What is Apple TV?

What is Apple TV? The answer depends on which "Apple TV" you're looking for.

Comparing Apple TV to Apple TV+

Here’s how to distinguish the new Apple TV+ content service from the earlier, similarly named Apple TV streaming media player:

  • The Apple TV streaming device (and related app) is a digital media player that Apple has released in multiple versions since 2006, comparable to similar devices from Roku, Amazon and others. It's used to receive wireless audio and video signals -- music from iTunes, movies from Netflix, television programs from Hulu, etc. -- and stream them to connected TVs, laptops or tower PCs.
  • The Apple TV+ video-on-demand offering (the "+" differentiates it from the device/app) is a subscription service that Apple launched in 2019. Its goal is to compete with the popular streaming content providers (Netflix, HBO Now, and so on) that often feed the Apple TV player. In announcing the new service, Apple said it will produce hundreds of hours of original programming to build viewership and release new versions of its Apple TV app to enable Apple TV+ to be consumed on devices from other manufacturers.

Little more was known about Apple TV+ at the time this article was written. The first programs weren’t expected to be available until late in the year. But read on for more information about using the Apple TV media player device and/or app.

How does Apple TV work?

Like other Apple products, the Apple TV set-up and user interface is smooth and intuitive. Simply plug it in and use the small remote to seamlessly log in to multiple accounts including iTunes, Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO, the Disney Channel, ESPN, MLB.TV, NBA.com, NHL GameCenter, MLS Live, PBS, the Smithsonian Channel, Wall Street Journal Live and YouTube. Via Apple TV, iTunes purchases of TV shows or movies are stored in the cloud for easy future access through any Apple device.

Apple enhanced its AirTunes technology, previously only capable of streaming music, and changed its name to AirPlay to create a new protocol for wireless media streaming between Apple devices. With AirPlay activated, users may transmit content—video, music, photos—from iPhones, iPods, iPads and computers with iTunes to other devices. Apple TV picks up the signal and plays it on the television to which it’s connected. The only requirement is that the device and Apple TV must share the same Internet connection, meaning users can connect to Apple TV from any room in the house.

AirPlay Mirroring allows the content on a laptop or other device to be mirrored on a television screen or other remote display, allowing you to view web pages, games, photos, text conversations, emails, spreadsheets, classroom materials, presentations and more in a much larger format – and in real time. You can zoom, rotate for landscape view, select text—every action on the originating device is visible on the TV screen.

Apple TV is quick and simple to set up and use, even for users with little technological sophistication or skill. Apple TV works best with HDMI-compatible, high-definition televisions. The HDMI cable required to connect Apple TV to a television is not included.

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