Welcome to our Apple TV UK superguide: brilliant tips & tricks to help British users get more out of their new (4th-gen) and old (3rd-gen) Apple TV models. We start with tips aimed at the newer model, on this page; turn to the second page of the article for tips aimed at the older 3rd-gen Apple TV (most of which will also apply to the newer model).

Generally speaking, the folk at Cupertino have a pretty sound worldview. This means here in the UK we rarely have long to wait for products to land on our shores.

However, there are forces beyond even Apple's control and the Apple TV experience here in Blighty doesn't glow quite as bright as it does in the US. You still get the Apple TV 4th generation core feature set, of course, but British TV broadcasters haven't really leapt onboard - and research undertaken by Macworld indicates this isn't about to change.

At the present time only the BBC and Sky have apps available for the Apple TV 4th generation. Macworld UK spoke to the nation’s major broadcasters to ask when (or if) they'll be porting their TV apps to the Apple TV, and got the following responses:

  • ITV doesn't have any current plans for the ITV Hub app to launch on Apple TV.
  • Channel 5 is "considering a launch for My5 on Apple TV in 2017" - which means a wait of six months, at least.
  • Sky pointed out that its Now TV app is available, which we discuss below, but it has "no current plans to launch Sky Go on Apple TV".

Channel 4 didn't respond to our enquiries so we've no idea if the All4 app will be coming to the Apple TV.

Outside of Netflix and iTunes with their decidedly anaemic listing of British TV content, nor is there yet any UK app that aims to "cord cut" and take a programme-based approach, like Hulu in the US, which gathers content from several US networks.

Sadly, the news gets even worse. We found in our tests that the few Brit TV apps that are currently available - including BBC iPlayer - integrate poorly with the Apple TV 4th gen. For example, while our cousins across the Atlantic might ask Siri to track down a particular show, or shows with a particular actor or in a particular genre, the apps from UK broadcasters treat the Apple TV as barely more than a dumb streaming box. Ask about Peaky Blinders, for example, and you'll get only iTunes and Netflix suggestions via Apple’s database that powers Siri, even though you could also use the iPlayer app to watch episodes entirely free of charge.

Subtitling is also not currently available with UK TV apps because of an incompatibility with existing subtitling technologies, and to the best of our knowledge none of the apps offer 1080p full HD, as with broadcast digital TV, satellite or cable. 720p or blurry old SD appear to be the only options.

But, but, but… Ignore all this because over the coming pages we take a look at how we plucky Brits can get the most from the Apple TV. There are tricks and hacks that can turn it into the centre of your digital world - provided you put in a little effort.

Best Apple TV tips: How to watch free-to-air UK telly on your Apple TV

TV viewers in the UK have long lived under a two-tier TV system. Virtually everybody has access to the basic tier, which is pumped into their homes via their TV aerial. In our digital age this is provided by the Freeview organisation and the channel line-up features all offerings from the BBC, ITV, Channels 4 and 5, plus a handful of extras like golden-oldies channel Dave, as well as news and movie channels.

The simply-monikered TV Player brings a selection of the basic-tier channels directly to the Apple TV, letting you tune-in for live streaming – and for free, too. However, it’s no Freeview swap-in. The channel line-up includes BBC 1, 2 and 4, as well as Channels 4 and 5 but there’s hardly any of the extra channels offered by these broadcasters - no ITV 2 or ITV 3, for example. Notably, you don’t even get the same range of channels as you do by streaming live TV for free at the TV Player website or on the TV Player iPhone/iPad app, where the selection more closely mirrors Freeview. We're guessing this is because of licensing issues, something that comes with the postscript that this situation is likely to change.

Some top-name premium channels are available via the TV Viewer app, such as History, Discovery and Cartoon Network, although to access them you’ll need to pay £4.99 monthly a month. This will also unlock the Catch-up feature, although this is limited to a handful of the aforementioned premium channels and doesn’t feature the likes of BBC or ITV programmes.

Alas, even if you pay-up, you'll find all the channels are streamed in standard definition (SD). In other words, they look slightly fuzzy on HD tellies that are the norm in most living rooms nowadays (although some tellies cope better with the lack of definition than others). This is true of the live streams as well as catch-up. Incidentally, it’s streaming-only within the app, and there’s no option to download content, which can help avoid buffering if you’ve a slow net connection.

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The TV Player app brings a selection of free-to-air British TV channels, but it’s all standard-definition quality

Another irritation we had in terms of viewing the app was that the channel logos in the on-screen programme listing are incredibly small, to the extent some of them are unreadable if you’re more than a few feet away from the TV. This felt like basic bad design.

