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 “,” these chapters are available only to ; see “ ” for details.
The marquee feature of the Apple TV is watching movies and TV shows. In this chapter, I begin by showing you how to control video playback, purchase movies and TV shows from Apple’s iTunes Store, access your purchases from iCloud, and view videos stored on your computer.
Of course, you’re not limited to iTunes content. In addition to streaming video from Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, and more, you can rip your DVD and Blu-ray discs for playback on the Apple TV. I show you not only how to rip the discs, but also how to add cover art and metadata, and. I also point out a few great iOS .
To watch a movie, TV show, or other video content, navigate to a video app, such as Movies, TV Shows, or PBS, and select the video. No matter how you view a video, the playback controls are identical: to begin, press Play.
Once a video is playing, to fast-forward or rewind it, press Right or Left (Figure 1).
A set of three triangles at the left of the timeline indicate the fast-forward or rewind speed, which can be slow, medium, or fast:
To return to normal playback, press Play/Pause.
For more efficient navigation, press Down to see the timeline split into sections (Figure 2). The sections correspond to chapter markers, or, if there are no markers, to 1/20th of the video or 30 seconds, whichever is longer. Press Left or Right to skip between sections. Notice that the Apple TV sets a marker where you left off, so it’s easy to skip around and then return to where you were.
While you watch a video, to quickly find out how much has played, press Up once to display the current chapter and the timeline (if your video doesn’t have chapters, you’ll see the entire timeline). It fades after 3 seconds, or you can press Down to remove it from the screen.
Press Up twice to see information about the currently playing video (Figure 3). Press Down to dismiss it.
To access many more options, hold Select to pause the video and bring up the Options menu, split into either three or four views:
Also on the Accessibility screen, pick Style to customize the look of your subtitles. Select a style (so it has a checkmark in its listing) to see what it looks like in the preview pane at left. For a world of style choices, select Edit Styles (Figure 7). You can set text shadows and highlights, backgrounds, and so much more. You can create as many custom styles as you like, so have fun experimenting!
By placing the Movies and TV Shows icons first on the Apple TV home screen, Apple emphasizes buying movies and TV shows from iTunes. Select either icon, and a Cover Flow view shows the most popular titles. To move the focus to the Cover Flow view, press Up.
The steps for purchasing content tend to change slightly from time to time, and are pretty obvious, but I’d like to share a few tips:
Sadly, TV shows don’t include as much information as movies. The Wish List view is replaced by a far less useful Networks view, and each listing contains only the season and episode name.
If you’ve purchased movies or TV shows from iTunes in the past, there’s a good chance you can stream them from iTunes in the Cloud.
To find past purchases, open the Movies or TV Shows app, press Up to access the views, and select Purchased on the left. Your purchases are split into recent purchases, all purchases, and genres (Figure 9). Select a title to stream it from the cloud.
iTunes in the Cloud is convenient, but if you already have your movies and shows stashed in iTunes locally on your computer, it’s a waste of bandwidth to stream them from Apple. Fortunately, you can access videos from your iTunes libraries over your home network thanks to Home Sharing. To learn how to enable Home Sharing in iTunes and on the Apple TV, see Chapter 3,.
To access your iTunes movies from the Apple TV, open the Computers app in the main menu. If you see an error message, be sure that the computer is on, and has iTunes open.
There are three categories of videos: Movies, TV Shows, and Home Videos. Simply select one, then select the title you want to watch. You can sort by name, genre, or view only unwatched titles (Figure 10).
Chances are, you have dozens, if not hundreds, of movies on DVD that you can’t watch on your Apple TV. The good news is that you can use your Mac to convert or “rip” them to a format the Apple TV will understand. Ripping DVDs is a time-consuming process, but I’ll show you the fastest and easiest way to convert your collection. The hassle is worth it; not only can you play ripped DVDs on your Apple TV, but you’ll never have to worry about scratched discs or entertainment center shelf space again!
Before proceeding, you must first install the open-source libdvdcss library, from the non-profit. It enables your Mac to decrypt DVD content.
