When it was first introduced, the Apple TV was one of the company’s most offbeat gadgets. Originally only useful as a device to watch movies and TV shows downloaded from the iTunes store, it had pretty limited appeal.
In recent years, however, the Apple TV has gotten increasingly more features. Now it can be used as the center of your entertainment center, especially when paired up with your iPhone, iPad, your home computer - even your Android device!
Here are the main things you can do with your Apple TV 3. And to round it up we have compared everything with its main competitors - Roku 3 and Google Cromecast stick.
Feature: Watch Movies and TV Shows
The iTunes video library is still one of the most inclusive when it comes to buying and renting digital copies of new release movies, and the Apple TV 3 is the perfect device to watch them in HD.
To get much more for your money, however, it is worth signing up for a monthly subscription to Netflix and streaming movies from their extensive catalog straight to your TV. The Apple TV has one of the sleekest Netflix apps natively installed, and you can use it to watch Netflix movies and TV shows in HD.
Again, you have the option to buy or rent the latest episodes of your favorite TV shows straight from iTunes, but it likely isn’t the most cost-effective way to use your Apple TV 3.
With the release of the recent Hulu Plus app, you can use your subscription to that service (priced at $7.99 per month) to stream the TV shows from most major networks the day after they air and have access to every episode from the current season. Never fall behind on your favorite show again when you can watch all the latest episodes on your Apple TV.
Native Movie Apps
iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, HBO
Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO, Vudu and more
Netflix, Google Play Video
Roku has more native movie apps. Apple TV, however, can access the biggest media library - iTunes.
Feature: Stream Music
In recent years, the need for a separate stereo system to play music has almost become a thing of the past.
Instead, it is much more cost-effective for you to buy a decent sound system for your TV and use your Apple TV as your home’s music center. While actual hard drive storage on the Apple TV was eliminated from its more recent generations, the introduction of AirPlay is one of the most important things Apple has done for its devices.
Through AirPlay, you can stream media (whether music or video) from your iPhone, your iPad, and even your computer straight to your Apple TV. Even Android devices will work! When listening to music, this ability has several applications.
First, you can simply stream all of the music in your iTunes library to your Apple TV and play it through your TV’s sound system. If you want to be more creative, however, you can also stream from a variety of music apps on your iPhone straight to your Apple TV and enjoy the fuller sound your TV speakers or sound system provide.
Apps like Spotify, Pandora, and the Amazon Cloud Player can all be streamed to the Apple TV via AirPlay, giving you an almost unlimited catalog of music to enjoy.
Native Music Apps (no further device required)
Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Cloud Player and more
Google Play Music
Can receive music streamed from...
iPhone, iPad, Macbook, iMac, some Android devices
iPhone, iPad, Macbook, iMac (no iTunes!), some Android devices
If you are using iTunes - Apple wins. Otherwise a draw between Roku and Apple TV.
Feature: Watch Internet Videos
It’s no secret that you can find practically anything on YouTube these days. The Apple TV allows you to stop watching YouTube videos on your little phone screen and watch them straight on your TV.
There is a native YouTube app with an easy-to-use interface. Alternatively, you can find the YouTube video you are looking for on your phone and stream it via AirPlay. The same technique applies for all kinds of internet video.
Whether you want to watch QuickTime videos embedded in web browsers or video streaming apps like UStream, an increasing number of internet video providers are building AirPlay support into their native apps.
Native Internet Video Apps
Apple TV has the better apps for internet videos. Who cares?
Feature: Mirror Your Computer to TV
If you have an Apple computer released after mid-2012, its operating system comes with the option to have the screen mirrored on your Apple TV 3 via AirPlay.
Simply choose to stream your computer screen your TV screen and you can use your TV and its sound system as a sort of supersized monitor. You never need to watch a video on your computer’s small screen again because now you can stream everything to your much more impressive HDTV (Tip: Read our guide for more info on how to use Airplay on a Mac).
You don’t even need an Apple computer to take advantage of AirPlay. Simply buy the very reasonably-priced Air Parrot software for Windows, and you can achieve the same ends on a PC.
Mirror the display of...
iPhone, iPad / Macbooks, Mac Minis, iMacs. PCs with AirParrot
Add a wireless second screen to...
Macs running OS X Mavericks (fall 2013)
There's nothing like an Apple TV when it comes to display mirroring.
As you see there a plenty of features and things to do with an Apple TV 3. And we have only covered the basics in this article. More and more native apps are being added to Apple TV 3 and will bring even more features.
We can also expect more iOS apps to be released offering explicit Apple TV 3 functionality, such as iOS games that make use of Airplay for streaming the gameplay screen to the HDTV while leaving controls on the iPhone or iPad.
Considering the role that Apple TV 3 played during the recent Apple WWDC keynote and the new features being discovered we expect that Apple TV will continue to grow from a small niche product to a major puzzle piece within the Apple eco system.
If you are already using Apple products anyway - especially iTunes - choose Apple TV. If you don't want to be a 'locked in and lovin' Apple customer, however, rather take a Roku box instead.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Ken Williams on August 12, 2017:
Would like to see what it's like.
John Fox from Richmond, VA on February 11, 2014:
Thanks for this great hub! I've been wondering about the Apple TV stuff and you covered it perfectly. I do agree with toptenreview though I'll probably just get the WD one since most of my stuff is Windows based. The apple tv is still a great product though!
Michael from Switzerland on January 15, 2014:
I prefer WDTV myself. A friend of mine has apple tv and also complains about the itunes dependence and the lack of support for the variety of formats out there.
Hugo Ferreira on December 17, 2013:
I have an Apple TV3 and I'm very disappoointed with it's iTune's dependence and lake of video format compabilities. I'm looking for a substitute
Tre Griffey from Utah, USA on August 23, 2013:
Being someone who loves Apple, I didn't like the AppleTV. I think that a WD TV Live is a much better choice. You can get all the same apps as the AppleTV except for the iTunes. I have an external hard drive that I use with my WD TV that has like 600 movies on it and I can use it without Internet.