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The Apple TV is the company's foray into the streaming set-top box market. Originally released in January 2007, the set-top box has been used as a way for iTunes customers to play movies and TV shows on their television, and to stream content from their iOS device to the larger screen, as well as from a number of third-party streaming services.

The Apple TV connects you to Apple’s servicesThe Apple TV connects you to Apple’s services

Largely retaining the same design and usage over the first four generations, the fifth iteration runs tvOS, an operating system that opened up the device further to third parties, and also expanded its utility to games and other apps, all of which could be accessed from the App Store.

Apple TV 4K

Apple launched the fifth-generation model of their set-top-box in September 2017. The Apple TV 4K introduced the ability to stream and view 4K HDR video and Dolby Atmos audio when connected to compatible equipment.

As part of the launch, Apple updated the iTunes Store to sell and rent out 4K versions of movies and TV shows, though these will be displayed at 1080p on earlier models. Apple also expanded the reach of the TV app, increasing the list of countries from just the United States to a total of eight. 

At the same time as introducing the 4K model, Apple also reduced the Apple TV HD range to just one capacity, removing the 64GB option and leaving only the 32GB variant on sale alongside the new arrival. 

Apple TV 4K sees some minor changes to its external design compared to the 4. Ok Apple TV 4K (bottom) sees some minor changes to its external design

Apple TV HD

The fourth-generation model is much taller than its forebears, measuring 3.9 inches square and 1.4 inches tall, and weighing in at 15 ounces. On the front of the device is an IR receiver, while on the back of the box are four ports, with a power connection to the built-in power supply accompanied by a 100Mbps Ethernet connection, a HDMI 1.4 port, and a USB-C port for diagnostic purposes.

The Apple TV HD had an extra USB-C port for diagnostics The Apple TV HD had an extra USB-C port for diagnostics

The Siri Remote introduced with this model features typical navigation and control buttons including volume, play and pause, home, Siri, and menu keys. Above the button collection is a glass touch surface for navigating menu screens, and dual microphones at the top for giving Siri instructions. 

The remote also includes Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity an IR transmitter, an accelerometer, and a gyroscope, allowing it to be used for more applications than menu navigation, such as games. It has a Lightning connector for recharging the battery, which is said to provide months of battery life for each charge, with typical daily usage.  

Video is limited to 1080p, at up to 60fps for H.264 video, with support for H.264 Baseline Profile level 3.0 or lower, and MPEG-4 video. Audio formats supported include HE-AAC V1, AAC up to 320Kbps, protected AAC from the iTunes Store, MP3 up to 320Kbps, MP3 VBR, Apple Lossless AIFF, WAV, Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby Digital Plus 7.1.  

tvOS

The fourth and fifth generation devices both use tvOS, which was produced to allow developers to have better access to APIs and deliver content through an App Store.

As part of tvOS, Apple allows users to search through content using Siri, with query results displayed on the connected screen. The virtual assistant can be triggered by pressing the dedicated button on the Siri Remote, with the query spoken through the remote's dual microphones. 

Siri can be used for searching through movies and TV shows for something to watch, to control playback, and some non-video queries, such as weather reports, stocks, and sports scores.

The tvOS home screen has large colorful icons for easy use on a large displayThe tvOS home screen has large colorful icons for easy use on a large display

Also in a departure from earlier models, tvOS makes it easier for developers to create apps that will work with the set-top box. As of August 2017, there are over 1,600 video apps that work with tvOS, giving users an extremely wide catalog of content to view. 

This also allows alternative types of app to work through tvOS, including shopping interfaces and games, which can be used with both the stock remote and compatible third-party gamepads. 

Apple has lastly deprovincialized search, meaning that results for a film or show will offer options not just for iTunes but for a variety of other services. While slowly growing in terms of support, users can search for content within multiple apps simultaneously using Siri, with the results page indicating all services through which a particular piece of content can be viewed. 

In tvOS 13, released in September 2019, Apple made some major upgrades to the interface as a whole, including a new Home screen with full-screen video previews, multi-user support so individual users can enjoy their own personalized playlists and recommendations. 

The multi-user element is very handy for Apple Music, which offers personalized playlists and recommendations. The interface also provides onscreen lyrics timed in sync to the currently-playing track. 

Support for Apple Arcade was also introduced, giving gamers an opportunity to play games from the subscription service on their iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Mac, and Apple TV. Accompanying that was support for the Xbox Wireless Controller with Bluetooth and PlayStation DualShock 4, allowing the game console controllers to work with Apple's set-top box. 

Video streaming options

Customers are currently able to rent and buy TV shows and movies from the iTunes Store, allowing the content to be viewed on the Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, and on Mac. 

Due to being able to install third-party apps, it is also possible for users to watch video from a wide variety of streaming services.

In many cases, thanks to the growth of single sign-on, it is also relatively easy for pay TV subscribers to access their subscriptions through apps. 

With the release of tvOS 12.3, Apple introduced a new Apple TV app experience which fundamentally changes how users can sign up for streaming services to watch content. Under Channels, users can subscribe to a number of video services via the main app interface, without needing to download a separate dedicated streaming app.

The Apple TV app aggregates many major streaming sources into one app experienceThe Apple TV app aggregates many major streaming sources into one app experience

As an analogy, Channels acts as an a-la-carte pay-TV subscription where they can pick and choose just the channels they want, rather than acquiring a larger bundle.

Channels subscribed to via the system can be viewed by others within a household via Family Sharing, with up to six family members able to share their subscriptions using their Apple ID and password. 

The initial wave of Channels in the United States includes offerings from HBO, Starz, Showtime, Smithsonian, EPIX, Tastemade, and MTV Hits. Due to how users can download shows and movies to watch online and offline, it effectively made the Apple TV Channels the only way for HBO subscribers to download content from the service at the time. 

In November 2019, Apple started to offer shows as part of its Apple TV+ service, its first foray into streaming video content. For $4.99 per month, or available for free for a year as part of an offer when buying select Apple hardware, subscribers can watch a variety of original shows and films, including "The Morning Show," "Dickinson," and "For All Mankind." 

"Apple TV 6" and "tvOS 14"

A new "Apple TV 6" could arrive by the end of 2020 with new memory options and a better processor, according to this rumor.

The rumor also mentions a new "kids mode" that could allow parents to assign kid-only content to certain accounts, and would be accompanies by Screen Time on tvOS 14

Leaked code from iOS 14 shows a new workout experience may come to Apple devices, including tvOS as well. The app would have video demonstrations of workouts for users.

Pricing

The Apple TV 4K comes with 32GB or 64GB for $179 or $199 respectively. The Apple TV HD is $149 and is still supported in the lineup.

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