12 Apple TV Features You Should Be Using

A silver Apple TV remote in a person's hand.

The Apple TV and the tvOS platform lets you easily stream video, wirelessly cast mobile devices, and even play games on your TV. If you have one or are thinking about getting one, here are some of the best features you should take advantage of.

AirPlay from Your iPhone, iPad, or Mac

AirPlay used to be the reason to buy an Apple TV but the feature has since made its way into TVs like LG’s OLED range. An Apple TV might not be necessary if you have upgraded in the past few years. AirPlay lets you wirelessly cast from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac to your Apple TV. This lets you output audio and video or mirror your screen without the need to get up and plug something in.

Your Apple TV should “just work” with your AirPlay sources once set up. You can further tweak these settings to require manual approval or open the protocol up to just about anyone within range under Settings > AirPlay and HomeKit. You can choose between Everyone, Anyone on the Same Network, Only People Sharing This Home (members of your Home Sharing network), or Require Password to lock things down.

After you’ve done this, you can use the Now Playing box in Control Center on an iPhone or iPad, or Control Center on a Mac to cast audio or use the “Screen Mirroring” option to mirror everything on your device so that the whole room can see it.

Screen Mirroring in Control Center for iPhone

Remember that AirPlay has bandwidth limitations, so high-resolution (4K) video that’s been shot in HDR, or that uses high frame rates (like 60 frames per second or higher), may hitch and stutter depending on the age of your device, network, and nearby interference.

Those Beautiful Screen Savers

Apple includes some beautiful screen savers with tvOS revolving around one of four themes (Landscape, Earth, Underwater, and Cityscape). You can change how long these take to appear, which themes you see, and the frequency at which the TV checks for new ones under Settings > General > Screen Saver.

Apple TV Yosemite aerial screen saver

You can trigger these screensavers manually from the Home screen. If you have a second-generation Siri remote (with the “<” back button) activate by pressing and holding the “<” back button to return to the Home screen, then tapping the “<” back button again. On a first-generation Siri Remote or earlier, press and hold “Menu” to return to the home screen then press Menu again to activate.

Get a sneak peek of all the Apple TV screensavers on Benjamin Mayo’s blog.

Control Your Apple TV with an iPhone or iPad

Can’t find the remote? Simply control your Apple TV with your iPhone or iPad. The easiest way to do this is to add the “Remote” Control Center shortcut under Settings > Control Center on your mobile device. You can then swipe down from the top-right corner to reveal Control Center and tap on the Remote icon.

Apple TV Remote for iPhone

On top of this, you should see a notification on your iPhone or iPad whenever you’re prompted to enter text on your Apple TV (for example, when entering login information). Tap on the notification and type on your iPhone to send your input to the Apple TV. This should work as long as your devices share the same Apple ID and both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are enabled.

Play Games with a Paired GamePad

You can play some Apple TV games with your remote, but for a better experience pair a gamepad with your Apple TV using Bluetooth. Compatible controllers include Sony’s DualShock 4 and DualSense controllers, Microsoft’s Xbox One and Xbox Series controllers, and purpose-built Made for iPhone (MFi) controllers like the SteelSeries Nimbus.

In addition to playing games, this allows you to control your Apple TV’s interface with your gamepad as if it were a standard remote. Many Apple Arcade games are built with controller support, and most are available on the Apple TV in addition to the iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

You can also head to the App Store on your Apple TV to find a “Play with a Controller” curated list of standalone games to buy or download. Remember that the older your Apple TV, the more you’re likely to run into performance problems (especially with more demanding 3D titles).

Stream Your Steam Library with Steam Link

There’s a Steam Link app in the Apple TV App Store that lets you stream your Steam library from your computer to your living room using your local network. Download the app then set up Steam Link on your computer using a compatible controller.

This functionality works best over a wired connection, though if you have a Wi-Fi 6 router and a 2021 or 2022 Apple TV then wireless performance should be significantly better than older standards. Steam will run the games on your Windows PC or Mac, then send them over the network to your Apple TV, so your local network is the primary bottleneck.

Steam Link pairing preferences

This can provide a more latent gaming experience, and you could encounter visual artifacts and drops (especially if other people are using the network at the same time).

Stream Video Files Locally or Remotely

You don’t have to just stream movies from dedicated streaming apps like Netflix, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video. Your Apple TV is quite capable of streaming video files locally, which is where VLC for Apple TV comes in. You can grab this app from the App Store and use it to play video files locally and remotely.

This works using a Remote Playback feature which allows you to send files to your Apple TV over Wi-Fi using a browser. Once you launch the app and navigate to the Remote Playback screen you’ll see a web address that you can visit on your computer, then drag and drop any file you want to play.

VLC for Apple TV remote playback web interface

These files won’t hang around forever and your Apple TV will reclaim any space it needs at a later date from VLC. The more space you have available on your Apple TV, the bigger the file you can send. Most file types should work including HEVC files, though .MKV containers can present a problem on some models.

