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Apple TV is one of the best premium streaming devices on the market. When money is no object, the clean and simple interface found on Apple TV is sure to be a hit with users of all ages. It might take you a moment to get used to its touch remote and menus. But once you learn the basics, you’ll be streaming with joy. And we’re here to help you get a head start. Whether you’re new to streaming or an old-school Roku fan, here’s everything you need to know about how to use Apple TV.
Apple TV vs. Apple TV+
On Monday, March 25, Apple introduced Apple TV+, a new streaming service that will feature original content from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Jennifer Aniston, and plenty more A-list celebrities. (You can read more about the confirmed Apple+ shows here.) Apple TV+ will also include “channels” that you can add like HBO, Showtime, and Starz, which will function similarly to Amazon Prime channels. The service will debut this fall.
While you’ll obviously be able to stream Apple TV+ on your Apple TV, the service will also be available on other devices like Amazon Fire TV and Roku. Confused yet? To put it plainly, Apple TV is the actual device you’ll use to stream content, and Apple TV+ is a streaming service (like Netflix or Hulu) that you can watch using your Apple TV.
How to use Apple TV
How to install Apple TV
Apple TV comes with almost everything you need right out of the box: the device, a Siri remote, a power cord, and a lightning charger for the remote. The only thing that’s missing is an HDMI cable. When you’re ready to get started, pull the Apple TV out of its box, connect it to your TV via an HDMI cable, and then plug in the power cord.
Unlike other streaming devices, Apple TV comes with an ethernet port for users who like the power of a wired internet connection. The device also has a built-in 802.11 Wi-Fi that’s capable of streaming 4K content if your connection is strong enough.
When you see the Apple TV setup menu, pick up your Siri remote. To pair the remote with your Apple TV, click the touch surface at the top of your remote. If the remote doesn’t automatically pair, hold down the Menu and Volume Up buttons at the same time for five seconds. Next, choose your language. If you use an iOS device, Apple TV can connect to your phone to transfer important information, such as the login information for your Wi-Fi, iTunes, and iCloud accounts. This also connects your phone to your Apple TV for use as a remote when you inevitably lose your tiny Siri remote in the couch.
If you have a pay TV subscription, Apple TV will prompt you to find your TV provider. When you find your provider, enter your email and password to access channels associated with your TV plan. If you don’t see your provider—or just don’t subscribe to a TV package—skip this step. You’ll notice while navigating that the menu prompts you to use voice search. Hold down the microphone button the remote to dictate the name of your provider. Later, you can use this feature for finding your favorite content.
Users with multiple Apple TVs on the same iCloud account will be offered the chance to create one Home Screen for all their devices. In most homes where there’s only one Apple TV, this step won’t be an issue. For a longer explainer on connecting multiple Apple devices, check out Apple’s guide here.
Once you’ve finished the installation process, your Apple TV will take you to the home page.
At the Apple event, the company demoed a new version of the Apple TV app, but it’s unclear when it will roll out.
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How to use your Apple TV remote
The current generation of Apple TVs come with the Siri voice remote. At the top of the remote is a shiny glass touch surface. You’ll use this to navigate around menus on your Apple TV, sliding your finger up, down, left, and right to move the cursor. Once you’ve found the app or show you’d like to watch, press down on the touch surface. It also functions as the selection button.
If you quickly press the Menu button, it will take you to the last screen you were on if you press it quickly. If you hold down the Menu button, it will take you to the Home screen where your apps await. Next to the Menu button, you’ll find the TV button, which takes you to the TV app if you press it once and the Home screen if you press it twice.
Below, you’ll find the Siri, Volume, and Play/Pause buttons. Volume and Play/Pause function exactly as you’d imagine. The Siri button activates Apple TVs Siri voice search, letting you pull up apps, command shows, and search for movies with your voice.
If you’d like to fast forward or rewind while watching video content, swipe your finger either forward or back on the touch surface of the remote. Finally, to charge your remote, plug it into the Lightning cable that comes with your Apple TV. You can also charge any other iOS devices with the Lightning cable.
Select your favorite streaming apps
The first time you use your Apple TV, you’ll find a basic assortment of apps. At the top of the menu will be your Apple content: Movies, TV Shows, Music, Settings, etc. After you set up your device, you’ll need to add your favorite streaming services. To do this, select the App Store to download it to your Apple TV. You’ll also notice an app called TV.
Apple’s TV app collects everything there is to watch among the major apps and puts it in one place. On paper, it’s a great idea, but in practice, the app is often more frustrating that it is useful. It’s easier to just use the specific apps of the services you’ve subscribed to.
Users can move apps around their home screen by placing the cursor over them and holding down the select button on the touchpad. Once the app is selected, move it around the menu using the direction controls on your remote.