In summary, if your media life within your Apple TV to the extent of not using any other set top box then TV Player kind of makes sense, and combined with a Now TV subscription (see the heading below) along the BBC iPlayer app you'll get a UK channel line-up on your Apple TV that's almost identical to a satellite or cable TV subscription. However, in and of itself, TV Viewer offers no compelling reason to watch British TV via your Apple TV. In fact, the muddy images offered because of its SD streams are a good reason to stick with your Freeview, Sky TV or Virgin Media box, and that's a shame.

Best Apple TV tips: Watch premium satellite telly on your Apple TV

As mentioned earlier, most British households can get Freeview but there’s also a second tier of channels often erroneously and anachronistically referred to as "satellite TV". These are typically pumped into most homes by a satellite dish, cable connection or internet-equipped set top box like YouView. Here viewers can access premium channels like Sky One, Fox, and Comedy Central, plus movies and sports channels - although a monthly subscription fee is always required.

At the present time the only way to access on your Apple TV the more popular channels within this second tier is to install and subscribe to Now TV. Although Now TV is owned by Sky, you pay for it via an entirely independent monthly subscription. In other words, this isn't an clone/offshoot of the Sky Go app, and you do not automatically get Now TV if you have a Sky subscription.

Most people opt for the £6.99 Entertainment Pass Now TV service, which delivers the channels mentioned above plus a handful more, but you can alternatively (or additionally) subscribe to the Movie Pass at £9.99, to get the range of offerings on Sky’s subscription movie channels, and the Kids Pass at £2.99 Kids Pass, to add-in many of the usual children's channels. Sky Sports passes are also available, starting at a cool £6.99 per day, up to £33.99 for a month's worth. Unlike most premium TV services there’s no minimum subscription period with Now TV, and you can cancel whenever you wish.

What you get in return is 720p-quality live streaming, catch-up and box-set telly. Both catch-up and box-set offerings are free of adverts or trailers, although you’ll see the usual commercial breaks when watching the live channels. Notably, you can also “tune into” a Now TV subscription via apps on phones and tablets, or via a £14.99 set-top box. This makes Now TV a reasonably attractive deal all-round.

Now TV brings a selection of premium UK channels to the Apple TV, including offerings on the Sky Movies channels

The Apple TV app offers a decent enough portal to Now TV’s offerings although looks and feels pretty basic. To be fair this is true of many Apple TV apps at the moment as developers still struggle to find acceptable and usable design templates. Video playback is just like any other app and you therefore can do things like rewind with Siri, although as mentioned in the introduction to this piece, Siri is unable to answer questions such as “Who’s in this?”. Should you try it simply tells you that the app hasn't told it those details.

The app's search facility lets you search for movies or programmes – after laboriously tapping in your query via the Siri Remote – and you can also search by actor, although this seems limited to movies. Search for Simon Pegg, for example, and you'll only see the movies he's starred in and not programmes like Big Train, which is available as a box set for viewing.

Now for the bad news. All Now TV apps are streaming only, without any offline/save for later viewing option. In the Apple TV app there’s no way to mark shows or channels as favourites, or add to a watch later list. Additionally, there’s no way to set age restrictions within the app and it appeared to ignore the Apple TV’s overall restriction settings.

Because it comes from the Sky stable, Now TV is currently the only way to legally watch the latest episodes of shows like Game of Thrones on your Apple TV. This is a huge selling point. The Apple TV app for Now TV might be limited in functions, and in the number of channels it offers (it’s not for documentary channel lovers, for example), but it does the job without hassle. Of course, the Netflix app also offers some shows for which you might be used to paying a channel subscription – and is integrated with Siri, to boot.

Read next: New Apple TV Remote iPhone app review

Best Apple TV tips: The current channel line-up

So, what channels are actually available on the Apple TV 4th generation via the apps mentioned earlier? Here’s our rundown, which was correct at the time of writing (mid-2016). Note that movies available on the Sky Movies channels are available within Now TV upon the purchase of a £7.99 Sky Movies pass monthly subscription.

Entertainment

  • BBC One – BBC iPlayer (watch live and catch-up), and TV Player (watch live)
  • BBC Two – BBC iPlayer (watch live and catch-up), and TV Player (watch live)
  • ITV – TV Player (watch live)
  • Channel 4 – TV Player (watch live)
  • Five – TV Player (watch live)
  • Three – BBC iPlayer (catch-up only)
  • BBC Four – BBC iPlayer (watch live and catch-up), and TV Player (watch live)
  • Sky1 – Now TV (watch live and catch-up; £6.99 Entertainment Pass subscription required)
  • Sky Living – Now TV (watch live and catch-up; £6.99 Entertainment Pass subscription required)
  • Sky Atlantic – Now TV (watch live and catch-up; £6.99 Entertainment Pass subscription required)
  • Gold – Now TV (watch live and catch-up; £6.99 Entertainment Pass subscription required)
  • Comedy Central – Now TV (watch live and catch-up; £6.99 Entertainment Pass subscription required)
  • ITV Encore – Now TV (watch live and catch-up; £6.99 Entertainment Pass subscription required)
  • Fox – Now TV (watch live and catch-up; £6.99 Entertainment Pass subscription required)
  • MTV – Now TV (watch live and catch-up; £6.99 Entertainment Pass subscription required)
  • Radio 1 – BBC iPlayer (TV programming catch-up)
  • Lifetime – TV Player (watch live and catch-up; £4.99 monthly subscription required)
  • TLC – TV Player (watch live and catch-up; £4.99 monthly subscription required)
  • Sony Channel – TV Player (watch live; £4.99 monthly subscription required)
  • Sony Movie Channel – TV Player (watch live; £4.99 monthly subscription required)

