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Apple TV app 2019: Everything to know about channels, downloads, iTunes and Samsung TVs

Apple's updated TV app integrates more streaming services than ever. Here's how it works.


Apple's TV app gathers TV shows and movies from a bunch of different providers.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple has its own app for streaming TV shows and movies, and in typical Apple fashion the name is dead simple: It's called the TV app. 

Unfortunately, how it works can be surprisingly complex. And since you don't actually need it to stream anything you can't get elsewhere -- at least until Apple TV Plus debuts later this year -- it's ultimately unnecessary, one more streaming app in a world already full of them. 

Read more: Apple TV gets multi-user feature on TV and Apple Music apps

The Apple TV app is basically a streaming content aggregator. It gathers a bunch of TV services together, including names like HuluAmazon Prime Video, ESPN, PlayStation Vue and Apple's own iTunes. It lets you browse their TV shows and movies in one place, without having to hop from app to app to find what you want. It's a powerful promise, but in practice it doesn't always deliver. 

Now playing: Watch this: Apple TV app 2019: Everything you need to know

It's missing Netflix and YouTube, so you'll need to hop to those apps no matter what. And for many major providers like Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, you still need to bounce out of the Apple TV app to actually watch anything. You can browse to Handmaid's Tale from within the Apple TV app, for example, but when you select it the Hulu app will launch to actually play the episode. 

To make it even more confusing, there's two different versions of the Apple TV app: one for Apple devices and a less-capable one the third-party devices, including Samsung Smart TVs and, coming soon, other smart TV as well as the Roku and Amazon Fire TV platforms. And don't you dare confuse it with Apple TV Plus.

So like I said, it's pretty complex for such a simple name. Let's start at the beginning.

What is the Apple TV app?

Introduced in 2016, this free app for the Apple TV streamer as well as iPhones and iPads provides a single place to browse, discover and resume watching TV shows and movies from apps like Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, ESPN, and many, many more. It displays individual episodes and movies but -- with the exception of iTunes content and Apple TV channels -- doesn't actually let you watch them from within the Apple TV app itself. Instead you'll select one and get bounced out to the app in question to begin or resume watching.

What's new in the 2019 update?

The TV app underwent major overhaul this year that added some extra features. We'll explore many of them below, but here's the summary of what's new.

  • Apple TV channels, including HBO, Showtime and more, within the TV app. 
  • Availability of iTunes TV shows and movies to view, rent and purchase.
  • Offline downloads of shows and movies from Apple TV channels and iTunes.
  • A version of the app for Samsung Samsung Smart TVs, and coming soon to Roku, Amazon Fire TV and more.
  • Show and movie suggestions based on machine learning.
  • A Kids section.

What are Apple TV channels?

This feature allows users to subscribe from directly within the TV app to add content from a variety of partners. Launch partners include HBO, Starz, Showtime, Cinemax, Epix, Smithsonian Channel, Sundance Now, Lifetime Movie Club, Urban Movie Channel and Tastemade, with additional partners, including CBS All Access and MTV Hits, coming soon. 


A handful of channels are available at launch with more to come.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You subscribe, pay and watch from within the TV app itself, with no additional apps, accounts or passwords required. Instead of being bounced out to the HBO Now app, for example, you can watch your Game of Thrones episode within the Apple TV app itself. Up to six family members can also share Apple TV channels subscriptions via Apple's Family Sharing feature using their Apple ID and password. You can also download TV shows and movies from channels to an iPhone or iPad.


You subscribe to channels directly within the TV app, and after a free 1 week trial, the monthly subscription price is the same as elsewhere. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Any discounts for subscribing to a channel?

Nope, sorry. All of the Apple TV channels cost the same as they would if you'd subscribe via a separate app, like HBO Now ($15/month), Showtime ($12/month) or Tastemade ($3/month). All of the available Apple TV channels also cost the same as their counterparts from competing subscription aggregators, namely Amazon Prime Video Channels and The Roku Channel.

How do offline downloads work?

Downloads within the Apple TV app are available only for Apple TV channels. Browsing to the channel and selecting a show on an iPad or iPhone will display a download icon. Clicking on it will download the episode or movie, where it will be available for viewing (no Wi-Fi or cellular connection required) in the Library section of the TV app.


Downloads via an iPad or iPhone work like they do on other apps: Just tap the cloud icon (left) and the download starts (right).

