Apple TV (4th generation): What is it good for?
The App Store might have opened it up to a wide variety of uses, but the Apple TV will always be, first and foremost, a media streamer. Games and weather forecasters and online storefronts might fill the gaps in our viewing schedule, but the majority of our time is still spent doing what it was designed to do: Watching video.
But while streaming on Apple TV is easier than ever thanks to its built-in Siri search capabilities and universal sign-in, finding things to watch requires a little legwork. Apple isn’t nearly as helpful with the channel lineup as it once was, and with thousands of apps available, you have to know where to look to find the best ones. So whether you’re an Apple TV newcomer or a veteran from the Front Row days, our list of the 50 best streaming apps will fill your schedule with more must-see than your Apple TV can handle.
For die-hard fans, Apple keynotes are the best reality show around. With the Apple Events app, it’ll be like Tim Cook and Phil Schiller are right in your living room, with live streams of events as they happen and video breakdowns of all the new stuff after the show. And even when there isn’t a big announcement going down, you can always stroll down memory lane and relive your favorite keynote from the past few years.
BitTorrent might best known for pirated movies and leaked albums, but its Apple TV apps are legit and on the level. Rather than the P2P protocol that made it infamous, BitTorrent has created its own streaming platform with its Live and Now apps, which offer an array of music, videos, and live channels dedicated to news, sports, music and tech. A bit outside the mainstream, BitTorrent’s entertainment options span alternative topics like wealth, clubbing, badminton, and hunting, while its musical tastes aren’t exactly the kind of songs you’ll hear on the radio. But you never know when you’ll find something that changes your life.
From finance to politics to tech news, Bloomberg is one of the best outlets around, providing in-depth, engaging stories and breaking headlines around the clock. And on Apple TV it’s even better. Teeming with more news, investigations, special reports and interviews than can fit on a 50-inch screen, Bloomberg’s app will keep you current on pretty much every event. You don’t even need a cable subscription; Bloomberg’s entire line-up of streams and shows are all available for free, and with a slew of financial analysts, you might even end up making a few bucks.
Keeping up with the news is a 24-hour-a-day job, and an exhausting one at that. But CBS has done a lot of the heavy lifting for you. Up-to-the-minute and ‘round-the-clock, its News app isn’t just a smattering of the day’s headlines; at any moment you can catch live anchored breaking news coverage, original segments, and on-demand commentary, all without needing to sign up or sign in to anything. Engaging and entertaining, the CBS News app is truly all the news that’s fit to watch.
Cord cutters have a whole lot more options for free TV than they did just a few short years ago, but large gaps still remain. If you’re a cinema buff, Classix will go a long way toward filling them. A veritable cornucopia of classics, the Apple TV app offers free streaming of hundreds of old-time movies across every genre, from kitschy horror flicks to silent-era masterpieces. A one-time in-app purchase for a buck unlocks the whole enchilada, but even without upgrading, Classix will turn your Apple TV into a vintage movie projector.
Whether you’re a political junkie or just like to keep on top of the latest celebrity divorces, you won’t miss a headline or breaking story with CNN on your Apple TV. Rebooted just in time for the election season, the app is a one-stop shop for everything that’s happening in the world, overflowing with content and packed with original series, films, specials, and documentaries. A cable subscription is required for viewing live streams and much of the on-demand content, but non-paying customers will find dozens of daily videos to watch, too.
No matter what kind of funny bone you have, Comedy Central’s Apple TV app has a way to tickle it. It’s all here—cartoons, stand-up, short-form improv, talk shows—and a lack of a cable subscription won’t keep your gut from busting. While a provider login will surely open up a much wider array of episodes, a rotating slate of free shows and featured episodes will keep everyone in stitches, with neatly arranged tabs that keep its sizable catalogue nice and organized. And whether you’re headed down to South Park or catching a train to Broad City, universal search will help you get there fast.
