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Apple TV app vs. Apple TV Channels vs. Apple TV Plus: What's the difference?

How do you want your ATV?

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Apple CEO Tim Cook triples down on "Apple TV."

Apple/Screenshot by CNET

Apple has three new ways to get you watching more TV shows and movies. Unfortunately they all have very similar names, and all start with "Apple TV."

On March 25 in Cupertino, Apple CEO Tim Cook finally took the wraps off his company's latest "service" ambitions. It was an Apple event without any new gadgets. Instead we saw a news and magazine aggregation app, a subscription gaming play and an Apple credit card.

Now playing: Watch this: Apple’s TV app, Apple TV channels and Apple TV Plus,...
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Most of the event focused on streaming TV shows and movies, however, culminating in Apple's new television service with original shows from stars like Jenifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Kumail Nanjiani and producers like J.J. Abrams and Oprah Winfrey. It's called Apple TV Plus.

But Apple also talked about updates to its new TV app, which includes a new Channels option. So what's actually new and what do we know? Here's a cheat sheet.

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The Apple TV app is getting an update in May.

Apple

Apple TV app

Introduced in 2016, this 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, PlayStation Vue and many more. It shows individual episodes and movies but doesn't 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 (such as Hulu for The Handmaid's Tale) to begin or resume watching.

An updated version of the app, coming in May 2019, will integrate purchases from iTunes TV shows and movies, as well as provide suggestions for more TV shows and movies to watch. Apple says the app will also come to smart TVs from Samsung this spring, as well as Sony, LG and Vizio TVs and Roku and Amazon Fire TV streamers and TVs in the future. It would also be available to MacOS computers this fall.

More: Apple TV app coming to Macs, smart TVs in 2019

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With Apple TV channels you watch and subscribe to the services within the TV app itself, no extra app (like HBO Now) required.

Apple

Apple TV Channels 

This is an all-new addition to the Apple TV app that allows subscribers to add content from a variety of partners, including HBO, Showtime, Epix, Starz, Britbox and more. You subscribe within the TV app, with no additional apps, accounts or passwords required. The same goes for watching content: 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. Users can also share Apple TV channels subscriptions via Apple's Family Sharing feature. 

The service sounds similar to Amazon's Prime Channels service, available now. Apple didn't announce pricing, but one report says services like HBO will be discounted.

More: Apple TV Channel's streaming service is here and wants to run the show

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Apple has gathered A-list Hollywood talent for its new Apple TV Plus streaming service, coming this fall.

Connie Guglielmo/CNET

Apple TV Plus

Coming this fall, this is a separate TV streaming service that will be home to original TV shows, movies and documentaries exclusive to Apple. Apple has a multiyear partnership deal with Oprah and deals with Reese Witherspoon, J.J. Abrams and dozens of others. The company has spent more than $1 billion budget and has committed to 30 shows and a handful of movies. They include Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories series, The Morning Show starring Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell about workplace relationships and Little America, which features stories that center around immigrants. Pricing for an Apple TV Plus subscription was not announced.

More: Apple introduces Apple TV Plus for its original shows

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Sarah Tew

Apple TV

The three above are brand-new services, but Apple is also continuing to sell its streaming box under the Apple TV name, too. It's our favorite "luxury" streamer at $150 for the standard version and $180 for the 4K version. It will be interesting to see if the company makes any changes to the Apple TV later in the year, or at least drops the price, before the fall rollout of Apple TV Plus. We'll see.

More: Apple TV 4K review: The best TV streamer -- if you're willing to spend up

Updated, March 30: Clarifies watching from within vs. bouncing out of the TV app.

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