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Apple TV Ultimate Guide: How it Works (Costs and Channels)

Jun 6, 2019
Apple TV Apps

It’s quite easy to ‘cut the cord’ in 2019 and cancel your cable television subscriptions and swap over to online content and subscriptions. Whilst most of this online content is accessible via your computer, you may want to be able to hook it up to your TV or projector and watch your shows on a larger screen.

Instead of connecting up your laptop, you can buy a plethora of different boxes and sticks to play and display content on your screens–each with its own UI and designs. One of the most prominent of these is Apple’s Apple TV, which has been on the market since 2007 and has come leaps and bounds since then.

The latest product in this suite are the Apple TV 4 and 4K and this is the product we’ll be looking at below. If you’re on the fence about cutting the cord or buying an Apple TV then read on!

The Hardware

The Apple TV (4/4K) is the latest of the suite created by Apple Inc. and boasts fairly powerful specs with Apple’s custom A8 dual-core processor it really does pack a punch–this is the same processor that can be found within the iPhone 6.

Additionally, it has 2GB of RAM which overall makes the box extremely powerful not just for watching content but also playing a plethora of games and running apps.

The box itself is taller than previous generators packing in all the additional power, and the i/o on the back features the following:

  • Figure 8 Power Connector
  • HDMI Connector
  • USB-C Port (This is only present on the HD version, and if for developer purposes only)
  • Ethernet Port

Unlike all the previous models Apple has not included an optical audio port. Another slight annoyance is that Apple doesn’t include an HDMI cable in the box so you’ll need to buy one separately.

Own an Apple Watch too? Check out the 6 Best devices you can control with your Apple Watch Here!

The other big change from previous generations of Apple TV is the controller, the ring that appeared on previous remotes is gone in favor of a trackpad which is designed to allow you to play games easier with more control, as well as a gyro sensor.

The remote also ditched IR in favor of Bluetooth, but still includes an IR transmitter so that you can control your TV/Hi-Fi’s volume using IR.

Additionally, there are now more buttons including a new Home button in addition to the Menu button, this is quite prominent within the software that we will look at below.

The Software

Apple recently redesigned the tvOS app, and now include an App Store allowing you to download additional applications and games.

When you turn on the Apple TV you’ll be greeted by the Top Shelf. This works much like the dock on iOS and you can select six apps to fill this section. When you add apps to this section you’ll then get a preview section which displays new episodes and content within that app tailored to you–however, this is only implemented in certain apps.

Beneath this you will see all the other applications you’ve installed, if you want to move something around in either the Top shelf or the area beneath it, then select the item in the list and hold the trackpad down.

The app in question will the begin to shake, allowing you to move it around–much like on iOS. Once you’ve moved the application to where you want it, simply press the trackpad again and the app will stop shaking and stay in the new location.

When you first start up your Apple TV you’ll have to go through the setup process, which like most Apple products is an extremely simple process. By default the following apps will be installed:

  • The App Store: The Apple TV’s store for buying and downloading additional apps for your tvOS
  • iTunes Movies: View all your purchased moves and rented content as well as buying new content.
  • iTunes TV Shows: Much like the above but for applicable television shows.
  • Search: Search through all your content, including some third-party applications content.
  • Computers: Any computers running iTunes that have enabled Home Sharing will appear in this app.
  • Photos: View all your iCloud Photo Library and Photo Stream photos. Additionally, you can use these photos as part of a screensaver.
  • Music: Much like the iOS app you can access your purchased music as well as your Apple TV subscription.
  • Settings: Here you’ll change and adjust any settings and configure your Apple TV.

Additionally, to these above you may–depending on region, also have Apple’s TV app. This brings most of the content from these other apps together into one manageable place.

The main exception to this is Netflix which has not set up TV app features. But what third-party content can you get on your Apple TV?

The Subscription Requirement

If you’re already invested in the Apple ecosystem then you’ll probably already have bought some films and TV shows on iTunes, but lots of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime operate a subscription service.

So in addition to buying a $149/$179 streaming box, how much more will you need to pay in order to cut the cord and switch over from terrestrial and cable services?

Amazon Prime Video:

If you’re already subscribed to Amazon Prime then you should definitely look at Prime Video as it’s included within your membership!

Amazon Prime gives access to a group of different shows that have aired on television, but additionally, Amazon has started commissioning their own shows including The Grand Tour, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Sneaky Pete.

If you aren’t subscribed then Amazon Prime Video will cost you $119 as a yearly subscription, or $12.99 a month.


When you think of cutting the cord this is probably the main service that most will associate with it. Netflix was one of the first video streaming services and is definitely the most popular option.

Much like Amazon Prime, Netflix gives access to lots of different shows that have previously been on television, and also commission their own shows, and do this far more than Amazon, with shows like Stranger Things, Black Mirror, and Orange is the New Black, you’ve definitely heard of something that Netflix has produced.

