British users don't get quite as good a service from their Apple TV as their cousins across the Atlantic but there’s still a lot of power in the little black box that provides entry into the Apple universe for your TV and hi-fi.
Throughout this feature we look at optimal setups for the Apple TV as part of your entertainment system, along with a couple of tricks and hacks to get the very most from it, including watching UK OnDemand TV channels.
A third-generation Apple TV is used throughout although most of the steps apply equally well to older models with a little common-sense adaptation.
How to play any content on your Apple TV
There’s a surprisingly varied number of ways of playing back audio and video on your Apple TV. Below we look at the various ways you can view live TV, OnDemand TV, photos, box sets, surf the web, and more on your Apple TV.
Use AirPlay to stream content from your Mac, iPad, or iPhone to the Apple TV
AirPlay is Apple's solution for streaming content from your iPad, iPhone or Mac to your TV screen. At its most simple, AirPlay beams video and/or audio to your Apple TV from compatible apps on your Mac or iOS device – in iTunes on your Mac you’ll see an AirPlay icon near the transport controls at the top of the screen when watching videos or listening to music, for example.
Compatible apps on your iOS devices will automatically utilise AirPlay once it’s activated, which can be done by dragging-up the Control Center and tapping the AirPlay button, and then selecting your Apple TV from the list.
For AirPlay to work you need to make sure both devices are on the same WiFi network.
Here's how to set AirPlay up on your Apple TV
AirPlay is available for the 2nd and 3rd generation Apple TV.
1. On your Apple TV, click on Settings > General > Network and make sure the Apple TV is connected to the same network as your Mac (and iOS device).
2. Click Menu on the Remote to return to Settings and choose AirPlay.
3. Set AirPlay to On.
Here's how to set AirPlay up on your Mac
Note that only newer Macs are compatible with AirPlay Mirroring.
On a Mac you can choose to use your TV screen as a second display or you can use AirPlay Mirroring to mirror your screen via the Apple TV.
To enable AirPlay on your Mac, click the AirPlay icon in the menu bar at the top right of the screen (this should show up if there is an Apple TV on the network with AirPlay enabled).
We find AirPlay Mirroring to be preferable as you will experience less lag.
Here's how to set AirPlay up on your iPad or iPhone
You can also use AirPlay to beam your iPad, iPhone, iPod touch screen to your TV via the Apple TV. AirPlay is available on the iPhone 4 or later, iPad Air, iPad mini, 4th gen iPod touch,
To enable mirroring on an iOS device, pull-up the Control Center on your iOS device, tap the Apple TV button and then tap the mirroring switch (you’ll need to drag to scroll the pop-up menu on your iPad to see the switch).
This image shows the icon you are looking for when you want to share via AirPlay:
How to play content you have bought or rented from iTunes on your Apple TV
Audio and video content you’ve bought via iTunes on your Mac or iOS devices is available to play on the Apple TV by selecting the relevant Purchased or Rented heading in each of the channels. The great thing about iTunes is the fact that any purchase you have ever made is available in the cloud, so if you want to watch something you can stream it directly to your Apple TV from Apple's servers.
Movies rented via iTunes come with curious restrictions, although none should cause any real issues apart from one: although movies rented on your Mac, iPhone or iPad can be transferred to another device (to transfer them to the Apple TV, just open Settings then click iTunes Store > Check for Rentals), if you purchase the rented movie via your Apple TV’s interface then it can only be played on the Apple TV and not transferred to another device. The moral of the story: for maximum flexibility only rent movies via iTunes on your Mac or iOS device.
If ever there was an excuse to sign-up to iTunes Match then Apple TV provides it because it means you can listen to music you’ve manually ripped to your computer without the need to utilise iTunes Home Sharing, which allows your Apple TV to playback media on your Mac but also requires it to be powered-up for playback to occur.
How to watch OnDemand on the Apple TV using an iPhone or iPad (4oD and iPlayer)
You probably already have a collection of apps that allow you to play content from the OnDemand web versions of the UK TV channels. Some broadcasters' iOS apps offer direct integration with AirPlay so you can stream the content to your Apple TV and watch on the big screen. So far only iPlayer and 4OD currently work with AirPlay to allow streaming to the Apple TV.