Documentary/factual

  • Quest – TV Player (watch live)
  • Food Network – TV Player (watch live)
  • Travel Channel – TV Player (watch live)
  • TruTV – TV Player (watch live)
  • History – TV Player (watch live and catch-up; £4.99 monthly subscription required)
  • Discovery – TV Player (watch live and catch-up; £4.99 monthly subscription required) and Now TV (watch live and catch-up; £6.99 Entertainment Pass subscription required)
  • Investigation Discovery (ID) – TV Player (watch live and catch-up; £4.99 monthly subscription required)
  • Discovery Turbo – TV Player (watch live and catch-up; £4.99 monthly subscription required)
  • Animal Planet – TV Player (watch live and catch-up; £4.99 monthly subscription required)
  • History 2 (H2) – TV Player (watch live and catch-up; £4.99 monthly subscription required)
  • Crime + Investigation Channel (CI) – TV Player (watch live and catch-up; £4.99 monthly subscription required)
  • National Geographic – TV Player (watch live and catch-up; £4.99 monthly subscription required)
  • National Geographic Wild – TV Player (watch live and catch-up; £4.99 monthly subscription required) and Now TV (watch live and catch-up; £6.99 Entertainment Pass subscription required)

Music

  • 4 Music – TV Player (watch live)
  • The Box – TV Player (watch live)
  • Box Upfront – TV Player (watch live)
  • Box Hits – TV Player (watch live)
  • Kiss – TV Player (watch live)
  • Magic – TV Player (watch live)
  • K! – TV Player (watch live)
  • Heart – TV Player (watch live)
  • Capital TV – TV Player (watch live)
  • Clubland – TV Player (watch live)
  • Chilled – TV Player (watch live)
  • AKA – TV Player (watch live)
  • Now That’s What I Call Music – TV Player (watch live)

Kids

  • CBBC – BBC iPlayer (watch live and catch-up), TV Player (watch live) and Now TV (catch-up only; £2.99 Kids Pass subscription required)
  • Cbeebies – BBC iPlayer (watch live and catch-up), TV Player (watch live) and Now TV (catch-up only; £2.99 Kids Pass subscription required)
  • Cartoon Network (CN) – TV Player (watch live and catch-up; £4.99 monthly subscription required) and Now TV (watch live and catch-up; £2.99 Kids Pass subscription required)
  • Nickelodeon – Now TV (watch live and catch-up; £2.99 Kids Pass subscription required)
  • Nick Jr – Now TV (watch live and catch-up; £2.99 Kids Pass subscription required)
  • Nicktoons – Now TV (watch live; £2.99 Kids Pass subscription required)
  • Milkshake! -- Now TV (catch-up only; £2.99 Kids Pass subscription required)
  • Boomerang – TV Player (watch live and catch-up; £4.99 monthly subscription required) and Now TV (watch live and catch-up; £2.99 Kids Pass subscription required)
  • Cartoonito – TV Player (watch live and catch-up; £4.99 monthly subscription required) and Now TV (watch live and catch-up; £2.99 Kids Pass subscription required)
  • Baby TV – TV Player (watch live; £4.99 monthly subscription required)

News

  • BBC News – BBC iPlayer (watch live and catch-up), and TV Player (watch live)
  • Parliament – BBC iPlayer (watch live and catch-up), and TV Player (watch live)
  • CNN – TV Player (watch live)
  • Bloomberg – TV Player (watch live)
  • France 24 – TV Player (watch live)
  • NHK World – TV Player (watch live)
  • Al Jazeera – TV Player (watch live)
  • Euronews – TV Player (watch live)
  • RT – TV Player (watch live)

Sports

  • Eurosport 1 – TV Player (watch live and catch-up; £4.99 monthly subscription required)
  • Eurosport 2 – TV Player (watch live and catch-up; £4.99 monthly subscription required)
  • Sky Sports 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, F1 and News HQ – Now TV (watch live; Sky Sports Pass daily (£6.99), weekly (£10.99) or monthly (£33.99) subscription required)