Since the installer is unsigned by Apple, after, don’t double-click it as you normally would. Instead, Control-click it and choose Open. If you see an alert warning you that the package is from an unidentified developer, click Open to continue installation.
With libdvdcss installed, we can get to work. HandBrake is a free, open-source DVD ripping and video conversion tool from the HandBrake Team, with presets for Apple devices.
Install and open Handbrake, and then do the following:
Choosing the Apple TV 3 preset future-proofs your ripped movie. The files will play just fine on a second-generation Apple TV, so there’s no reason not to choose the Apple TV 3 preset. (The Apple TV preset is for the first-generation Apple TV, which was a different device altogether.)
How long HandBrake takes to rip a DVD depends upon the speed of your DVD drive, the speed of the drive you are ripping to, and your processor speed, but it’s usually less than an hour.
When Handbrake is done, the ripped file appears in the destination folder that you selected, with a
Once HandBrake is done, you can add the resulting video to iTunes manually in order to view it on your Apple TV, as I describe next. However, you may wish to. Or, if your movie is so long that it comes on multiple discs, you may want to  next.
You don’t need to buy software or do anything fancy to add your ripped video to iTunes:
.m4vfile into iTunes.
Your movie may not end up where you’d expect, in the Movies view of the Movies pane. In iTunes 11.1.2, Apple added a Home Videos view to the Movies portion of iTunes. By default, iTunes organizes dragged-in video files as home videos (Figure 12).
Here’s how to fix this. Click the Home Videos button in the button bar, select your movie in the Home Videos view, and then choose File > Get Info (Command-I). In the Get Info dialog, click Options and from the Media Kind pop-up menu, choose either Movie or TV Show; then click OK (Figure 13).Get Info. Click Options, and then set Media Kind to Movie or TV show." />
If you’ve opted to not use iFlicks or some other third-party tool to add metadata to your movie, note that you can manually add metadata in the various panes in this dialog.
Even if you don’t think you need them, it’s a good idea to extract subtitles from your disc. Consider it a form of future-proofing. What if a hard-of-hearing friend comes over for a movie, you lose your hearing in a freak SodaStream accident, or you want to watch a movie without waking a sleeping baby?
During the ripping process, after choosing the title in HandBrake, click the Subtitles button in the middle of the window. By default, no subtitle is selected. From the pop-up menu under the Track column, choose the desired subtitle — track zero is usually the English subtitle.
By default, the Burned In checkbox is marked, meaning that Handbrake will hard code the subtitle into the video itself, with no way to disable it. Deselect this box to keep your options open (Figure 14). I explain how to enable subtitles while watching a video earlier in this chapter, in.
The subtitles will be added to your video when you click the Start button.
Ripping a movie is a straightforward process, because it’s a single video file. A season of TV shows is a little trickier, because there are several files on one disc. (This topic picks up near the end of the general HandBrake directions given earlier in this chapter, so if you aren’t familiar with HandBrake, start with.)
Insert the DVD into your drive, and wait for HandBrake to finish scanning. Now, you have to play a guessing game in the Title pop-up menu to figure out which video files are episodes.
For example, Figure 15 shows a DVD with 7 episodes of a 30-minute sitcom with a whopping 20 tracks! Fortunately, with the application of some common sense, we can figure out what’s what. The first title is over 3 hours long — clearly it’s not a individual episode—DVDs of TV shows often contain all the episodes in a single file like this. Titles 3–9 (what happened to 2?) are 23–48 minutes long. That 48-minute title 8 is suspicious, but the remaining tracks after Title 9 are under 12 minutes, so 8 must be a Very Special Episode. Given that most television shows are 30 or 60 minutes on broadcast television (including commercial breaks), tracks that are between 23 and 48 minutes are the likeliest contenders for being episodes.
If you need further help deducing what’s what, select a title that you think is an episode, then click Preview Window in the toolbar. Handbrake shows a still frame from the episode. If the one image isn’t enough, move your pointer down to get a slider where you can scroll through random stills of the episode. To be absolutely sure, click Live Preview to see a video snippet, but it takes a while to compile a preview and stills are usually good enough (Figure 16).