Other apps will not work with the Apple TV because they don't work with Apple's AirPlay. Many of these apps work perfectly fine on the phone but as soon as you try and AirPlay the content to the TV you will see a message stating that it's not licenced to work with the Apple TV, or you may get the video but no audio.
For example, Sky’s Sky Go app, blocks output via AirPlay from an iOS device because of licensing issues. Unfortunately not all broadcasters enable the AirPlay option from iOS. Some don't want you to watch catch-up television on your television (instead of licencing a set-top box from them) and some don't have the appropriate licence to display content.
With those apps that are licenced to work with AirPlay all you need to do is use your iPhone to pick a program and bounce it to your Apple TV. Follow these steps to send a programme from your iOS device to an Apple TV.
1. Make sure the iPhone or iPad is on the same Wi-Fi network as the Apple TV - and make sure it stays within that network.
2. Swipe up to turn on AirPlay in the Control Center of the device in question and select the Apple TV.
3. Open an app such as BBC iPlayer or 4oD and locate the content you wish to view.
4. Play the content on your iPhone or iPad and it will stream to the TV screen. If it doesn't, swipe up on the iPhone screen to enter Control Centre, and select the Apple TV.
Once AirPlay is selected from the pull-up Control Centre then the video playback should be sent straight to the Apple TV. There’s no need to enable mirroring.
Sadly, none of the on-demand apps output in HD. However, most do let you access “box set” content, such as entire runs of vintage shows.
Anyone can stream content from their iPhone or iPad to your Apple TV, they just need to be on the same Wi-Fi network as the Apple TV.
How to watch OnDemand telly on the Apple TV using a Mac
Using AirPlay it is simple to see any content you can view on your Mac on your TV screen. Here's how:
On your Mac click on the Apple TV icon in the menu bar at the top right of the screen.
You can choose to view a separate desktop on your Apple TV, or you can mirror the desktop on your Mac. If you are planning to watch video content then we advise against using the TV as a separate monitor due to lag.
To mirror your Mac screen on your Apple TV, select the AirPlay icon from the menu, and choose Mirror Built In display.
On a Mac you can simply visit the website of the TV channel and opt to watch on-demand content, then mirror your screen to the Apple TV.
When we used the Apple TV to mirror our laptop screen when watching content from iPlayer, we found the playback quality was reasonable - though not as good as playing iPlayer directly on our Mac, or via the app on our iPhone.
The same was true of 4OD.
This method works for the following:
How to watch live telly on the Apple TV
The Apple TV doesn’t feature an aerial or satellite/cable socket. For watching TV programmes arguably the simplest solution outside of purchasing episodes via iTunes is to use on-demand apps on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, and beam them to your Apple TV via AirPlay. BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5 each offers on-demand apps for their range of TV channels, and some of the apps let you tune-in to the channels “live”.
For example, the TV CatchUp app lets your Apple TV tune into most Freeview channels via the Internet and works fine via AirPlay.
How to record telly on the Apple TV
Recording TV programmes (a.k.a. time shifting) isn’t possible on the Apple TV. However, a solution of sorts is provided by Elgato's EyeTV, a hardware and software combo for your Mac or iOS device that lets you record programmes broadcast on Freeview or Freesat. Recorded shows can then be beamed directly to your Apple TV from your Mac, iPad or iPhone. Just follow the instructions for AirPlay above.
Watch Netflix on Apple TV
The Netflix channel on the Apple TV offers significant amount of TV and movie content if you subscribe to the service,just £5.99 a month.
However, by paying $5 a month for a clever DNS hack, you can tune into the US service, which has significantly more content – and gets stuff earlier than the UK too. Read: How to watch US Netflix on UK Apple TV
Read more about watching Netflix, and navigating the menus of your Apple TV here.
Here are some basic tips for using the Apple TV
Watching Google Play Store content on Apple TV
If you’ve made any movie purchases via the Google Play Store (for use on an Android device, for example) then you can play these via the YouTube channel – just select the Purchases heading at the left.
