV+ content and Apple Arcade games.
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—from SD to HD to brilliant 4K.
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.
Update 4/22/21: Updated with information revealed at the “Spring Loaded” event.
Apple last updated Apple TV HD 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 HD specs
Apple A8 chip with 64-bit architecture
power supply, USB-C, HDMI 1.4, 10/100BASE-T ethernet
802.11ac with MIMO, Bluetooth 4.0, IR receiver
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
The Apple TV 4K streams 4K content, provided you have a TV that supports it.
What about HDR and Dolby Vision?
Yes and yes. But again, you’ll need an Apple TV 4K and TV that supports it.
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.
How do I get 4K content?
Apple sells 4K movies and TV shows through the Apple TV Store. If you have a Netflix subscription, you can can upgrade to the premium plan to be able to stream 4K content. Many Netflix original shows are offered in 4K, as well as many movies. You can also find 4K titles on Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other services.
Does Apple TV 4K support Dolby Atmos surround sound?
Apple TV can support Dolby Atmos.
Are there any other differences between models?
In iFixit’s customary teardown, it found the two models to be extremely similar but there are a couple minor differences. For one, the power supply in the 4K model is rated for 12V at 1.083A and the non-4K model is 12V at 0.917A. Additionally, there’s a new user-replaceable fan on the 4K model with eight exhaust ports.
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.
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.
How can I test out beta versions?
Apple includes tvOS in the Beta Software Program, so you can download the latest version of tvOS 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 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.
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.
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 availability of this feature varies.
If your provider is allows it, 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 your carrier doesn’t allow it, 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.
What’s the TV app?
The TV app 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.
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.
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:
Enable dark mode
Head over to the Settings app and navigate to the Appearance menu. From there you’ll be able to toggle between light and dark themes. In tvOS, there is also an Automatic option that will switch to a dark mode when the sun goes down.
Move the position of apps
Navigate to the app you want to move and press and hold the touch pad on the Siri Remote, just like you would with your finger on your iPhone screen. The app will start to wiggle on your home screen, and you’ll be able to drag ro reposition it.
Organize apps in folders
Follow the same process as you did for moving the position of your apps, except this time drag an icon on top of another one to put them in a folder together. (You can also press the Play/Pause button while in wiggle mode to bring up the contextual menu. Then select New folder.) To remove apps from a folder, open the folder and drag any app to the outside of the folder on the screen.
Delete an app
Once you’ve activated the wiggle mode as illustrated above, press the play/pause button to bring up the app menu. Then navigate to Delete and click the trackpad.
Set up multiple accounts
Apple TV is the only non-Mac device to support multiple users. That means if you and your partner have different movies in your libraries, you can easily switch between them. Head over to Settings and scroll down to Accounts, and select iTunes and App Store. Click Add new Apple ID, and enter your user name and password when prompted. Now, the next time you open the Accounts menu, both accounts will be available.
Manage your streaming subscriptions
If you need to change or cancel one of your streaming subscription plans bought through iTunes, head over to the Settings app, then select Accounts, and scroll down to Manage Subscriptions. After you enter your password, you’ll see a list of any services you’re subscribed to (as well as any expired subscriptions). Select one to modify or cancel it.
Quickly switch between apps
Just like the iPhone and iPad, Apple TV includes an easy way to switch to a recently used app. Simply double-click the TV icon on remote when on the home screen to bring up the app switcher. Then, swipe over to the app you want and click the remote.
Free up storage
Apple brought back internal storage with the 4th-gen Apple TV, so it might require a little spring cleaning every now and again. Go to the Settings app, select General, and navigate to Manage Storage. Inside, you’ll see a screen similar to the one on your iOS devices, showing the apps that are installed and how much space they are using. To delete any storage hoggers, swipe over to the trash can icon and press the touch pad.
Tweak the remote sensitivity
If you’re having a hard time controlling your remote, you can change the sensitivity of the touch pad just like on your MacBook. Head over to Settings, then click Remotes and Devices, and then Touch Surface Tracking. Inside you can select the option that’s right for you: Slow, Medium, or Fast.
Ditch the remote
Apple’s Siri remote is designed to be super simple, but sometimes it can be a little too simple. For those times, there’s the Remote app. Available as a free download in the App Store, Remote on your iPhone lets you do everything you can do on the Siri Remote but also adds a keyboard, making password entry way easier.
Set up a Bluetooth device
Apple TV can support several Bluetooth devices simultaneously, including the Siri Remote, a Bluetooth keyboard, headphones, speakers, and up to four Made for iOS Bluetooth controllers. To pair up a Bluetooth device with your Apple TV, put it in pairing mode and open the Settings app. Scroll down to Remotes and Devices, and select Bluetooth. Once your device appears, select it from the list and enter the pairing passkey (if necessary).
Unpair a Bluetooth device
To unpair a Bluetooth device, head over to the same menu as you did to set up your device (Settings>Remotes and Devices>Bluetooth), click the device you’d like to unpair, and select Forget Device.
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