Crackle might be the most underrated app in the Apple TV store. While its original shows might not have the cachet of Netflix, and its movies aren’t as current as the ones on HBO or Showtime, it has one major advantage over its peers: It’s completely free. Inside you’ll be able to watch full episodes of Married with Children and All in the Family, classic movies such as The Blues Brothers and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and compelling original shows from the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Ben Ketai. And if you can stand it, David Spade’s Joe Dirt 2.
Casual anime fans might be fine with the selections available in the iTunes Store or on Netflix, but for those who want the full Japanese animation experience, Crunchyroll is mandatory. Jam-packed with popular and obscure titles alike, the app is like a one-way ticket to Tokyo, with tens of thousands of episodes and new releases that are posted just an hour after their Japanese broadcast. A $7 monthly subscription unlocks the complete ad-free library, and purists will appreciate that many of them are presented in their original language (with subtitles of course). But even if you just want to dabble, you’ll find a good amount of free titles too—and you might learn a little Japanese to boot.
CW’s particular brand of drama won’t fit everyone’s tastes, but it’s hard to find fault with its Apple TV app. Released just in time for the new fall slate of shows, it offers everything you’d expect from a network app: new episodes of hit series like The Flash, Arrow and Supergirl available the day after they air, along with a nice archive of older shows. But what sets CW apart is that it’s all free. It’s as it should be: ad-supported, with no preferential treatment for cable subscribers. Now that’s a super hero.
Whether you have rambunctious little kiddies running around the house or just have a strong love for Star Wars and Gravity Falls, Disney’s trio of apps will provide enough entertainment to fill the rainiest of days. With dozens of original programs spread across its trio of apps, Disney’s Apple TV offerings are fun for all ages, with full episodes of shows like The Freemaker Adventures, Elena of Avalor, and of course, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. A cable subscription unlocks all of the goodies, but you’ll still be able to sample a decent amount without one.
Sports fans know how hard streaming life can be. It’s not just the cost of paying hundreds of dollars for MLB, NBA, NHL and NFL seasons—between blackouts and tape delays, watching a live feed of the big game can be an exercise in futility. Chock full of highlights, scores, news, and analysis, Watch ESPN is a sports fan’s dream, offering 24/7 coverage of everything that’s happening both between and outside the lines. While you’ll need to be a cable subscriber to watch live feeds of ESPN’s family of channels, even cord cutters will find plenty to cheer about.
If there’s one thing home cooks and professional chefs have in common, it’s the Food Network. And with wall-to-wall tips, culinary explorations, and tense competitions, its Apple TV app is cooking with gas. Even if you don’t know the difference between radishes and rutabaga, the app’s extensive lineup of shows and clips will help turn your suppers spectacular. Cable subscribers will be able to stream live TV and watch many more episodes, but even cord cutters will get a taste of the action. And everyone can feast on universal search using Siri as their sous-chef de cuisine.
Fox Sports Go
When it comes to sports, Fox is definitely playing in the big leaves. The network’s family of channels covers major-league events from the MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL (with some FIFA and NASCAR thrown in for good measure), and its Apple TV app puts them all at your fingertips. A simple grid shows you what’s on and what’s coming up, and you can quickly scroll through a week’s worth of shows. Since it’s built entirely around live broadcasts, however, a cable subscription is mandatory; but that’s a small price to pay for front-row seats to some of the biggest sporting events of the year.
There are lots of reasons to want an FX app on your Apple TV. For one, they offer some of the edgiest and most interesting shows on television: Archer, You’re the Worst, Louie, American Horror Story, the list goes on and on. But all of that is just an appetizer to the main course: Simpsons TV. Inside you’ll find 11 channels dedicated to Bart, Homer, and the rest of the gang, divided into playlists of episodes. With 28 seasons of material and laughs by the barrelful, you don’t need to be a die-hard Itchy and Scratchy fan to take up residence in Springfield’s virtual universe (though you do need a cable subscription and a tolerance for ads).