Netflix packages is service depending on the resolution you watch it at, which also includes the number of simultaneous users–the popular account sharing trend:

  • Standard Definition Plan – $9 per month
  • High Definition Plan – $13 per month
  • Ultra High Definition (4K) – $16 per month

YouTube Premium:

Whilst YouTube in itself is free, YouTube offers a Premium service, previously branded as YouTube Red. This service’s main purpose it the remove adverts, and whilst subscribed you will not see any adverts across the platform.

YouTube also commissions their own shows–as most streaming services do. These used to be exclusive to YouTube Premium subscribes. However, these have recently been opened to everyone, so are no longer a perk of the membership.

The cost for YouTube premium is $11.99 per month.

DirecTV Now:

Whilst most streaming services offer On-Demand streaming, none of them offer Live Channels. This is where DirecTV is different, offering over 40 different live and on-demand channels including:

  • Cartoon Network
  • HBO
  • CW
  • Disney
  • CBS
  • CNN

Additionally, to this list, you can get additional channels, and for an extra $30 you can also get lots of sports channels such as the ESPN network.

You also get access to a limited cloud DVR allowing you to record some live content to watch later, however, if you want to stream on more than one device you do have to pay extra.

The cost for DirecTV starts at $50 monthly, and for Max–which includes the ESPN network it costs $70 monthly.

Apple Music:

Most subscription services you’ll find are third-party and require additional apps to be downloaded, but there is one that comes included with the Apple TV, which is Apple Music.

Apple music allows you to stream over 50 million songs ad-free, and chances are if you’re already in the Apple ecosystem you’ve probably already got it.

The cost of Apple Music is $9.99 monthly.

These are just some of the many subscription services that are available, with some additional region locked content such as in the UK with BBC iPlayer, and Channel 4 On demand/live streaming.

Which subscriptions you buy into will be dependant on what shows you watch but in addition to all of this if you are still on the fence and have a large offline media service then there is still hope for you to cut the cord.

Apple has Plex support. Whilst this support started unofficially in 2010 when jailbreaking the Apple TV 2. Now that there is an official App Store for the tvOS Plex has found its way over. Which makes cutting the cord that bit easier.

Getting the Most Out of Your Apple TV

Getting lots of different content from your subscriptions is probably the highest priority, but there are quite a few different tricks to getting the most out of your Apple TV, here are some of the features that I think you should know about!


One of the coolest things I like about the Apple TV is the cityscape screensavers, whilst these will automatically come on after a few minutes, you can manually activate them by double-clicking the Menu button on your remote whilst on the home/landing screen.

Skipping Forward/Back Through Content

I’ve sometimes had it where someone will come in the room and I miss 10 or so seconds of the thing I’m watching, luckily Apple seems to have thought of this. Instead of scrubbing through the whole show you can jump forward and back in 10-second intervals!

To do this, press the trackpad on the left edge to rewind, or the right edge to fast forward. This occurs with each click moving at a 10-second interval each time.

Instant Reboot

It happens sometimes, technology stops working, if you need to reboot your Apple TV just hold down the Menu and Home buttons together. This saves you the time of going into the settings app and restarting, letting you get straight back to your binge-watching!

Swipe Down for Options

Whilst watching something you can swipe downwards on the trackpad, this opens a new menu at the top of your screen. In this menu, you can see information about the shows, as well as subtitle and audio options for the content.

The Upside Down Remote

Like when Apple removed the home button from the iPhone, this remote suffers from being picked up back to front or upside down. The first wave of Apple TV 4/4Ks didn’t feature this, but now there is a small white ring around the menu key helping you pick the remote up the right way.

For me, this is enough, but I have seen others use elastic bands or some tape to help make the controller’s orientation more noticeable at a glance. It depends if you want more practicality or aesthetically pleasing.

Smart Home Stuff

Whilst the Apple TV in itself is not a Smart Home product if you’ve bought into the Apple Ecosystem for your Smart Home then you’ll find the Apple TV a useful addition to your home.

The Apple TV acts as a smart home hub for your HomeKit system allowing you to control all your devices whilst away from home.

This is a massive upgrade to your system if you’ve previously only been able to control your lights at home and adds the following features:

  • Adding arrival/leaving flags to your automation.
  • Remote control–including camera view.
  • Control of Apple TV via the HomeKit interface

In addition to this you can also control your smart home devices using the Apple TV remote. Holding down the Microphone button activates Siri, and much like on your phone allows you to command and control all your smart lights with the press of a single button.

However, to save battery life the remote does not feature a “Hey Siri” command and you’ll instead need to get a HomePod for that functionality.

In Conclusion

Overall the Apple TV is an extremely versatile bit of kit, and whilst only touching Home automation briefly with it’s Siri integration and acting as a Home Hub for Apple Homekit. It is still an invaluable bit of kit that will be happy within most smart homes.

New features are getting added all the time, and I often find myself checking in even when the only additions are the new screensavers–which are always beautiful.

Need help looking into other smart home devices? Check out our recommended resource page where we cover the best of the best!

If you still have questions about the Apple TV or are still on the fence, then drop a comment below, and we’d be more than happy to answer them!

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