Sarah Tew/CNET

What about other apps that aren't channels, like Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, ESPN, PlayStation Vue etc?

For the 90-odd services and apps that aren't channels, the Apple TV app only lets you browse their TV shows and movies. Clicking on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel from within the Apple TV app will bounce you out to the Amazon Prime Video app to watch, for example.

And for these apps that aren't channels, the TV app doesn't provide any way to download shows and movies for offline viewing -- for that you'll have to use the individual apps, which may or may not offer downloads. Hulu, for example, does not, (although it will add the feature later this year) while Amazon Prime app has offered downloads for years.

Does the Apple TV app have Netflix yet?

No. Netflix does not participate in the TV app in any way. It's not available as an Apple TV channel, and unlike Hulu, Amazon and others, TV shows and movies from Netflix do not show up inside the Apple TV app. Instead you'll browse and watch them using the standard Netflix app.

I already subscribe to HBO. Do I need to re-subscribe to the HBO channel to get downloads?

Yes. A subscription to HBO, via HBO Now for example, doesn't "translate" to a subscription to the HBO channel on the Apple TV app. To get downloads of HBO shows on your iPad, you'll need to subscribe separately to the HBO channel on the TV app, and use the TV app (not the HBO Now app) to watch HBO content.

The same goes for other Apple TV channels.


The Library tab is home to your iTunes TV show and movie purchases.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What happens to the iTunes Movies and TV shows I purchased?

They now appear in the Library section of the TV app, which breaks out iTunes content by category and includes separate sections for 4K HDR (on the Apple TV 4K) and Downloaded (on iPhones and iPads). You can also rent and purchase TV shows and movies from iTunes directly within the TV app, and iTunes content appears in the TV app's recommendations, curated rows and the Up Next row at the top of the TV app.


The Apple TV app is coming to non-Apple devices too, starting today with Samsung TVs. But it has less content than the app on Apple devices.


How is the TV app on Apple devices different from the TV app on Samsung TVs?

The biggest difference is that the Apple TV app on Samsung TVs only includes iTunes TV shows and movies as well as any Apple TV channels to which you've subscribed. It doesn't integrate any content from Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, ESPN and other apps that are part of the TV app on Apple's devices. To browse content from those apps on Samsung TVs, you'll need to use their standalone apps.

When is the TV app coming to other devices like Fire TV and Roku?

We don't know for sure. Apple says the TV app will be available on "Amazon Fire TV, LG, Roku, Sony and VIZIO platforms in the future," according to its March press release. It has not announced more specific timing for these roll-outs, but since the Apple TV Plus service is launching this fall, and the company says the service will be available within the TV app, a fall roll-out makes sense.


In addition to the Apple TV box, Apple says the new TV app will come to Roku and Fire TV platforms. Exactly when and which devices has not been announced.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple has also not specified whether the Apple TV app would be available on all Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices. Will it only come to smart TVs from TCL, Toshiba and others that run the Roku and Fire TV smart TV operating systems? Or will it end up on the streaming sticks and boxes too, including gear as cheap as the $30 Roku Express and $40 Amazon Fire TV Stick? Apple has not responded to my requests for clarification, and in March reps for Amazon and Roku referred me to Apple's press release without providing additional details.

What about AirPlay 2 on and HomeKit on TVs from Samsung, Vizio, LG and Sony?

Select smart TVs from LG, Samsung, Sony and Vizio TVs will also support Apple's AirPlay 2 standard, allowing users to control video and music using their iPhone, iPad or Mac devices. This capability is available today on those Samsung TVs, including 2018 and 2019 QLED models, and by the time you read this, it may also be available on others.

Later this year users with select LG, Sony and Vizio TVs (but not Samsung) will also get HomeKit support. The HomeKit integration lets users control the TV and their other smart home products using Apple's Home app or by talking to Apple's Siri digital assistant. Viewers can use their iPhones and iPads to turn their SmartCast TVs on or off from the Home app, change volume and switch inputs, and ask Siri via the iPhone and iPad to play movies, TV shows or music with AirPlay 2.

How can I get the new Apple TV app?

It's available now in more than 100 countries as part of the tvOS 12.3 software upgrade on Apple TV and Apple TV 4K, as well as the iOS 12.3 upgrade on iPads and iPhones. It will be available on Mac OS computers this fall.

It's also available as a software upgrade on all 2019 Samsung TVs and select 2018 models.

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