Apple's set-top box started as an experimental hobby and has evolved into its own platform. The Apple TV acts as the center of the living room with features for HomeKit, streaming services, and Apple Arcade. By having its own App Store, developers can make apps that target the living room experience.
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The Apple TV is Apple's foray into the streaming set-top box market. Initially released in January 2007, iTunes customers have used this set-top box to play movies and TV shows on their television and AirPlay.
Apple TV 4K
Apple launched the seventh-generation model of its set-top box in October 2022. The new Apple TV 4K comes in two configurations starting at a new low price of $129, and both use the A15 processor.
This update increases the base storage from 32GB to 64GB, and the maximum storage is now 128GB. Despite that, Apple reduced the price of both models significantly to better compete in the market.
Apple TV HD (Discontinued)
The fourth-generation model is much taller than its forebears, measuring 3.9 inches square and 1.4 inches tall and weighing 15 ounces. On the front of the device is an IR receiver. Four ports are on the back of the box, with a power connection to the built-in power supply accompanied by a 100Mbps Ethernet connection, an HDMI 1.4 port, and a USB-C port for diagnostic purposes.
The Siri Remote introduced with this model uses typical navigation and control buttons including volume, play and pause, home, Siri, and menu keys. Above the button collection is a glass touch surface for navigating menu screens and dual microphones at the top for giving Siri instructions.
The remote also includes Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity, an IR transmitter, an accelerometer, and a gyroscope, allowing it to be used for more applications than menu navigation, such as games. It has a Lightning connector for recharging the battery, which provides months of battery life for each charge under typical daily usage.
Video is limited to 1080p, at up to 60fps for H.264 video, with support for H.264 Baseline Profile level 3.0 or lower, and MPEG-4 video.
Audio formats supported include HE-AAC V1, AAC up to 320Kbps, protected AAC from the iTunes Store, MP3 up to 320Kbps, MP3 VBR, Apple Lossless AIFF, WAV, Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby Digital Plus 7.1.
The fourth-generation and later devices use tvOS, allowing developers to have better access to APIs and deliver content through an App Store.
As part of tvOS, Apple allows users to search through content using Siri, with query results displayed on the connected screen. The virtual assistant can be triggered by pressing the dedicated button on the Siri Remote, with the query spoken through the remote's dual microphones.
Siri can search through movies and TV shows for something to watch and control playback and some non-video queries, such as weather reports, stocks, and sports scores.
Also, in a departure from earlier models, tvOS makes it easier for developers to create apps that work with the set-top box. As of August 2017, over 1,600 video apps work with tvOS, giving users an extensive catalog of content to view.
This also allows alternative app types to work through tvOS, including shopping interfaces and games. These can be used with both the stock remote and compatible third-party gamepads.
Apple deprovincialized search, meaning that results for a film or show offer options not just for the iTunes Store but for various other services. While the list of compatible apps is slowly growing in support, users can search for content within multiple apps simultaneously using Siri. The results page indicates all services through which a particular piece of content can be viewed.
In tvOS 13, released in September 2019, Apple made some significant upgrades to the interface, including a new Home screen with full-screen video previews and multi-user support. The latter allows individual users to enjoy personalized playlists and recommendations on the same device.
The multi-user element could be especially useful for Apple Music, offering personalized playlists and recommendations. The interface also provides onscreen lyrics timed in sync to the currently-playing track.
Apple also included Apple Arcade support in tvOS, allowing users to play games from the subscription service on their iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Mac, and Apple TV. Accompanying that is support for the Xbox Wireless Controller with Bluetooth and PlayStation DualShock 4, allowing the game console controllers to work with Apple's set-top box. A 2020 Apple support document listed future compatibility with Xbox Series X controllers.
tvOS 14 introduced better multi-user support for Apple Arcade. The update also includes better picture-in-picture support across all app types.
tvOS 16 introduced support for Matter, added Nintendo Joycons to the list of compatible game controllers, and improved user account controls. Other additions include a compact Siri UI found in tvOS 16.1.
Video streaming options
Customers can rent and buy TV shows and movies from the iTunes Store, allowing the content to be viewed on the Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
Due to installing third-party apps, it is also possible for users to watch videos from various third-party streaming services, including Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, and many more.
In many cases, thanks to the growth of single sign-on, it is also relatively easy for pay-TV subscribers to access their subscriptions through apps. The platform also supports multiple streaming-based television providers, including Sling TV, YouTube TV, and Hulu + Live TV.
With the release of tvOS 12.3, Apple introduced a new Apple TV app experience that fundamentally changes how users can sign up for streaming services to watch content. Under Channels, users can subscribe to several video services via the main app interface without downloading a separate dedicated streaming app.
As an analogy, Channels acts as an a-la-carte pay-TV subscription where they can pick and choose just the channels they want, rather than acquiring a larger bundle.
Channels that users subscribe to via the system can be viewed by others within a household via Family Sharing, with up to six family members able to share their subscriptions using their Apple ID and password.
The initial wave of Channels in the United States included HBO, Starz, Showtime, Smithsonian, EPIX, Tastemade, and MTV Hits. Due to how users can download shows and movies to watch online and offline, it effectively made the Apple TV Channels the only way for HBO subscribers to download content from the service at the time.
In November 2019, Apple started to offer shows as part of its Apple TV+ service, its first foray into streaming video content. For $4.99 per month, or available for free for a year as part of an offer when buying select Apple hardware, subscribers can watch a variety of original shows and films, including "The Morning Show," "Dickinson," and "For All Mankind."
Users can stream YouTube content in 4K HDR for the first time, starting in tvOS 14.
Apple TV Pricing
The Apple TV starts at $129 for the 64GB Apple TV 4K without Ethernet or Thread. The premium model costs $149 for 128GB, Gigabit Ethernet, and Thread.