Apple TV FAQ: Apple's new streaming video and gaming machine explained

The new Apple TV looks almost indistinguishable from the previous model, but couldn't be more different under the hood. Here's what you need to know about it.

Apple introduced its latest Apple TV model on Wednesday, and while it incorporates all the features of its predecessor, it has a pile of new features and new offerings. You have questions? We have answers. If there’s anything else you’d like to know that we didn’t cover, sound off in the comments below. 

How much does the new Apple TV cost, and when will it be available? Apple hasn’t given an exact release date for the new Apple TV, but says it’ll launch in late October. The base model will cost $149—more than twice the price of the current model—and will have 32 GB of storage. A 64 GB version will cost $199.

What is tvOS? It’s a new operating system based on iOS and designed for the new Apple TV. It allows third-party developers to create apps using the same software frameworks used for iOS, OS X, and watchOS. It won’t run on previous models.

apple tvos

The Apple TV’s new operating system is called tvOS, and it allows third-party apps and other content.

Can my previous Apple TV model be updated to take advantage of new features? No, seriously, it can’t. Almost everything announced today is only available on the new model, partly because of the much faster A8 processor built in that’s required for games and other computation-dependent services, and partly because Apple would like people to buy new hardware, of course. There will be a compatibility update for some recent models.

How do I get third-party apps? A tvOS App Store will let you download both free, freemium (basic access and download for free, with more features or access at a fixed or subscription fee), subscription, and one-time paid apps (which can have in-app purchases). Apple announced open access to all developers during Wednesday’s event, but gave advance access to some partners. There will clearly be a good set of apps at launch in October, but it’s likely to take months before we see a wide variety.

apple tv games

Apple TV will likely have a good number of game titles at launch—and some may even take advantage of the Siri Remote’s gyroscope.

What kind of apps will be available? Apps should be as diverse as what’s available in iOS. Obviously, video-streaming services are front and center, and Apple has commitments from big names in television program creation and movie licensing, like ABC, Disney, HBO, Hulu, and Showtime, as they’re promoting them at launch. On the sports side, Apple says you’ll be able to buy full-season subscriptions to the NBA, NHL, and MLB. There’s a full list posted of what they’re announcing so far.

Games are the big push with this new release, with a fast processor, and a remote that doubles as a touch-based and motion-based controller. iOS games can’t simply be converted to tvOS, because the interaction will be so different.

Photo-display or slideshow-presentation, podcast, and music-streaming audio service apps should also be popular. Developers outside of advance partners were just given access the day of the event, and the release is in October, so that will limit what’s immediately available, too.

Will Apple allow an Amazon app, like Amazon Instant Video? It’s a fair question. Amazon has an iOS app for video and multiple apps for shopping. With previous Apple TV models, providers had to work directly with Apple in an unusual development environment. In this new approach, everything Apple is saying makes it sound like it will be bound by rules very similar, if not identical, to the App Store. That would make it odd and exclusionary for Apple to prevent Amazon from making a tvOS app.

Can I use third-party controllers? Yes! The new Apple TV supports any controllers that are already in the MFi program that Apple uses to certify devices—that’s Made For iWhatever. This includes a number of console-style controllers. Game developers have to build in support for these controllers in their games, too. Apple TV will probably spawn new devices, and game makers could design premium or specialized controllers to go with their games as well.

How many remote-control/game controllers does it support? Up to four.

How much are additional Siri Remote controls? Additional Siri Remotes are $79, plus $13 for a little strap you can wear while using it as a controller so you don’t fling it out of your hand and break a TV, window, or someone’s head. 

siri remote

The Siri Remote is Bluetooth enabled.

Can the Apple Watch be used as a controller or for other purposes? Apple didn’t mention the Watch, but because it can work with the existing Apple TV with the Remote app, it’s very likely the Watch will be able to be part of gaming and controlling the new model.

Is it a Wi-Fi base station? No, you’ll still need either an ethernet switch or a Wi-Fi base station to connect it to the local network and the Internet. It does include the newest 802.11ac flavor of Wi-Fi networking.

Will Siri’s search work across all apps and even other places on the Internet? Apple’s announcement only says it will work across “popular services,” and includes iTunes and Netflix in that. It’s possible like with Spotlight in iOS 9, it will be able to draw information from other apps installed or even ones that aren’t.

Can I play MPEG4 and other audio and video formats not purchased via iTunes? iOS can play a number of video formats natively within apps, but the Apple TV experience is that you’ll need an app to access media. It seems likely that third-party apps will be able to play back video stored elsewhere on a local network (like with the eyeTV DVR playback app) or over the Internet.

This story, "Apple TV FAQ: Apple's new streaming video and gaming machine explained" was originally published by Macworld.

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