When it comes to original streaming content, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu aren’t the only games in town—-there’s another player that’s trying to make some noise. Mostly geared toward the adolescent and young adult YouTube demo, Fullscreen will fill your Apple TV with loads of exclusive shows like Adult Swim-transplant Filthy Preppy Teen$ and podcast-turned-talk-show Shane and Friends. For your $5 monthly subscription fee you’ll also get to watch superhero film reboot Electra Woman and Dyna Girl), full seasons of classic shows like The Addams Family, and Firefly, as well as loads of content from YouTube and Snapchat stars. It’s kind of like MTV, if the M stood for Millennials.
Whether you’re a cable subscriber or a cord cutter, HBO’s apps are the creme de la streaming creme. Not only can you watch first-run movies and stellar originals like Game of Thrones, Veep, and Westworld, you can also binge on the network’s deep vault of acclaimed shows. Available in two flavors—Go (a cable benefit with a good mix of current and-demand content), and Now (which can be purchased for $15 a month inside the app and includes every original series the network ever aired)—H, B and O are the first three letters every Apple TV user should type into the App Store search bar.
If you still think the majority of its programming has to do with Hitler and the Third Reich, you need to brush up on your History. No longer limited to documentaries about wars and other monumental events, History’s Apple TV app offers a complete slate of the channel’s specials and original series, from exploration treks like Alaska Off-Road Warriors to Shark Wranglers and other wild reality shows. Like most TV apps, many shows are locked behind an authorization wall, but cord cutters will get clips and interviews, as well as a nice slate of free, ad-based episodes of current shows. And if you still want to learn about Germany in 1945, you can unlock the History Vault app for $4.99 a month and get your fill.
There are plenty of Apple TV apps on this list that will help ease the cord-cutting transition, but Hulu will actually make you feel like it’s still attached. For just $8 a month ($12 if you detest ads), Hulu will fill your Apple TV with all of the shows and specials you gave up when you canceled your cable subscription, including content from ABC, NBC, and Fox, and the full nine-season run of Seinfeld. The rub is that you’ll have to wait a day before new shows are added, but you’ll find plenty of hit movies and Hulu originals to watch while you wait.
At any given moment, there are thousands of videos being posted all over the web, and filtering out the ones worth watching can be an exercise in futility. Hyper is like a YouTube greatest-hits playlist. Owned by news startup Mic, the app trims the fat to deliver a new video each hour as its team of curators trawl the web all day long to find only the most humorous, interesting, and viral videos. With topics ranging from puppies to politics to Jimmy Fallon’s latest bit, Hyper rarely misses the mark, and it even promises to learn from what you watch so your feed will never be boring. But did you really think it would be?
If you make a lot of movies with your iPhone, you know how important a good editing app is. But what’s the use of professional transitions and awesome effects if you have to look at them on a tiny display. That’s where iMovie Theater comes in. With the app installed on your Apple TV, you can easily beam completed projects from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac right to your big-screen TV, ready and formatted for viewing. And if you think your vacation memories look good on a 5.5-inch screen, just wait until you see them on a 50-inch one.
If you have a lot of flicks and clips on your Mac that need organizing, Infuse’s Apple TV app will be your best friend. With a drop-dead simple setup, Infuse swiftly pulls media from wherever it’s stored (Mac, drive, server, etc.) and displays it in an elegant Movies-like library, complete with ratings and cast information. The app can decode and display pretty much any video format (except, of course, DRM-protected iTunes files), but it’s the little details, like support for customizable subtitles and Dolby/DTS, that makes it a real star in its field.
Lynda is the first name in online training, and its Apple TV app offers everything you know and love about its website on a much larger scale. You’ll need to be a subscriber to take advantage of it—the basic plan costs $20 a month while premium membership will set you back $30—but inside you’ll get access to Lynda’s full library of more than 5,000 instructional videos from some of the industry’s leading experts. It also keeps track of your progress on other devices so you can pick up where you left off the day before. Or if you just feel like studying on the couch instead of at a desk.
He might not be as popular as BB-8 or Iron Man anymore, but Mickey Mouse will never go out of style. You don’t need to be a little kid to enjoy the mischievous antics of the world’s most lovable rodent, and there’s no better way to catch them all than the aptly named Mickey Video app. From Steamboat Willie all the way up to the modern takes of today, the app lets you stream dozens of classic and recent shorts featuring Mickey and all of his friends. And you won’t need to buy or subscribe to anything to watch it (though you’ll need to bring your own ear hat).
