The Apple TV is Apple's set top box that plugs into your TV so that you can watch On Demand TV channels and subscription services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. The majority of smart TVs can do this already, of course, but Apple TV goes a few steps further: adding content from iTunes; the ability to stream from your iPhone, iPad or Mac straight to your TV screen; and bringing a wealth of apps and games from the Apple TV's very own App Store.

In May 2019 Apple will be enhancing Apple TVs capabilities by presenting users with the option to subscribe to Channels (including HBO and Showtime in the US) from within the TV app. And this autumn, Apple will be adding its own collection of TV shows and other content being made by a team of Hollywood A-Listers. Read about the shows coming to the Apple TV+ later this year here.

Right now though, if you want to watch shows and movies on your Apple TV there are a few ways to do so.

How to watch TV and movies on Apple TV

There are two ways to watch TV shows and movies on the Apple TV.

Option 1: Using an individual app

  1. Open the App Store on your Apple TV.
  2. Download the app for the service that has the programme you want to watch (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, All4, iPlayer, My5, ITV Hub, Now TV, Disney Life, Hopster... and the equivalent apps in the US and elsewhere).
  3. Sign in, if required.
  4. Find the show and start watching.

Take a look at this article for more information about the best entertainment apps to download on your Apple TV.

Option 2: Using the TV app (we look at these steps in more detail below)

  1. Open Apple's own TV app on the Apple TV. (We'll look at the TV app in a bit more detail below).
  2. Search for the show you want to watch, or for inspiration about what's good to watch.
  3. The TV app will show you what services have that particular show or movie - it might be on Netflix, it might have aired recently on TV and be available on an On Demand service, or it might be available to buy from Apple. Make your choice depending on whether you can watch it for free, or if one service has it available for less than another. 
  4. Currently you will be taken to the relevant app to view it, so you will still need to have downloaded it and signed in. Later this year Apple intends to update the TV app so that you can watch the show within the TV app.

Here's our wishlist of new features we hope will come in tvOS 13.

What is the TV app on Apple TV?

Currently (the TV app will change in May 2019), the TV app on the Apple TV doesn’t exactly play content - it acts as a library for content that links you out to other apps where you can watch it - but it is a good way to discover new things to watch on multiple services, including Amazon, iTunes, My5, iPlayer, ITVHub, and - finally added in January 2018 - Netflix.

Using the TV app gives you the advantage of being able to make the decision of which service you will use to watch the film or series, so that you don't accidentally pay to watch something on iTunes when it’s free to watch on Netflix.

The good news is you don't need to install the TV app, it will just appear on your Apple TV - as long as you have a fourth generation or 4K Apple TV with the App Store.

Later in 2019 the TV app will be updated by Apple so you will no longer be sent to a third-party app to watch the content you chose from the TV app - you'll be able to watch it from within the Apple TV app.

The new version of the TV app will simplify the process of signing up for a service like HBO or Showtime. If you want to watch something you'll be able to register for the trial or sign up immediately in a matter of clicks, and it will all be linked to your Apple ID, so no need to set up another account and password. The services you have signed up for this way will be found in the new Channels section.

The benefit of this is that you will be able to see all the shows you are watching in one place, and you will be able to see recommendations based on the content you enjoy watching. Those recommendations come from Apple's team of human editors and AI - the app will use machine learning to make recommendations based on the kind of thing you enjoy watching.

The new TV app will be coming to the Apple TV in May.

Then, in the autumn, Apple will be adding its own original content to the TV app in a TV+ subscription section. You can read about the shows coming to Apple TV+ here and more about what Apple announced about its plans for TV here.

How to use the TV app on the Apple TV

As we said above, the TV app is more of a place to find content to watch, rather than somewhere to watch content (at least that's the case now - it will change in May when Apple updates the app). We'll start off by explaining how to use the TV app on the Apple TV to find content.

  1. Select TV
  2. Once in the app you can browse through shows from the following (options will differ depending on your location):
    • Best of BBC
    • Best of ITV Hub
    • Best of My 5
    • Children’s favourites
    • New Releases on iTunes
  3. You can also browse by the following categories:

    • TV Series - within that you can browse by: Comedy, Drama, Reality, Documentary and Sports
    • Kids - within this category is Hit Kids TV Series, Everyday Heros, Cute & Cuddly, Learning is Fun
    • Collections - including Drama, Sci-Fi, Quiz Shows, Travel, Hopster Picks
  4. Choose the programme you want to watch by scrolling to the icon for that programme and pressing the touch pad on the Apple TV Remote.
  5. Once you have found what you want to watch, clicking on the image of the show or movie will take you to a page where you can choose where you'd like to watch the content. See the next step for how to watch somethign in the TV app on Apple TV. (We also have a guide to using the TV app on the iPhone or iPad here.)

If you are using the TV App on your iPhone read this to find out what to do if it no longer autoplays the next video.

How to watch something on the TV app on Apple TV

Once you have found what you want to watch, and clicked on the image of it, you'll be taken to a page about that film or programme.

  1. On that page you’ll see where the programme is available to watch, e.g. My5, Hopster, iTunes, Prime Video.
  2. You can jump to a specific series - the series you want to watch may be available on one service but not another.
  3. Once you've decided where you want to watch the show, select Open In... and then choose the app.
  4. It will open in that specific app, you may need to login to that app if it's not already set up on your Apple TV.

How to find films to watch on the TV app on Apple TV

There are a few ways to find films to watch, including taking inspiration from films you already enjoyed.

  1. From the Home Page of the TV app you can swipe down and click on Films.
  2. You’ll see a collection of Films that Apple has chosen to showcase.
  3. Scroll through these until you see something you’d like to watch, alternatively, choose from one of the, categories including Comedy, Drama, Action and Thriller.
  4. One way to find something you like is to look at a film you know you like and see what other films are recommended as being Related.
  5. Click on that title and you’ll see where it’s available - not just whether it’s in iTunes (which would mean you’d have to pay for it)
  6. Click on Open In and choose where you’d like to watch, e.g. Netflix, Amazon, or iTunes, or if it’s recently been on terrestrial TV, one of the on-demand apps

Because not all the films that are available will be showcased this way, you could search for a film you’d like to watch. In our experience this is the only way a film that’s recently been shown on one of the UK channels will show up, so, for example, search for Point Break (which was on iPlayer at the time this article was written) and iPlayer will come up as an option for watching it.

Use the TV app to see everything you’ve been watching

When you have been using the TV app for a while you’ll notice that there’s a handy Up Next feature if you scroll up to the bottom of the screen that lets you continue watching anything you have recently watched (you may need to click on Continue on this screen at some point in order to allow this feature).

This means that you won’t have to remember what app you were watching the latest binge-worthy series in.

You don’t even have to enter the TV app, you can get a shortcut to these shows and films you are watching from the Home screen, just scrolling to the TV app icon.

If you have a new Apple TV read about how to set up a new Apple TV here.