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Take Control of Apple TV, Chapter 4: Discover What’s on Offer

by Josh Centers

This article is a pre-release chapter in the upcoming “Take Control of Apple TV,” by Josh Centers, scheduled for public release in January 2014. Apart from “Chapter 1: Introducing Apple TV [1],” these chapters are available only to TidBITS members [2]; see “‘Take Control of Apple TV’ Streaming in TidBITS [3]” for details.

Discover What’s on Offer

As of this writing, the Apple TV has over thirty built-in content options. This chapter summarizes each, including details on what they cost and how to access them.

Apple often adds and removes content options, so this list is subject to change. Some apps, such as iTunes Festival and Apple Events, are seasonal.

Your Apple TV isn’t limited to built-in apps. AirPlay offers a limitless selection of content. For more information, see the next chapter.

Note: All the service prices listed were accurate as of the time of this writing, but they’re subject to change without notice.

Learn the Main Menu

The Apple TV main menu (Figure 1, Figure 2) seems self-explanatory, but I want to bring to your attention a few subtle aspects of how it works:

  • What’s up, dock: The top row, which includes iTunes Movies, iTunes TV Shows, Music, iTunes Radio, and Computers, acts as a dock for the Apple TV. These content options are always on screen, even as you scroll down.
  • Moving apps: You can move any app icon that isn’t in the dock. To do so, select the icon and then hold down Select until the icon shakes. Use the directional commands to move the icon, and press Select when finished.
  • Hiding apps: Although there’s no feature for hiding apps because you don’t like them, or don’t have time for them, you can effectively hide an app by restricting it. See Enable Restrictions (Parental Controls) [4], in Chapter 1.
  • Keep it quiet: The Apple TV plays a clicking sound as you scroll through apps and menus. If this bothers you, turn it off in Settings > Audio & Video > Sound Effects.
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Figure 1: The first page of built-in Apple TV apps. The top row is always visible, and those apps cannot be moved.

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Figure 2: The second page of Apple TV apps. Apart from those in the top row, you can move an icon around by selecting it and pressing Select until the icon begins to shake. Use the directional controls to move the icon, and then press Select again to finish.

Movies and TV

Roll out the red carpet for the multitude of movie and TV options on the Apple TV! Between iTunes, Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Disney, Smithsonian, and Crunchyroll, you’re sure to find something to watch.

Note: For more information on watching video on an Apple TV, see Chapter 6, Apple TV at the Movies.

iTunes Movies

Here, you can rent and purchase movies from Apple’s iTunes Store, as well as access your library of purchases. Movie rentals cost between $4 and $5 and are available for 30 days, but expire 24 hours after you start watching. Not every title is available to rent. Movie purchases typically cost between $10 and $20, and are available to stream or download to your iOS device or in iTunes on a Macintosh or Windows computer.

Apple frequently has themed movie sales, in which you can purchase movies for $9.99 or less. Be on the lookout for these, as they can be a great way to expand your collection. You can often rent or purchase independent films that are still in theaters, but you’ll pay a premium.

Also, many movies are available to purchase in iTunes before they’re released to brick-and-mortar stores. They typically cost $19.99, and are usually available to rent 30 days after release.

iTunes TV Shows

In iTunes, you can also purchase many TV shows, which typically cost $1.99 for standard-definition episodes and $2.99 for high-definition (most episodes are available only in one format or the other). However, the best deals come from purchasing an entire season. The cost for a season varies but is always cheaper than buying individual episodes.

Additionally, you can purchase a Season Pass for currently airing seasons. Again, the cost varies, but it is still cheaper than buying all the individual episodes one by one. You’ll be notified as soon as a new episode becomes available on iTunes, usually a few hours after airing.

When purchasing Season Passes, be aware that some shows split seasons into two parts, so you may be buying a Season Pass for only half the season. This occurred during the final season of AMC’s Breaking Bad, leading to outraged fans suing Apple. Fortunately, Apple gave out refunds for the second half of the season.


Netflix is a subscription-based service that streams movies and ad-free TV shows on demand, starting at $7.99 per month. If you subscribe to only one paid service on the Apple TV, Netflix is your best bet, as it features a great stable of rotating content, as well as a growing collection of exclusives, such as the Emmy-award winning House of Cards, the critically acclaimed Orange Is the New Black, and the fourth season of the resurrected Arrested Development.

You can sign up directly through the Apple TV, and if you’re a new customer, the first month is free. There are no contracts, and you can cancel any time.