If you buy most of your media through iTunes, Apple has built a great way to view them via your Apple TV. Just head on over to the appropriately titled Movies and TV Shows apps, and you’ll find a complete catalogue of everything you’ve ever purchased, all safely stored in iCloud. Apple’s menu makes it easy to scroll through and navigate even the largest of libraries, and of course you can buy and rent new titles in the store. Once you find what you want to watch, you can use Siri to repeat a scene or find out who directed it. And since Apple lets you set up multiple accounts in Settings, you can access your roommates’ collections, too.
Just because it’s hooked up to your TV doesn’t mean you always have to be watching it. There are several great options for streaming music and podcasts in the App Store, but one of the best is built right in. With access to some 30 million songs, hand-picked playlists, and killer exclusives, Apple Music has gone from new kid on the block to rolling stone in just a year’s time. And you don’t need to be a member to get your groove on. You can stream tunes from your music library or listen to select radio stations (including ESPN and Beats 1) for free.
Space may be the final frontier, but with NASA’s Apple TV app you can get a little more acquainted with it. Totally free and loaded with educational content, you’ll get close encounters with the moon, Saturn, and the International Space Station through on-demand video, the Third Rock radio station, and 3D satellite maps. But space buffs will have a hard time pulling themselves away from NASA TV, a dedicated streaming network that features live launches and spacewalks, as well as news, documentaries, and special events. If you can’t afford a trip to Mars, it’s the next best thing.
Just because the Olympics are long over doesn’t mean you don’t need the NBC Sports app on your Apple TV. Running the gamut from golf to rugby, the app offers a wide array of popular and niche shows and matches, many of which you wouldn’t be able to find on primetime TV. A cable subscription is needed to check out the live stuff, but there’s a strong library of replays and highlights that can be enjoyed by anyone, whether your sport of choice is played on a field or behind a wheel.
You need look no further than Netflix’s Apple TV app to see how far the service has come from its DVD mail-order roots. No longer content to distribute other people’s content, Netflix has become one of the premier studios in the business, churning out quality programming throughout the year. A $10-per-month subscription gets you an all-you-can-watch HD pass to Netflix’s entire catalogue, and with next-episode auto-play, the only thing you’ll need to reach for is the snack bowl.
Whether you’re 14 or 40, Nickelodeon will make you feel like a kid again. Fire to up the Apple TV app and you can hang with Spongebob, Michelangelo, and all of your favorite characters, or get to know new ones like Sanjay and Craig, and Gwen Stefani’s Kuu Kuu Harajuku. For the little ones, there’s Nick Jr., which features full episodes of Paw Patrol, Shimmer and Shine, and the rest of their pre-school buddies. As usual, most of the content is locked behind a cable subscription paywall, but you’ll still find a rotating string of episodes that can be enjoyed for free. Cowabunga, dude!
The never-ending struggle for parents is finding ways to entertain their kids while still sharpening their growing minds. For just $6 per month, Noggin does it all. A growing library of episodes and videos will keep toddlers’ eyes glued to the screen, but moms and dads can be assured that mascots Moose and Zee won’t let them glaze over. Whether they’re laughing, singing or playing along, the Noggin crew will instruct and amuse with hundreds of popular shows and interactive videos. So park them in front of the TV and let Diego, Franklin, Blue, and Oswald be their play pals.
If you’re tired of listening to the music in your own playlists, Pandora promises to mix it up. Whether you’re hosting a dance party or lounging on a lazy Sunday, Pandora’s Apple TV app will let you create the perfect station for however you’re feeling at the moment. And with the same discovery-minded interface you’re used to on iOS, Pandora will have you rockin’ out to your TV in no time.
