What is Apple TV?
Making sense of Apple's streaming services
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In an era where digital content reigns supreme, It's easy to understand why a tech giant like Apple would want its hands in as many streaming media pies as possible. What's not always clear, however, are the ways in which Apple intends to deliver you that content.
Consider Apple TV: It's not so much a singular product as it is an ecosystem of interconnected hardware and software elements, serving the singular goal of piping media into your home. There's a physical Apple TV streaming box, an Apple TV app, and—later this year—Apple is even launching its very own streaming service. Its name? Apple TV+.
I mean, I get it: Apple would like all of its TV-related endeavors to fall under one easy-to-remember moniker. Unfortunately, it makes for a fair amount of similar-sounding jargon to keep track of.
What is the Apple TV streaming device?
Apple TV is a physical streaming device that connects to your TV and pipes in content from multiple streaming platforms. Think of it as an Apple-branded alternative to a Roku streaming box or an Amazon Fire TV Stick—complete with a dedicated remote control and Apple's sleek design.
The newest version of Apple TV—dubbed Apple TV 4K—supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision, the two HDR standards you're likely to encounter in your travels.
Of the two HDR standards, Dolby Vision's criteria are slightly harder to meet, so you're less likely to come across Dolby Vision TVs and Dolby Vision content—the upside here is that a more rigorous standard often yields better picture quality.
Because Apple TV 4K is one of the few streaming devices that supports the higher of the two HDR standards, it's got a serious advantage over just about every other high-profile streaming device, including the Roku Ultra.
Additionally, if you're a regular iTunes user and you already own a library of previously purchased movies and TV shows linked to your iTunes account, there's a good chance they've already been upgraded—free of charge—to higher-quality 4K versions.
There's a strong case to be made that people who already have an extensive collection of media purchased through Apple are best off adopting an Apple TV 4K as their go-to streaming device.
What is the Apple TV app?
The Apple TV app (also known, simply, as "TV") launched this year and is designed to be the main control center of your entire home entertainment setup. Rather than host content itself, the Apple TV app mostly organizes the movies and TV shows you watch across all of your streaming platforms.
Essentially, the Apple TV streaming app acts as a portal to all of the popular streaming apps you're subscribed to. So, instead of turning on your TV, using the Hulu app, and then switching to the HBO Go app, you can simply browse both Hulu and HBO Go content in one place. If you decide to watch a show on Hulu, then, the Apple TV app will kick you over to the Hulu app.
(Psst... you can check out a full list of supported apps in the Apple TV app on Apple's website to get a sense of how convenient a portal like this might be for you.)
The TV app also provides iTunes integration—a big deal for folks who have a library of iTunes purchases to contend with.
In addition to being available on the Apple TV streaming device, the TV app is also available for iPhone, iPad, and select Samsung smart TV owners (there's a full list of Samsung smart TVs that support the Apple TV app on Samsung's website). Starting this fall, the app will be available on Mac computers, too.
There is one catch, however: Apple's TV app does not support Netflix, so you'll still have to browse the Netflix app separately if you want to mix in some Stranger Things. Why isn't Netflix accounted for? Because Apple is launching its own Netflix-style streaming platform this fall.
What is Apple TV+?
Launching later this year, Apple TV+ is Apple's answer to streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. When it arrives, the Apple TV+ platform will find its home on Apple's TV app.
As I'm writing this, there's not a lot of definitive information to report about the platform—specifically when it comes to content and pricing. There is, however, a trailer for a series called the Morning Show, an Apple TV+ exclusive slated to premiere when the service launches this fall.
Because Apple will be competing with a number of ad-free subscription services that offer exclusive content, it's safe to say that there will be an emphasis on original programming. Several renowned creators—including Oprah Winfrey and J.J. Abrams—have already signed on to produce exclusive content for the platform.
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