You can also stream files locally using the Computers app once you’ve set up media sharing on your Mac under System Settings > General > Sharing by toggling “Media Sharing” on. There’s also support for UPnP/DLNA streaming using VLC and Plex (to name but a few) that can access any media servers running on local Windows, Mac, or Linux computers (or even a NAS drive).

Control Your TV and Receiver

It’s possible to almost completely replace your TV’s software and remote with an Apple TV, provided you set things up properly. A single toggle under Settings > Remotes and Devices called “Control TVs and AV Receivers” makes this possible, while turning “Volume Control” on works via infrared just like your TV’s standard remote.

Apple's Siri Remote with USB-C charging

For best results you’ll need to set this up on your TV too using HDMI-CEC. Each manufacturer has a different name for this technology like SimpLink (LG), Anynet+ (Samsung), BRAVIA Sync (Sony), and so on. You’ll need to dig into your TV’s settings panel and experiment to get things set up the way you want.

Enabling settings relating to HDMI power (like “Auto Turn Off” on Samsung sets) will let you turn your TV on or off alongside your Apple TV. This effectively lets you use your Apple TV remote to turn on your TV and view content, assuming you keep it tuned to the same HDMI channel.

Access Fitness+ Workouts

Perhaps the best implementation of Apple’s premium Fitness+ subscription, the Fitness app on your Apple TV (included with tvOS 16) puts Apple’s curated workouts in your living room. Keep in mind that you’ll need to be subscribed to Fitness+ or have an eligible Apple One subscription to access Fitness+ workouts.

Launch the app and choose your name to sign in (you’ll need to link Fitness+ to an Apple ID for it to work). You’ll then see a prompt on your Apple Watch to tap Connect, do so and your Apple TV and Apple Watch will be synced up and ready to go.

Link a HomePod, HomePod mini, or Stereo Pair

You can link your Apple TV with a HomePod, HomePod mini, or a pair of the same type of speakers to output audio from streaming apps (both video and music) and games. This works best of all with an original HomePod, which Apple has since discontinued. A pair of original HomePod speakers can output Dolby Atmos 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound wirelessly using your Apple TV while the HomePod mini speakers can do stereo (2.1) sound.

Apple speakers

To link your HomePod with an Apple TV, launch the Home app on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac and assign your Apple TV and HomePod (or pair) to the same room. When you next turn on your Apple TV, you should see a prompt to complete the process. Alternatively, head to Settings > Video and Audio > Audio Output and choose the desired speaker or pair.

HomePod mini pairs, a single HomePod, or a single HomePod mini cannot output Dolby Atmos 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound but they still probably sound better than your TV’s built-in speaker. You can’t mix and match device families either, you need two of the same speaker (HomePod or HomePod mini) for a stereo pair.

Control Your Smart Home Devices

You’ll need to set up your smart home devices using the Home app on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, but once you’ve done so your Apple TV can act as a hub for devices that have already been connected. To do this, press and hold the Home button on your remote, then select the “Home” icon to see connected devices.

Apple TV 4K (third generation) 2022 model

You can trigger scenes that you have set up from here, or ask Siri to do it by pressing and holding the Siri trigger on your remote.

Use Your Apple TV as a Conference Room Display

If your office uses mostly Apple devices, you might be interested in the Apple TV’s Conference Room Display mode which can be toggled under Settings > AirPlay and HomeKit.

Once you’ve enabled it, you can set a custom message and a background photo to match your brand or decor. The Apple TV will display information to make it easy for anyone looking at the TV to quickly connect via AirPlay (including the connected network and the name of the Apple TV).

This makes the Apple TV great for environments where quickly sharing a screen or showing off photos and videos is beneficial.

Listen with AirPods or Other Headphones (with Spatial Audio)

If you have AirPods, they should automatically pair with your Apple TV provided they’re paired with a device that uses the same Apple ID. From here, you can tap and hold the “Home” button on your remote, select the streaming button (it looks like a triangle with some circles behind it), then select your AirPods from the list of outputs.

AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, third-generation AirPods, and Beats Fit Pro can take advantage of Spatial Audio in supported apps. That means impressive surround sound with Dolby Atmos support for Apple Music, Apple TV+, Netflix, and other streaming platforms. This only works on the first-generation Apple TV 4K (2017) and later.

You can pair standard Bluetooth headphones under Settings > Remotes and Devices > Bluetooth. You’ll have to enter pairing mode on your Bluetooth headphones and then select them on your Apple TV under “Other Devices” at the bottom of the Bluetooth device list.

Don’t Forget Your Favorite Apps

These features are nice extras but the bulk of the time you spend with your Apple TV will be spent watching videos or listening to music. You can grab a huge range of apps for services like Netflix, Spotify, Disney+, regional catch-up TV, online-only channels, and more on the App Store.

Make sure your Apple TV matches the capabilities of your current TV. If you still have an HD Apple TV from 2015, you’ll need an Apple TV 4K (from 2017) or later to take advantage of the extra pixels. The third-generation Apple TV bundles an A15 Bionic, HDR10+ and a Siri Remote with USB-C charging capability.

Want to nerd out with detailed streaming statistics? Enable the developer menu on your Apple TV.

Original Article