The fourth-generation Apple TV brought apps to your home theater. Dozens of them offer cord-cutters the chance to watch live TV. But which apps are the right ones for you? Read on to find out how to watch live TV on Apple TV.
So Many Options – Where to Start?
We’ll start with a quick “public service announcement” style statement about issues you might run into getting video streams from your local TV stations. Then we’ll check out a hardware-based way to get those stations onto your Apple TV. Next, we’ll look at two types of streaming apps. Finally, we’ll close things out with a quick look at Pluto TV – a completely free (and legally) way to watch live TV on Apple TV.
About Local TV
If you don’t have an antenna hooked up to your Apple TV, you might run into problems streaming your local stations from the web via Apple TV apps. It all comes down to the tangled gnarl of business deals between the networks, the owners of your local stations and the streaming services.
The tangled TV web
A company like Hulu can’t just sign a deal with CBS and get access to streams from all of its local affiliates. CBS can only make deals for the dozen local stations it owns. Other companies own the remaining two hundred affiliates. This forces Hulu to make separate deals with each company. That takes a lot of time – and a lot of lawyers.
In fact, even CBS can’t get access to streams from all of its local affiliates without negotiating deals with each station owner!
What does it mean for me?
It means you need to research carefully any internet-based TV subscription service you sign up with. The website for most of these services let you enter your zip code to get a list of available stations.
One service might have ABC and NBC but not Fox or CBS. It might be the opposite for another service. And if you travel, the mix of available local channels your service offers could be completely different. Many of the services will still give you access to the network’s on-demand content even if they can’t provide live streams.
Free(ish) Over-the-Air Local TV
The guaranteed way to get your local TV stations is a modern twist on old-school tech. Local TV stations broadcast their live content wirelessly over-the-air without a subscription. Better yet, over-the-air broadcasts look better (1080p HD) than cable channel feeds.
To get over-the-air content, you do have to pay for some hardware. But once you’ve made that up-front investment, all of the stations are at your fingertips free of charge. Let’s take a quick look at what you’ll need.
If you’re old enough to remember life without cable, you’ll remember the “rabbit ear antennas” most TVs came with. Today’s antennas are flatter and easier to hide in your living room. Omnidirectional HDTV antennas are inexpensive and provide all the hardware you need to pipe dozens of local TV channels into your Apple TV. The Channel Master Flatenna 35, for example, is amazingly thin, picks up channels from thirty-five miles away and costs less than $20.
HDHomeRun TV tuner
Once you have the signal, you have to turn it into a stream the Apple TV can play. The best option for that is the HDHomeRun from SiliconDust. The small black box converts your antenna’s signal into a high-definition video stream and pushes it to your home network for any device to tap into. If you only want to stream to one Apple TV, go with the smaller and cheaper Connect version. If you want to stream to multiple devices, you’ll want the more powerful Extend version.
Channels app for live TV on Apple TV
Finally, you need an app to pull that stream into your Apple TV. The Channels app lets you pause live TV for up to ninety minutes (with a 64GB Apple TV) and skip commercials. You also get a free programming guide that shows current and upcoming broadcasts. Channels’ price of $25 is a little steep in a world of free apps, but its reviews are overwhelmingly positive.
What channels can I get?
You can get the big networks like NBC, Univision, and PBS pretty much anywhere. But if you haven’t watched over-the-air TV in a while you might be surprised to learn that there are more than fifty additional smaller over-the-air networks that you can get as well. You won’t find all of them in every market, but even a mid-sized market like Tulsa or Toledo has a dozen channels or more.
Here’s a list of some of the channels you could get via an antenna but have probably never heard of:
- CreateTV – Public TV’s DIY and cooking channel
- Worldchannel – Public TV’s news and documentary channel
- Estrella TV – Spanish-language TV designed for American Hispanics
- LATV – alternative programming for English-speaking Latino Millennials
- MeTV – Classic TV shows from the 20th Century.
- CometTV – science fiction films and TV series
- BizTV – news and finance network that focuses for small businesses
- Newsmax – Fox not conservative enough? Newsmax is.
- American Sports Network – All the NCAA Division 1 sports
You can find the channels available to you by going to the Federal Communications Commission’s mapping service or checking out similar services from antennaweb. If you live in the countryside and need to use a rooftop antenna, then get more detailed information at TV Fool.
If you only watch a few networks, the easiest approach might be to download apps from each network. One word of warning: most of these apps won’t give you full access to their catalog or live streams unless you have a cable subscription – or pay for the network’s own subscription service.
CBS is the only one of the traditional broadcast networks that runs its own subscription service. The free CBS app will let you stream recently aired episodes on demand, but to get live TV you must subscribe to CBS All-Access.
You can get a commercial-free subscription for $10-per-month or a limited ads subscription for $6-per-month. Keep in mind, though, that you can only get rid of the ads that are embedded in CBS’s on-demand videos. Live local streams have all of the ads and you can’t skip them.