When you’re satisfied that you’ve identified the files that are episodes (or whatever files you want to rip), close the Preview Window.
Unfortunately, HandBrake isn’t smart enough to create a different file name for each episode, so you have to give it a hand by manually naming each episode as you add it to the ripping queue.
Choose the first episode to rip from the Title pop-up menu, click the File field, and add some distinguishing text to the filename that appears there. For example, in a disc that I ripped, Handbrake named each file
GOLDENGIRLS_S4D1 (the “D” standing for “disc”). For the first episode, I changed this to
S4E1 stands for Season 4, Episode 1). I then clicked the Add to Queue button in the toolbar. I named the next episode
GOLDENGIRLS_S4E2, added it to the queue, and so forth.
Once you’ve named each episode and added it to the queue, click Show Queue in the toolbar. A new window opens, showing your queue (Figure 17). Make sure everything looks right and click Start in the upper-left. Now go grab a cup of coffee or read your email, since HandBrake will take care of the rest!
Some movies are so long that they can’t fit into a single DVD. You could rip each DVD and then keep them as separate files, but if you’re like me, you want a cleaner approach that merges them into one file using the free QuickTime app that comes with the Mac.
The QuickTime merge has big drawbacks: it takes a long time, the resulting file is often double the size of the two originals combined, and you lose metadata like chapter separators and subtitles. But, it tidies up your library, and there aren’t many multi-disc DVD movies.
To merge ripped movie files into one big file, follow these steps:
A progress window appears. Expect the conversion to take at least two hours, so go watch a movie or something while QuickTime does its thing.
Yes, you can rip Blu-ray discs! But the process is a smidge different from ripping normal DVDs, and you need additional hardware and software.
Apple will never sell a Mac with a built-in Blu-ray drive (Steve Jobs once called Blu-ray a “bag of hurt”), so you need to purchase an external Blu-ray drive if you don’t already own one. I use the $85 MCE Super-BluDrive, but it can’t write to Blu-ray discs, only read from them (though it can burn DVDs). Blu-ray writer recommended by , but it doesn’t include any Mac software (not that we need it). Unfortunately, if you want to watch Blu-ray movies on your Mac in addition to just ripping them, the software is pricey — from $30 to $50. If you prefer a drive that includes software, you may want to look at the $79
You will also need extra software, because HandBrake can’t decode Blu-ray movies. Fortunately, is a free utility that can decrypt and extract an entire Blu-ray movie to your drive.
In addition to a Blu-ray drive and decryption software, you also need a lot of hard drive space. Most DVD movies max out at 9 GB. Blu-ray movies on the other hand hover around a whopping 50 GB. As a result, ripping is a lengthy, processor-intensive process. It’s best to start the process before you go to bed and let it run through the night.
The first step to viewing your Blu-ray movie on the Apple TV is to copy the decrypted disc to your hard drive with Aurora Mac Blu-ray Copy.
Open the app, then click the button to the right of the Source field and select your disc (Figure 19). Do the same for Destination — I suggest creating a separate folder for raw Blu-ray rips so they’re easy to dispose of when you’re finished.
Click Start and wait. It will likely take at least as long as the movie’s runtime to finish ripping.
When the rip is finished, you don’t have a playable video file; instead, you have a giant ISO disk image. Essentially, it’s an exact copy of the Blu-ray disc.
Next, use HandBrake to convert that disk image into a video file that iTunes and the Apple TV can read:
HandBrake scans the contents of the ISO, looking for available video files. This takes a few minutes, so go make a nice cup of coffee.
Movies on DVD and Blu-ray, just like TV shows, have many video files, in addition to the film itself, such as special features and trailers. Of course, you want to convert the movie and not some tangential feature! Handbrake lists all the video segments it has found in the Title pop-up menu near the upper-left. It should select the longest one by default, which should be the movie.
You won’t be able to do anything intensive on your computer while HandBrake is running, and it will take several hours to process the video. Consider it an opportunity to take a break — you’ve earned it!
Let’s look at improving two types of video files. The first is a file that you’ve ripped using the directions earlier in this chapter, or any video in a format that your Apple TV can accept. These files may be lacking cover art or helpful metadata. The second is a video file in some other format, such as MKV, that you want to.
