The Apple TV is a handy gadget for streaming content from your Mac, iPhone or iPad to your TV screen. It can also be used to access all sorts of content to watch on your TV as it includes apps for Netflix, Amazon Prime, the UK (and US) on demand channels, YouTube and many other apps, that can all be accessed via a neat little interface.
Plus, later this year Apple will be streaming its own original programmes to the TV app on iPhones, iPads, Apple TV and some other devices (read about which TVs can get Apple TV app). But the best news of all is that the TV app will be coming to Macs this autumn, finally!
But all that is coming later this year. For now, if you’ve got an Apple TV, or you know someone who has one, you might be wondering why you can’t just get Apple TV software and watch all that content on your Mac.
Funny enough, many years Apple shipped Media Centre software on the Mac known as Front Row, which in many ways was a precursor to the Apple TV interface. So it really is peculiar that it is not something Apple makes possible right now. In the past some people even bought a Mac mini as an entertainment hub so the fact that it now lacks software for managing your viewing is a disadvantage... for now at least.
Of course, you can watch much of the same content on your Mac as you can access on an Apple TV. Anything you rent or download from the iTunes Store, for example, can be watched on your Mac, as well as on your iPhone, iPad or Apple TV.
But if you want to access content on your Mac using the Apple TV interface (or the TV app which you’ll find on both the Apple TV, iPhone and iPad) you can’t - or at least you won't be able to do before the new version of macOS, Catalina, launches in the autumn (we assume that's when the TV app will arrive on the Mac).
Right now, it’s not even possible to plug an Apple TV into a Mac in order to watch on your computer’s screen (although you could plug your Apple TV into any display that has an HDMI port, it doesn’t have to be a TV).
However, the situation will change with the arrival of macOS Catalina in September 2019, below we will give you a preview of how the TV app will work on the Mac.
How to use the TV app on the Mac
When Catalina launches on the Mac in autumn 2019 it will bring the TV app to the Mac at last. The TV app, along with a new Music app, will replace iTunes on your Mac and you will be able to find all the iTunes movies and programmes you can currently buy and rent within the new TV app, and, we assume, content from other providers specific to where you live.
We can get a preview of the TV app from the Catalina beta (read about how to get the Catalina beta here).
Right now the TV app only includes iTunes content, but at least in the UK we do see a UK-specific version. This does mean that we can't make any predictions about whether iPlayer and other UK-specific services will be built in, or at least offered as Channels.
We assume that the Mac version will offer the same functionality as the iPad, iPhone and Apple TV versions of the TV app, which do allow you to search for a particular program and see various places you can watch it, including Amazon Prime, iPlayer, ITV Player, My5, and so on.
Here's how the TV app works on the Mac:
- Click on TV logo in the Dock.
- Click Start Watching.
- You’ll see Trending Movies, Trending TV Shows. and along the top: Watch Now, Films, TV Programmes, Kids, and Library.
- If you click on Library you will be invited to sign into your Apple account. Having done so, you will see all your shows and movies you have previously bought on iTunes.
If you find a programme you want to watch, you can scroll down to see a How To Watch section, this is, we expect, where you will be able to choose from the various services you might be signed up for, so that you can watch the show for free, rather than rent or buy it from Apple. We assume Amazon Prime, iPlayer and the like will appear here at the time of launch (they don't in the beta).
How to stream content from an iPad or iPhone to your Mac
It’s not just the content available on the Apple TV that you might want to be able to watch on your Mac though. Perhaps you have an iPad or iPhone and you’d like to stream content from that to the screen on your Mac. You may well want to do that if your TV screen is smaller than that of your 27in iMac.
Luckily there are a few options for streaming from your iPhone or iPad to your Mac, so, while you can’t use the Apple TV interface on your Mac yet, you can pretty much stream all the same content to it.
You might be forgiven for thinking it would be possible to stream content from your iPhone or iPad to your Mac using AirPlay. After all, AirPlay is available on all three devices and is what allows you to stream from your iPhone or iPad to your TV via the Apple TV. So the fact that you can’t easily stream content from your iPhone or iPad to your Mac does seem like an odd omission.
Luckily it is possible to stream from an iOS device to a Mac, but to do so you need to install an app on your Mac.
There are a couple you could choose from, AirServer or Reflector, we look at both below.
Want to learn about the next Apple TV and when it might be released? More info here. You may also be interested to learn which TV sets work with AirPlay without requiring an Apple TV.
Reflector, which you can download here has a free 7-day trial, or costs $14.99. It lets you mirror your iPhone, iPad to the screen of your Mac (and other devices).
- Download and install the Reflector software on your Mac (you will see a message warning you about installing it, but since we know it to be a legitimate app you should be alright to go ahead and open it).
- If you are just using the trial you can click on Try Reflector 3. Otherwise, purchase the software and enter the licence key. (If you use the trial version you’ll see watermarks and it will time out after seven days).
- You won’t see an interface appear, but you should see the Reflector icon in the dock and the Reflector options should appear in the menu. You don’t need to do anything here though.
- With Reflector running on your Mac, turn to your iPhone or iPad, open whatever it is you want to stream and tap on the Share icon (the one that’s a square with an arrow coming out of it).
- Choose AirPlay.
- You will now see the option to stream to your Mac, which you will be able to do as soon as you enter the AirPlay code which will appear on your Mac’s screen.
AirServer has a free 14-day trial which also has a watermark - although this time the watermark isn’t quite so intrusive. You can download it here.
- Download and install - as above you will need to approve the app before it installs since it’s not downloaded from the Mac App Store. You may also have to allow AirServer to ‘Control your Computer’ in Security & Privacy settings.
- Again, you won’t see an interface, this time the only indication that AirSever is running on your Mac is an icon in the menu bar that looks a little like the AirDrop or share icons on a Mac.
- Now, if you open your iPhone and iPad and find the thing you wish to stream to your Mac, tap on the Share icon, and choose AirPlay.
- Again, you will see your Mac listed as an option to stream too. Tap on that icon and it will start streaming straight away - without having to enter a code.
For more advice about using the Apple TV read: How to set up the Apple TV.
How to attach an Apple TV to a Mac
As for using an Apple TV with a Mac, while you can stream content from your Mac to your TV screen via your Apple TV, you can’t stream content from your Apple TV to your Mac.
As we said above, if you happen to have a computer display that has an HDMI port you can connect that to your Apple TV and use that just as you would your TV screen, as we have below.