Special interest/miscellaneous

  • Sky Arts – Now TV (watch live and catch-up; £6.99 Entertainment Pass subscription required)
  • Alba – BBC iPlayer (watch live and catch-up), and TV Player (watch live)
  • S4C – BBC iPlayer (watch live and catch-up), and TV Player (watch live)
  • QVC – TV Player (watch live)
  • QVC Plus – TV Player (watch live)
  • QVC Beauty – TV Player (watch live)
  • QVC Style – TV Player (watch live)
  • QVC Extra – TV Player (watch live)
  • Colors – TV Player (watch live)
  • Rishtey – TV Player (watch live)
  • Zing – TV Player (watch live)
  • Sony SAB – TV Player (watch live)
  • AT – TV Player (watch live)
  • Sino – TV Player (watch live)
  • BBC Red Button – TV Player (watch live)
  • Fashion TV – TV Player (watch live)
  • UCB TV – TV Player (watch live)
  • R – TV Player (watch live)
  • Community Channel – TV Player (watch live)

Best Apple TV tips: Watch just about any UK show via AirPlay

If you've got a relatively modern Mac that can AirPlay mirror the desktop (which is pretty much every model of Mac since 2011 onwards) then you can use your web browser to tune-into your favourite channel's live streaming or catch-up service, and then switch it over to your Apple TV. Alternatively, via the catch-up apps available for the iPhone/iPad, you can activate AirPlay mirroring in order to beam the programmes to your Apple TV.

This opens up the ability to watch those broadcasters who simply don't support the Apple TV, such as ITV, 5 or Channel 4. Users of the older generation Apple TVs can also employ this trick because these also support AirPlay playback.

Image quality doesn't tend to be so great because the catch-up websites and apps typically stream in standard definition, and the frame rate can get a little jerky because of inherent limitations with network quality. However, for broadcasting the likes of Coronation Street or Big Brother to the family telly then this method is pretty acceptable.

AirPlaying from your Mac, iPhone or iPad lets you access most of the UK's TV channels and catch-up content via the dedicated apps

Here are the steps required if you're using a Mac:

  1. Open System Preferences, click the Displays icon, and then put a check in the box headed Show Mirroring Options In The Menu Bar When Available. 
  2. This will add a new icon to your menu bar, and it’ll be located to the left of the clock. Click this and select Apple TV.
  3. Click the menu bar icon again and select Use As A Separate Display. Clicking this will add the TV as a secondary display, which is identical to plugging in an external monitor. It will let you continue to use your Mac while you AirPlay the likes of Peppa Pig to the living room TV so that the kids can watch it.
  4. By default the TV is “to the right” of your main display as far as your Mac is concerned, which means you’ll need to drag windows off screen to the right to get them to appear on the TV. Do so with the browser window.
  5. Browse to your favourite TV or catch-up website in the browser, and then choose your programme. Start it playing.
  6. To go truly full-screen without the menu bar appearing you’ll need to click the green button at the top left of the window to make the browser full-screen, and then click the full screen icon within the playback window within the browser.

Here's what's required if you've got an iPhone or iPad. We tested these steps using the All4, My5 and ITV Hub apps, and all worked fine. We weren't able to test the Sky Go app because we weren't Sky subscribers, although we understand that it does not support AirPlay.

  1. Drag-up the Control Center and click the AirPlay button. Then select your Apple TV, and click the Mirroring switch. Your iPhone or iPad will then be beamed to the Apple TV.
  2. Open the catch-up TV app, choose a programme, and start playback. Playback will now commence on the TV, rather than the device itself, which you can leave to go into sleep mode.

Best Apple TV tips: Other things to try

With a little hacking you can access the US version of Netflix, which drastically increases the amount of programmes you can watch

You can get the American version of Netflix on your Apple TV via a little hacking, which can be useful if you take a “cord cutting” approach to watching TV where you focus on watching your favourite shows without worrying about channel subscriptions. The US Netflix service is much more comprehensive than its UK brother.

If you have any movies or TV programmes on your Mac's hard disk (if you've ripped them from DVD, for example) then you can use the Plex software to play them on your Apple TV straight from your Mac's hard disk.

If you're technically inclined you might choose to install iPASTORE, which opens your Apple TV to various apps that for various reasons are not in the official Apple TV App Store. This includes Kodi, which turns the Apple TV into a much more fully equipped media centre. Note that iPASTORE doesn't require the Apple TV to be jailbroken – something that's impossible in any event – although it requires a $6.99 yearly subscription fee andinstallation requires you to connect your Apple TV temporarily to a Mac or PC. Also note that using iPASTORE lets you install apps not signed or authorised by Apple and that therefore could easily present security risks to your Apple TV and home network.

Turn to the second page of this article for more Apple TV tips. These are aimed at the older (third-gen) Apple TV model, but almost all of them work perfectly well with the newer model.