So you’ve converted your favorite movies and TV shows, and while the video itself looks fine, the file listings look ugly, with no cover art or metadata.
You could edit that information by hand in iTunes, but who wants to do that for every movie or TV episode? Fortunately, there’s an app for that. runs $19.99 in the Mac App Store, and it will save you more than enough time to pay for itself.
Here’s how to use iFlicks:
Make sure you have an active Internet connection, and launch iFlicks.
iFlicks reads the filename and attempts to pick the correct metadata. If it gets it it right, the correct cover art magically appears on your icon.
If iFlicks picks the wrong metadata or can’t find any metadata, you need to look up the metadata manually. Click the icon at the left and then click the gear icon near the right of the toolbar (Figure 20). In the General view that appears, the first two fields are Name and Show, with a search icon next to each. If you’re adding metadata to a movie, click the search icon next to Name. Likewise, if you’re processing a TV show, click the search icon next to Show.
In the search window, search for and select the movie or TV show you want metadata for, and click OK. The movie suddenly gains artwork and metadata (Figure 21)!
Don’t worry if the cover art or metadata is wrong — at this point, iFlicks has written nothing to the file.
Still in the “eye” view, select the Add to iTunes box to let iFlicks save you the trouble of adding the file to iTunes manually.
Your files will be processed in seconds!
Let’s say you have movies or TV shows that you didn’t rip the way I specified. Maybe you downloaded them, or they fell off the back of a truck. Hey, I’m not judging! iFlicks can help you convert those for the Apple TV as well.
You might say, “Oh no, not yet another lengthy conversion.” Well, you might be pleasantly surprised to find that for many video files, iFlicks can simply rejigger the movie’s container without affecting the actual video. This seems to be especially true with MKV video files, which are often Apple TV-compatible videos that have been wrapped in an anti-social shell.
To convert video, look up the metadata in iFlicks if necessary (as described just previously), then click the eye icon in the toolbar. Under Preset, choose iTunes Compatible (Figure 22). This preset does as little conversion as possible to get it working on the Apple TV — saving time and preserving video quality. Also, if you like, in the “eye” view, select the Add to iTunes checkbox.
When you’re ready, click Start.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, ripped DVDs and Blu-rays are huge — ranging from 1 to 10 gigabytes, even after you’ve converted them to iTunes format. If you start ripping your entire collection, you can run out of drive space fast, especially if you use one of the tiny SSDs that Apple prefers in its newer laptops.
Fortunately, you can store your videos on an external drive and load them in iTunes without copying them to your boot drive. Here are two methods of doing so, plus a sidebar about.
Move your video files to an external disk. Then, hold down the Option key while dragging them into iTunes. A pointer to each file is added to your iTunes library without iTunes copying the file. Because only a pointer is added, if you move the file in the Finder, iTunes won’t be able to find it. And, if the external drive isn’t mounted, iTunes may not handle the “missing” files well.
With this technique, iTunes may freak out and lose the metadata for your videos. If you use iFlicks, this is easy to fix, because you can simply drag the affected movies to iFlicks.
Another way to handle storing videos on an external disk to is create a separate iTunes library on that disk. The downside is that it’s a pain to switch between libraries, but the good news is that you can let iTunes manage your video files without worry. And, there are no worries about iTunes spazzing out and dumping your metadata!
To create another iTunes library, quit iTunes if it’s open, then hold down Option and launch it. When prompted to choose a library (Figure 23), click Create Library. Navigate to the drive that will hold your movies and give the new library a descriptive name, like “iTunes Movies.”
iTunes launches with your new library open. Make sure the the “Keep iTunes Media folder organized” checkbox in the Advanced iTunes preferences is selected, and then copy your movies into iTunes. After copying your movies to the new library, feel free to delete the originals.
To switch back to your main library, hold Option as you launch iTunes, click Choose Library, and select the desired library.
In addition to the built-in video options on the Apple TV, you can AirPlay movies and TV shows from a variety of free iOS apps, which are all available in the App Store. Here are some of the best ones to try:
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