Apple TV missing manual: Your guide to the app, TV Channels, TV+ and more

Apple TV is no longer just a box, but an entire platform. Let’s break it down

Apple TV: Ultimate guide

Apple’s interest in the TV has spanned decades - all the way back to 1993 with the launch of the ill-fated Macintosh TV. In 2006 the company finally launched Apple TV - a small streaming box - but until his death Steve Jobs was still grappling with the idea of revolutionizing the way we watch TV.

Today, we might have a better idea of what Jobs was thinking. The company is overhauling Apple TV to make it a proper storefront for major services and channels, while also offering a tier of Apple-made original programming.

Read this: The best streaming sticks and boxes

It’s also bringing Apple TV to televisions and devices beyond its own, meaning you don’t even need to have an iOS device to plug into Apple’s TV platform, let alone an Apple TV box. Let us explain all.

What the hell is Apple TV anyway?

Great question, glad you asked. Today Apple TV means something quite different than it did, well, a few hours ago (we’re writing this just after Apple announced its new streaming service). But the idea remains the same in essence: Apple TV is about putting all of your favorite streaming apps and services in one place.

Right now, Apple TV lives on an app in the Apple TV box (Gen 4 and later), iPhones and iPads (where it comes as a pre-installed app), but the way this app functions is about to change. Currently, when you actually find a show, you’ll usually be sent to the home app in which it lives. So if you want to watch Game of Thrones, you’ll be redirected to HBO Go. This is what Apple is changing with its revamped TV app: starting in May, you’ll be able to user some of these services within the Apple TV app - but only if they’re part of Apple TV Channels.

TV Channels are Apple’s new way to let you subscribe to services like HBO, Starz, Showtime etc and access them directly within the Apple TV app. It’s exactly what Amazon does with Prime Video, so Apple’s not really invented anything new here; it’s just making the Apple TV app more convenient and giving you one less reason to leave it.

Apple TV missing manual: Your guide to the service, hardware, TV Channels and TV+

Apple TV: Services and apps

If you own an Apple TV box, you'll already know it's a well-fed platform thanks to its App Store. All the major names are on board in the App Store, but not all of them are on board with the TV app. There's also iTunes, one of the most popular digital sellers of movie and TV. All that video content also lives in the Apple TV app.

As part of the revamped Apple TV app comes something called Apple TV Channels. This is an a la carte way to watch your favorite services. You know how Sling and others throw a bunch of cable services into a bundle for a monthly fee? Apple's essentially doing the same thing here. It's also very much a direct shot at Amazon.

Here’s a full list of the Apple TV Channels confirmed so far: Acorn TV, BritBox, CBS All Access, Cinemax, CollegeHumor’s Dropout, Epix, Eros Now, HBO, Lifetime Movie Club, Mubi, MTV Hits, Nickelodeon Hits, Noggin, PBS Living, Showtime, Shudder, Smithsonian Channel Plus, Starz, Sundance Now, Tastemade, Up Faith and Family, and Urban Movie Channel.

Apple TV: The hardware

The Apple TV box right now exists in two forms: the Apple TV 4K and the Apple TV HD. Other than the obvious differentiator here - 4K - the 4K model also gets HDR10, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos support. Of course, you'll also need the requisite supporting TV and audio equipment to make use of these features. If you don't have that, don't worry, the "regular" fourth-gen Apple TV still hosts all the same content and apps.

Until recently, the Apple TV app lived entirely within the company’s walled garden, but Apple understands that in order to push services, like the TV app's new TV+ streaming service, it has to think beyond its own devices. That’s why it announced that the Apple TV app is coming to smart TVs from Samsung, LG, Vizio and Sony. It's also coming to Roku and Amazon Fire TV streaming devices, the latter of which might be the most surprising of all. Oh, and it's coming to the Mac too, but not until the fall.

For all the other aforementioned devices, the new Apple TV app should be rolling out this May, and we feel reasonably confident when we say we'll probably see it reach other devices throughout the year.

Apple TV missing manual: Your guide to the service, hardware, TV Channels and TV+

Apple TV: 4K and Dolby

Be sure to check out our full guide on everything Apple TV 4K, but we'll give you the headlines here.

The Apple TV 4K actually supports four versions of 4K: 4K with standard range, 4K with HDR10 and 4K with Dolby Vision HDR. HDR10 (high dynamic-range video) is static - it applies the same tone to the entire TV show or movie - while Dolby Vision can change this dynamically in the moment, making it the better technology.

iTunes is one of the few places offering 4K, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos movies and TV shows - and this library is one of Apple's biggest strengths against the competition. It will even upgrade your old HD content to 4K Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos for free if it's available.

Apple TV: Using Siri

Siri runs the gamut of Apple's devices in 2019, and the assistant can be especially handy on the Apple TV, not only for finding things to watch, but for controlling the smart home (more on that in the next section).

To access Siri on the Apple TV you have to press and hold the microphone button on the remote and start speaking. This means you don't have to say "Hey Siri" each time you want to talk to it (unlike the Amazon Fire TV Cube, Apple's assistant isn't listening from the Apple TV box itself). One thing we love about Siri in the Apple TV box is its ability to search third-party content as well as Apple's own - which will be all the more important when the revamped Apple TV app rolls out. Check out our top list of Siri commands for Apple TV.

Read this: How to use HomePod as an Apple TV speaker

A new feature that's just arrived also adds the ability to use Siri on an iPhone or iPad to control the Apple TV. So you can simply say, "Watch [movie name] on Apple TV" and have it beam it across (NB: if you have more than one Apple TV in your home, you'll have to specify which one you mean).

One other thing to be aware of with Siri on the Apple TV: it doesn't talk back. So if you ask for a weather update, you'll see a brief on-screen alert rather than hear Siri read it aloud. This is done to stop Siri blabbering away when you're trying to watch something, and we're fine with it.

Apple TV missing manual: Your guide to the service, hardware, TV Channels and TV+

Apple TV: TV+ explained

Ok, so to summarize: Apple's revamped TV app is rolling out to a bunch of TVs and streaming boxes in May, letting you access a load of different services in one place. However, there's another "tier" to this we haven't yet touched on: Apple TV+. This is Apple's first serious play at original programming - it's why Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Sofia Coppola and J.J. Abrams showed up in Cupertino to announce the new service. It's Apple taking on Hollywood.

But rather than launch an entire Netflix-competing streaming service, Apple is instead offering TV+ as an additional "tier" to Apple TV. This tier will be filled exclusively with Apple's original programming, and it will be up to you if you pay for it, or if you're fine watching Showtime etc in the Apple TV app.

Apple's keeping quiet on how much TV+ will cost, but we know it's coming this fall.

Apple TV: As a HomeKit hub

If you're a HomeKit user, you'll need to create a "hub" in order to do things like set up automations and control your smart gadgets remotely. This hub can live on a HomePod, iPad, Apple TV 4th-gen or Apple TV 4K. Here's how to get it set up.

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