ABC, Fox, NBC
The other traditional networks will let you stream new episodes on demand a week after their broadcast. To get the live stream or other features, you have to enter credentials from a cable company or other TV provider.
Univision NOW is the Spanish-language network’s own subscription service. With Univision NOW, you get not only live broadcasts but also the ability to rewind your live stream seventy-two hours back in time. After a seven-day free trial, the service will cost you $10 a month.
As more and more people cut the cord, the cable networks are facing up to reality and offering their own standalone streaming services. The premium channels cost as much as they do on cable, so you won’t save any money by subscribing to one. On the other hand, it’s the only way to binge Game of Thrones while you wait for the final half of the season.
Be sure to pick the right HBO app for your Apple TV. HBO Go is meant for cable subscribers who pay for the HBO premium package. HBO Now, on the other hand, is an independent subscription service for cord-cutters that costs $15 each month after the one-month trial ends.
Showtime charges a little less at $11 per month but is stingier with its seven-day trial period. Showtime will also let you download content to your mobile device (but not to your Apple TV) for offline viewing.
Over-the-Top Subscription Services
Over-the-top services let you get streaming video (including live TV) without a cable subscription. With an over-the-top subscription, you simply stream the video over-the-top of your broadband internet connection.
Within the next year expect to see more of these services appear. Even the largest cable companies will likely bow to the inevitable and offer their own cable-free video services.
fuboTV got its start as a sports-only network but recently branched out to become a full-service streaming network. National networks like the Travel Channel, MSNBC, and Bravo as well as regional sports networks from Fox can all be found on fuboTV.
Some people may be able to get local TV programming from CBS, Fox or NBC via fuboTV. But fuboTV’s sports programming is the main reason to pay for its service.
Free 7-day TrialSubscribe Now
Sling TV prides itself on its inexpensive “a la carte” model. Prices start at $25. However, by the time you add each $5-a-month add-on to get the channels you want, you could easily find yourself in cable territory.
Free Roku Deal
Free Roku Express
1 simultaneous stream.
Free Roku Deal$25.00/ month
Free Roku Express
3 simultaneous streams
|Sling Orange + Blue|
Free Roku Deal
Free Roku Express
4* simultaneous streams
Like DirecTV, Sling TV wants you to start the subscription sign-up process to find out what channels you can get and whether or not Sling TV will stream your local stations. Alternatively, here are the links to Sling TV’s plan comparison and local channel look-up help pages.
AT&T bought satellite TV provider DirecTV two years ago and used it to launch a separate over-the-top subscription last year. The service starts at $40-per-month after a seven-day trial. Of course, you can pay more by adding premium plans with HBO, Cinemax, Starz, and Showtime.
The base subscription gets you a catalog of more than 25,000 on-demand videos and more than 60 live TV channels. You can pay more each month to get “more than” 80, 100 or 120 channels. The plan comparison chart and local channel look-up page are both buried deep in the support site. (If you’re wondering why the plans are so hard to find, here’s the answer: because it’s AT&T.)
Hulu just launched its “beta” live TV service in early 2017. Prices start at $40 per month, but fees get more expensive if you opt-in for features like live cloud DVR or ad-free on-demand video. Hulu has all of the usual suspects for live TV viewing including A&E, TBS, TNT, and USA.
Local stations, however, can be a bit hit-or-miss. Hulu hasn’t gotten as far along in its local station negotiations compared to competing services, so you may only get one or two local live streams.
PlayStation Vue isn’t just for owners of Sony’s game console. A $40 monthly subscription gives you forty-six networks streaming to your Apple TV. Local coverage is spotty so be sure to check the easy-to-reach comparison page.
Indian expats living in the United States (or anywhere else in the world) need to check out Yupp TV. It has rights to stream live TV and on-demand content from many of India’s television networks. Subscriptions start at $13 per month and offer content in fifteen languages from Hindi to Nepali.
Pluto TV Free Over-the-Top TV
The free Pluto TV service has created an eclectic seventy-five channel lineup. It combines mainstream networks like MSNBC, CBS and Bloomberg with geek-centric channels like IGN and Geek & Sundry.
Of course “free” comes with some compromises. Live streams are often delayed by several minutes – or even as long as five hours. On top of that, the streaming quality varies among each channel. Despite those issues, every cord-cutter should give Pluto TV a shot. After all, it’s free.
Wrapping It Up
As we’ve seen, there are lots of options out there. Local TV is the biggest issue, since all of the apps have gaps in their market coverage that could force you into multiple subscriptions.
If local TV is your priority, our recommendation is to buy an HDTV antenna, an HDHomeRun device and the Channels app. If you get all 3, you can get all of your local programming via your Apple TV. After you set up your antenna, you can subscribe to one of the other services to get live TV streams from the national networks.