Netflix is accessible in North and South America, and parts of northern Europe. For details, consult Where is Netflix available? [5], on the Netflix FAQ page.

Hulu Plus

Available in the United States and Japan, Hulu is a joint venture of NBC, Fox, and ABC to bring their content to the Web. Much of the content is free to view, with ads, at [6]. However, a $7.99 Hulu Plus subscription enables (official) viewing on devices like the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV, as well as a few additional content options, such as films from the Criterion Collection [7]. You can sign up through the Apple TV and are allowed a free trial week.

While Hulu Plus offers some TV shows more quickly than Netflix, even as a paying member, you’re subjected to frequent ads. However, for some, it may be a better option than scooping up iTunes Season Passes. But if you own a Mac with 10.8 Mountain Lion or later, you can AirPlay content from the free to your Apple TV — see AirPlay Mirroring / AirPlay Display in Chapter 5.

Netflix vs. Hulu Plus

If you have to choose between Hulu Plus and Netflix, which should you choose? If you want to see the latest shows from NBC, Fox, and ABC, plus Criterion Collection films, Hulu Plus wins, hands down. Otherwise, I recommend Netflix. Sure, you have to wait longer for content, but it has a vastly better content selection and eventually gets most of the shows that Hulu gets, as well as shows from several other networks. Plus, Netflix has no ads, and you can always watch Hulu for free from your Web browser.


HBO has some of the best programming around, and HBO GO brings it to you both live and on-demand, including hits like The Sopranos, Sex and the City, The Wire, True Blood, Big Love, The Newsroom, and, of course, Game of Thrones, as well as movies and other programming. However, don’t expect to see original programming pre-dating 1999, like Mr. Show with Bob and Dave, Dream On, and Arliss.

But there’s a catch: you must subscribe through a participating cable or satellite provider, which is sort of like making a deal with the Devil. Costs can vary from $5 to $30 per month, and may or may not include a contract.

If you’re an existing HBO subscriber, open the app on the Apple TV, navigate to Settings, and then select Activate Device. You are given an activation code, which you then must enter at [8]. You’ll have to sign in to the online account you have with your cable provider as well.

Periodically, you’ll have to repeat this process to reactivate HBO GO.


Within Trailers, you’ll find a collection of trailers for new and upcoming theatrical releases, including showtimes.


Disney’s content is split into three apps: Disney Channel, Disney XD, and Disney Junior. Each features live and on-demand children’s programming. Like HBO GO, each app requires a subscription through a participating television provider. To activate, launch each app and follow the onscreen instructions.

Tip: If you have an Internet-only or basic TV package from a cable provider, sometimes the apps will activate regardless. It’s worth a shot!


The Smithsonian Channel (Figure 3), a joint venture between the Smithsonian Institution and Showtime, is full of free educational programming. Totally free, no ads, no catch!

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Figure 3: The Smithsonian Channel offers free, high-quality educational content. All Apple TV video apps share a similar layout.


If you’re an anime fan, check out Crunchyroll, which offers streaming anime for $6.95 per month. For $11.95 per month, you can purchase an All-Access package, which includes live-action Asian dramas. At the moment, a 2-week trial is available, and you can sign up through the Apple TV. Or, check the Premium Membership Free Trial [9] page to sign up and compare the two paid options (scroll down) .


There are a number of great built-in audio options on the Apple TV. You can access nearly any song ever recorded with the Music app, listen to custom radio stations with iTunes Radio, catch free annual concerts with iTunes Festival, watch free music videos with Vevo, and view an extensive concert library with the Qello service.

Note: To learn more about listening to music through the Apple TV, see Chapter 6, Rock Out with Apple TV.


The Music app lets you purchase tracks, albums, and music videos from iTunes, as well as listen to your iTunes Match library. Individual tracks typically cost $1.29, albums usually cost $9.99, and music videos run about $1.99.

iTunes Match costs $24.99 per year, and it stores your music on Apple’s servers — either by matching your tracks to what’s in the iTunes Store, or uploading unrecognized tracks. For more information, see the TidBITS article iTunes 10.5.1 Unveils iTunes Match [10]. You must sign up through iTunes on either a Mac or in Windows.