Brimming with first-rate documentaries, original series, and history-based reality shows, public broadcasting isn’t about trippy painting shows and big-band performances anymore. Inside its pair of Apple TV apps you’ll find a boundless array of programming for both you and the kiddies, with enough episodes, videos, and clips to chase the clouds away, whether you want to get to Sesame Street or Frontier House.
While there are plenty of ways to watch live TV and sports on Apple TV, there’s only one way to get a real window into the world, and that’s Periscope. While the iPhone app is great for broadcasting, the big-screen version takes viewing to a whole new level. Much easier to navigate, watch and discover new streams, Periscope’s Apple TV app is a binge-watchers dream, filled with thousands of amateur videos from all over the world. You can browse all the sporting events, concerts, hurricanes, and crazy rants you can handle, without even needing to log in. Now that’s truly cutting the cord.
If you’re looking for sexy photoshoots and titillating erotic fiction, Playboy TV is going to be a big disappointment. The longtime gentleman’s magazine underwent something of a transformation this year to eliminate its dependency on naked ladies, so you won’t find a stitch of nudity in the Apple TV app. What you will get is a bevy of original videos and lifestyle-based series covering sports, culture, video games, and, yes, girls. New videos are added each day and you’ll also get access to Playboy’s impressive library of topical clips—all for free and without the embarrassment of getting caught.
Kids today have no idea what their parents had to suffer through—what with waiting for Saturday morning to watch their favorite cartoons. And they certainly never had anything like PlayKids. A veritable wonderland for preschoolers, the app features a wide array of fun and educational shows, from popular PBS titles like Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood to friendly characters that teach all about letters, numbers, and shapes. There’s a small amount of free content, but the motherlode only costs $7 per month. That works out to about a quarter a day, a price any parent will gladly pay.
Along with a veritable cornucopia of TV shows, movies and music to stream, the App Store has also opened Apple TV up as a legit home server, expanding it well beyond the restrictions and limitations of iCloud and iTunes Home Sharing. For years, users have been using hacks and workarounds to beam Plex from their Macs and PCs to their Apple TVs, so it’s no surprise that the app was one of the first personal streaming servers available. With big bold artwork and a deep understanding of formats and codecs, your home movies will finally get to rub shoulders with the (DRM-free) big-budget blockbusters they aspire to be.
Podcasts may be tailor-made for on-the-go listening, but they sound just as good on your couch as they do in your car. Taking its cues from its iOS counterpart, Apple’s Podcasts app puts a world of information and entertainment at your fingertips, with easy discovery, syncing of unplayed episodes and, of course, Siri support. Your eyes will thank you for the rest.
With some 30,000 stations and more genres than a vintage record shop, navigating the sea of Internet radio stations can be harder than getting a Megan Trainor earworm out of your head. But for a $2 entrance fee, Receiver will help you filter the good from the bad. Neatly arranged by location, language, quality, and type, the app will turn your Apple TV into a smart radio dial, with flawless streams, full-screen artwork, and quick favoriting. And if you still can’t find a station worth listening to, just swipe over to the next tab to check out Receiver’s catalog of podcasts.
These days every major network has a stable of must-see shows, and Showtime is no exception. The Apple TV app offers everything you want in a streaming service: simple navigation, loads of content, and an easy way to find it all. At $11 per month for a standalone subscription, it’s a bit cheaper than HBO Now, but the content is by no means inferior (and for cable subscribers, the Anytime app is a free benefit). From hit shows like Ray Donovan and Homeland to killer sporting events and blockbuster movies, Showtime is worth every penny, whether you’ve cut the cord or not.
While most of the streaming apps available for Apple TV offer content from a specific network or service, Dish Network’s SlingTV runs the gamut. For just $20 a month (or as much as $40 depending on the package of channels you pick), you can super-charge your Apple TV with a bevy of live channels and on-demand shows, from ESPN to BBC America to Food Network, all built around an easy-to-navigate guide-based interface. It’s kind of like the best part of cable without the long-term contract or the bill.