Play music and movies on Apple TV from a home media server or hard drive
Alas, playing back music and movies on your Apple TV that you’ve downloaded and stored on a home media server or hard drive is impossible – unless you use a cool little hack, as detailed in the Watch BBC iPlayer section below.
Using Plex to watch BBC iPlayer and more on Apple TV
The Apple TV still lacks a BBC iPlayer channel, despite repeated rumours that such a thing is just around the corner. However, beyond and above using AirPlay on an iPad or iPhone (as discussed above), you can tune-in to your favourite BBC programmes on-demand via a clever little hack. It takes a little setting-up but will also let you play just about any video or audio file stored on your Mac – even those in file formats the Apple TV and iTunes are usually incompatible with.
Perhaps surprisingly the hack does not require you to jailbreak your Apple TV – something that’s impossible with third generation devices in any case. Instead, it makes use of the Plex Media Server software, which is free of charge and runs on Macs, PCs or Linux. As its name suggests, Plex turns any computer into a capable media server that any DLNA-compatible TV, set top box or games console can connect to. However, it can be extended for Apple TV use, even though Apple’s chosen not to enable DLNA.
You can install Plex on the Mac you use everyday, or perhaps bring into service an older Mac that can be left running 24/7 to act as a media server.
Using Plex with your Apple TV
You don't need to jailbreak your Apple TV to use Plex. But you will need to use Terminal, so if you aren't very technical this isn't a solution for you.
PlexConnect runs two small servers on one of your local Macs: a web server and a Domain Name System (DNS) server. If you configure your Apple TV to look towards this Mac for its DNS server, PlexConnect can intercept requests for the URL http://trailers.apple.com and redirects them to its web server. Here it provides a custom version of the Plex interface reminiscent of other Apple TV apps.
Once this is set up you can browse or search your Plex content stored in the Plex Media Server on your Mac using your remote, as you would any other Apple TV function.
How to install Plex for Apple TV
Start by downloading Plex and installing it on your Mac. Upon running it for the first time you’ll need to complete a handful of setup steps, which are carried out via your web browser, but you’ll be walked through what you need to do and it’s pretty easy. When asked what channels you want to add, choose the BBC iPlayer.
Your Mac will need a static IP address, which can often be achieved via a setting in your Internet router’s setup screen, or by changing your Mac’s network settings away from DHCP (this guide is a little old but the steps still work on Yosemite).
Following this you’ll need to download the PlexConnect add-on software. Once you’ve unzipped the file, copy the entire PlexConnect-Master folder to your Applications list.
Best Plex configuration for Apple TV
Follow the steps on the PlexConnect wiki explaining how to generate security certificates. It looks difficult but is actually easy – paste in the Terminal commands given and then copy the files as directed to the PlexConect-Master folder (you’ll find the Terminal app in the Utilities folder within the Applications list). Then follow the steps on the Wiki that explain how to make PlexConnect run when your Mac boots – specifically, the instructions under the Optional: Run PlexConnect As Launchctl Daemon heading. Again, it’s very easy.
We’ve nearly finished! On the Apple TV, follow these steps to add your new Plex setup as a DNS server (assuming it’s using a Wi-Fi connection – use these steps if it’s connected via an Ethernet cable). Type the static IP address of your Mac, as setup earlier. Then follow the additional steps to add a new profile to the Apple TV.
Setup is now done! Whenever you wish to tune into BBC iPlayer in future, ensure Plex is running on your Mac and, on the Apple TV, open the Trailers channel. You’ll find that it now tunes into your Plex server, and selecting Channels at the top of the screen will show the BBC iPlayer, which you can select to view the available programmes.
One limitation of this hack is that your Apple TV’s channels won’t work unless the Plex server is up and running.
Restoring settings for Plex
To restore the Trailers channel to normal, and make it so you can use your Apple TV without the Plex server running, repeat the steps above but this time delete the certificate you added (select it and then click the Delete option), and select the auto setting for the DNS server.