Note: You can also listen to your digital music through the Apple TV using Home Sharing or AirPlay. See Computers [11] later in this chapter, AirPlay in iOS in Chapter 5, and AirPlay Audio from Your Mac in Chapter 7.

iTunes Radio

iTunes Radio is a new personalized radio service from Apple. You can create stations based upon an artist, song, or genre, and custom tailor them to your tastes. If you hear a song you love, you can add it to your iTunes Wish List or buy it directly. The service is free and ad-supported, but iTunes Match customers won’t hear the ads. For more information, see the TidBITS article FunBITS: Tune into iTunes Radio [12], or jump to Chapter 6, Rock Out With Apple TV.

iTunes Festival

iTunes Festival is an annual concert series sponsored by Apple that runs during the month of September. Apple signs up a variety of great artists, such as Lady Gaga, Queens of the Stone Age, The Pixies, and Elton John, so there’s something for everyone. You can watch concerts live or for a limited time after. iTunes Festival is totally free.


The YouTube of music videos, Vevo (Figure 4), offers a large free library of music videos. You can search for specific songs or select a genre station for a continuous stream of curated videos.

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Figure 4: Vevo offers an extensive music video library, including a number of genre stations.

Vevo is available in the United States and Canada.


At Qello, you can watch recorded concerts and music documentaries, and even view custom Setlists, your own playlists of concert tracks. (You create Setlists only on the Qello Web site, after which they appear in Qello on the Apple TV.) Read the the Qello FAQ [13] on the Web to find out more about how Qello works. A 7-day free trial is available, and you can sign up directly from the Apple TV. An All-Access pass costs $4.99 per month or $44.99 per year—without a pass, you get only one track from every concert and a preview of each documentary.


With the Podcasts app, you can subscribe to, watch, and listen to the enormous collection of audio and video podcasts from the iTunes Store.

In theory, podcasts, playback positions, and Stations (which are like playlists for podcasts), sync over iCloud between the Apple TV, iTunes on you computer, and the Podcasts app in iOS, but in reality the sync is unreliable. See the TidBITS article Explaining Podcasts in iTunes 11.1 [14] for more information.


The Radio app gives you access to a directory of hundreds of online radio stations. Unlike iTunes Radio, these stations aren’t personalized, but are organized by genre.


The Apple TV has a number of built-in apps for sports fans.


If you subscribe to ESPN through a participating cable or satellite provider, you can access most live ESPN content through this app, as well as on-demand programming.

To activate ESPN, open the app, navigate to Settings, and select Verify Your TV Provider. Choose your TV provider from the list, then visit [15] and enter the onscreen activation code.

Tip: Some cable Internet packages include access to WatchESPN without a TV subscription.

The app provides free scores, standings, and video recaps for Major League Baseball games. If you subscribe to Premium, you can watch every live regular season MLB game, subject to blackout restrictions. Plans typically cost $24.99 per month, or $129.99 per year, but MLB usually offers deals throughout the season.

Unfortunately, this subscription doesn’t cover playoff games. For them, you’ll need a separate $24.99 postseason subscription. But if you live in the United States or Canada, that doesn’t include live games, only games that have already occurred.


Like, the NHL offers free statistics and video highlights. For $169 per year, you can subscribe to NHL GameCenter LIVE on Apple TV [16], which provides access to live video and archives, subject to blackout restrictions. Playoff games are not available, nor is any other game that is nationally televised.


You guessed it, the MLS app offers free stats and highlights for Major League Soccer. Access to live games costs $14.99 per month, subject to blackout restrictions. There are also free shows, such as MLS Insider and The Daily.


As with the other sports apps on Apple TV, the NBA app offers free stats and highlights. For $129.99 per year, you can buy an NBA League Pass, which lets you watch all regular season, out-of-market games. Unlike the other apps, you cannot buy NBA League Pass through the Apple TV; instead you must sign up at [17].

One unique feature of the NBA app is that you can select a favorite team to see its games in the listings.

News and Events

The Apple TV has a couple of built-in news apps, but they’re pretty limited. However, the Weather Channel app is handy, and you can even watch Apple’s own events on the big screen.

Sky News

A 24-hour British news channel, the Sky News app provides a free live video stream, as well as top stories and world weather.

WSJ Live

To be frank, this online video effort from the Wall Street Journal is not worth your time. Live content is sporadic, with terrible production values. However, WSJ Live can be useful for presidential speeches and election coverage.


You can access forecasts from the Weather Channel directly on your Apple TV with the Weather app. It tries to detect your location automatically, but that doesn’t usually work well. To add a new location, navigate to My Locations, select Add Location, then enter your location or ZIP code. You can view hourly and 10-day forecasts (Figure 5), as well as a video of today’s forecast for your location.

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Figure 5: The Weather app provides forecasts from The Weather Channel, as well as a handful of original programs.

There are also a few free shows inside the app, such as Destination Uncharted, Epic Conditions, and From the Edge with Peter Lik.