Starz doesn’t quite have the cachet of HBO or Showtime, but the network is no slouch when it comes to quality programming. Available as a cable companion or a standalone service for the ultra-low price of just $9 a month, the Starz app offers up thousands of viewing options each month, from hit first-run movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens to Ash Vs. Evil Dead and other awesome originals. And with the highly anticipated American Gods series set to air next year, Starz is on the verge of breaking out.
Apple TV is great for vegging out with a good movie, but if you’re tired of lounging around, the TED app is a great way to work out your mind. Home to the complete library of Talks on topics ranging from nature to politics to the evolution of camels, TED features some of the most compelling and engaging presentations this side of an Apple keynote. Whether you’re looking for a specific video, diving into one of the fan-picked playlists or letting the emotion-based keywords guide the way, the TED app is so entertaining, you might not even realize how smart you’re getting.
The art of the trailer has progressed to the point where they’re actually mini movies of their own. And Apple’s Trailers app has them all. Fully searchable and sortable by genre, release date, or popularity, the app also includes synopses for each film as well the ability to see where and when they’re playing. The only thing it won’t tell you is if the preview is actually better than the movie.
Twitter isn’t exactly the first name you think of when you’re trying to find something to watch, but it’s been making some major moves to get skin in the streaming game. Nowhere is that more evident than in its new Apple TV app. While the Twitter app on iOS is focused the network’s more social aspects, it’s a different animal on Apple TV. The focus here is video, and even if you don’t have a Twitter account, you can watch live streams of NFL Thursday Night Football games, as well as content from the MLB, NBA, Pac 12 Networks, and Bloomberg News, all while completely ignoring the comments.
If music videos are your passion, there’s only one place to get them—and it isn’t YouTube or Apple Music. Only Vevo puts every genre and artist at your fingertips, with HD videos of the hottest songs and a deep catalog of classics from the days when MTV was still focused on music. The Apple TV app offers a casual, breezy experience that’s heavily focused on discovery, both of new videos and old favorites you might not have seen in a while. Or you can just put Michael Jackson’s Thriller on repeat.
VidAngel likes to think of itself as more of a digital video store than a streaming service. But whatever you call it, the concept is brilliant. Say you want to watch Captain America: Civil War. VidAngel will sell you a copy of it (in standard definition) for $20. Then it gets interesting: If you watch it within 24 hours you can sell it back to them for $19 in credit, bringing the cost down to just $1 (the net cost for movies in high definition is $2). Keep it longer and it’ll cost either $1 or $2 per day, depending on the quality. Plus, VidAngel offers a powerful system of filters that lets you edit out the naughty bits in case the kiddies are around. Be aware, however, that Disney, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, and Lucasfilm have filed suit against VidAngel, alleging copyright infringement.
For as long as we’ve been struggling with codecs and file formats, VLC has been there to sort them all out, and it’s just as handy on Apple TV as it was on the PowerBook G4. While Home Sharing is limited to what iTunes can understand, VLC plays them all: WMV, OGG, MOV, FLV and any other audio or video file that might be giving iTunes fits. It’s not the prettiest app in the world, but VLC is a Swiss Army knife of streaming, with support for network streams, file servers, and web uploads, all while adhering to its sweeping if-you-have-it-we-can-play-it mission.
News junkies have lots of options for streaming on Apple TV, but only Watchup offers a one-stop shop for the latest headlines. Nicely organized and easy to search, you can select from hundreds of channels, sites and stations to create a personalized feed of up-to-the-minute news and information. Like Pandora for current events, the Watchup app will give you a complete picture of what’s happening at that very moment, as it collects the news you want, all subscription-free and (mostly) ad-free.
No streaming setup is complete without access to the original video-sharing service, YouTube. Packed with millions of clips, trailers, performances, vlogs, and how-tos, Google’s vast library of bite-sized videos is tailor-made for the Apple TV, with trending topics, access to your subscriptions, and autoplay, all built around a fully searchable database. And if your hands are too busy with the bowl of popcorn, universal search will help you find the latest collection of cute cat vids without typing a thing.
Wait! Before you run to your entertainment center to check out all the new apps we just told you about, allow us to show you 30 must-know secrets and shortcuts for your Apple TV.
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