Ready to stop watching? Putting your Apple TV to sleep is easy. Go to the menu screen and hold down the Play/Pause button for three seconds. This will put your Apple TV into a low power sleep mode. Because the Apple TV doesn’t have an On/Off switch, the only way to truly turn off the device is unplugging it. However, sleep mode serves largely the same function and allows Apple TV to update itself while you’re away.
Each of the major streaming TV solutions is currently available on Apple TV: DirecTV Now, FuboTV, Hulu with Live TV, Philo, PS Vue, Sling TV, and YouTube TV. The bad news is that you’ll have to pay to use any of them. Unlike competitor Roku, Apple TV doesn’t include free live TV options. With the notable exception of Philo, almost every streaming TV option for Apple TV supports local channels. You can find our coverage of what local channels come with each service here.
Apple TV apps
What are the best Apple TV apps?
Your Apple TV comes preloaded with iTunes Movies, iTunes TV Shows, the App Store, Photos, Music, Search, Computers, and Settings. Movies and TV Shows are where you’ll find any media content you’ve bought on the iTunes store. The App Store helps you download apps, games, and services for your Apple TV. Photos and Music allow you to play content from your iCloud and Apple music library on your TV set. Search is a universal search bar for your Apple TV, referencing content from all of your apps. Computers will let you stream media from the computers on the same shared network as your Apple TV. Finally, Settings is where you can adjust the device’s settings to your liking.
You’ll notice none of those apps are much fun without a preexisting iTunes library. Here are some of the best apps on Apple TV to get you started.
Netflix started the wave of streaming services back in the day, and it’s still leading the industry. While recent price increases have caused some controversy, Netflix’s massive library and licensed content can’t be beaten. From massive Hollywood hits like Incredibles 2 to its original series Stranger Things, Netflix has a little bit of something for everyone.
Cost: $5.99 per month for Hulu with Limited Commercials, $11.99 for Hulu with No Commercials, and $54.99 per month for Hulu with Live TV
Love TV shows but don’t mind streaming them later? Hulu remains the best deal in streaming TV, with a recent price drop making it even sweeter. For about $6 a month, you get access to today’s biggest network shows, along with thousands of archival TV series and movies. Sure, there are ads, but the tradeoff is a constant influx of new programming every week.
3) Amazon Prime
Cost: $119 per year for the complete Amazon Prime, including two-day shipping, streaming video, and more. Prime Video by itself is $8.99 per month.
Prime Video has massively improved over the last year, thanks in large part to Amazon’s dedication to original content and catalog titles. Amazon Studios is an Oscar-winning powerhouse, and Prime lets you stream the films they make in beautiful 4K at no extra charge. Prime’s original series from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to Jack Ryan rival anything HBO or Netflix are doing in both comedy and action. Add to that tens of thousands of movies and TV series to search through, and Prime is a killer app.
Apple TV extra features
iTunes purchases and rentals automatically play in 4K if available
One feature to love about the Apple TV is the 4K upgrade on video content bought and rented via iTunes. If you have a large, pre-existing library of iTunes movies you’ve been buying for years, your Apple TV will automatically play them in the best image quality available. As someone who spent a ton of money on DVDs—only to spend even more switching over to BlueRay—this free upgrade is a blessing.
Even better, Apple doesn’t up-charge for 4K movies. For example Mission Impossible: Fallout as a new release on Vudu costs $24.99 for the 4K edition. On iTunes, the movie can be purchased for $19.99. For digital movie collectors, this little feature in Apple TV’s iTunes movies is a blessing. But keep in mind: It’s only available on the Apple TV 4K.
New to cord-cutting? Here are our picks for the best movie streaming sites of 2019 and free live TV apps and channels. If you’re looking for a specific channel, here’s how to watch HBO, Showtime, Starz, Sundance TV, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU, Willow, AMC, FX, Fox News, Freeform, MSNBC, CNN, CNBC, FS1, TBS, TNT, Tennis Channel, Golf Channel, Syfy, HGTV, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, Bravo, Lifetime, Discovery, PBS, the CW, BBC, CSPAN, NBA TV, MTV, Comedy Central, Food Network, TLC, HLN, A&E, Animal Planet, National Geographic, the Weather Channel, the History Channel, and NFL RedZone without cable, as well as free movies on YouTube. If you’re on the move, here’s how to watch Fox Sports Go and live stream NBC Sports.
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John-Michael Bond is a tech reporter and culture writer for Daily Dot. A longtime cord-cutter and early adopter, he's an expert on streaming services (Hulu with Live TV), devices (Roku, Amazon Fire), and anime. A former staff writer for TUAW, he's knowledgeable on all things Apple and Android. You can also also find him regularly performing standup comedy in Los Angeles.