Apple Events

This channel is available sporadically, usually coinciding with Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June. Apple also posts videos of the company’s special media events here, and occasionally offers live streams of keynote speeches.

Online Video with YouTube and Vimeo

YouTube and Vimeo are built into the Apple TV. It’s easy to use them to view featured videos or what’s popular, but I’ve found that searching for videos in these apps is painful with the Apple Remote, and my searches rarely pull up what I want. It doesn’t help that people like to reenact their favorite videos and post them to YouTube, making it a challenge to filter out imitators.

If you want to search for content, I recommend starting with your iOS device or Mac laptop, searching there, and then AirPlaying your pick to the Apple TV. If you don’t have a device to AirPlay from, my advice would be to log in to each service with a Web browser on a computer, favorite the videos you want to watch, and then access them from your favorites list on the Apple TV.

Your Photos and Home Movies

The Apple TV enables you to view online photo galleries from iCloud or Flickr and home movies from iTunes and iMovie. Even better, you can use your photos to customize the Apple TV’s screensaver or create a slideshow. For more information, see Chapter 8, Watch Photos & Home Movies.

iCloud Photos

The iCloud Photos app lets you view your Photo Stream photos and videos from iOS devices, as well as streams shared with you by others. You can “like” or comment on photos right on the Apple TV.

To view photos taken on an iOS device in the iCloud Photos app, on the iOS device, tap Settings > iCloud > Photos and turn on the My Photo Stream switch. Copies of new photos taken with the device’s camera appear in the stream. To learn the many ins and outs of Photo Stream, read Joe Kissell’s Take Control of iCloud [18].


Flickr, Yahoo’s popular photo-sharing service, has an Apple TV app. In the app, you can add Flickr contacts to view their photos, as well as their contacts’ photos. You can also turn any album into your Apple TV screen saver. However, you can’t log in to your own account or use any of Flickr’s social features.

iMovie Theater

In iMovie for Mac 10.0 or later or iMovie 2.0 for iOS or later, you can upload home movies to iCloud, after which you can watch them on your Apple TV through the iMovie Theater app.


You can access music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, and photos from any iTunes library on the local network. That is, you can do this provided a few conditions have been met:

  • The computer hosting the iTunes library is powered on.
  • iTunes is open on the computer.
  • Home Sharing is enabled in iTunes.
  • Both the Apple TV and iTunes are signed in to the same iTunes Store account.

I talk more about setting up these conditions next.

Connect to an iTunes Library

To connect from an Apple TV to an iTunes library on a computer, run through the following two procedures.

Set up Home Sharing in iTunes, if you haven’t already:
  1. On your computer, open iTunes and choose File > Home Sharing > Turn On Home Sharing.
  2. Enter your Apple ID and password.
  3. Click Turn On Home Sharing, and click Done to finish.
Connect to the shared library on the Apple TV:
  1. On the Apple TV, open the Computers app.
  2. If you haven’t already signed in to iTunes, you are prompted to enter your username and password. Go ahead and enter them.

    Or, if you’re already logged in, you’ll be asked if you’d like to use the current Apple ID or another Apple ID to enable Home Sharing. Assuming you want to use the current Apple ID, select Yes to continue.

Multiple Apple IDs and iTunes Home Sharing

The pain point of Home Sharing is accessing content from multiple iTunes libraries, each signed in to a different Apple ID.

The good news is that you can add multiple Apple IDs on the Apple TV and switch between them. Navigate to Settings > iTunes Store > Apple IDs > Add New Apple ID and enter the credentials.

The bad news is that Home Sharing can be active on only one iTunes Store account at a time. To switch, select Settings > Computers > Turn Off Home Sharing; then select Settings > Computers > Turn On Home Sharing and choose the other iTunes Store account.

Waking a Sleeping Computer

You can access the iTunes library of a sleeping Mac, assuming a few conditions are met:

  • Your computer must support Wake on Demand [19].
  • On the Mac in the Energy Saver System Preferences pane, “Wake for network access” (or a similarly worded option) must be selected.

However, you cannot access the library of a laptop with a shut lid. The laptop can be asleep, but the lid must be open. It also must be connected to a power source.

Read More: About [20] | Chapter 1 [21] | Chapter 2 [22] | Chapter 3 [23] | Chapter 4 [24] | Chapter 5 [25] | Chapter 6 [26] | Chapter 7 [27] | Chapter 8 [28] | Chapter 9 [29] | Chapter 10 [30] | Chapter 11 [31]

[11]: #Computers