Appledystopia: Independent Technology News

Free Content for Apple TV

Free content for Apple TV

updated by Rachel Gold
October 10, 2022 at 11:56 a.m.

If you purchased an Apple TV to join the multitude of cord-cutters, there’s good news. The Apple ecosystem offers a lot of free content. While I recommend subscribing to Hulu Plus and Netflix (they’re exceptional values), one can enjoy a vast selection of free content with Apple TV, and even more with an iPad or iPhone.

NOTE: This article covers using AirPlay to beam free content to Apple TV. It was originally written for the 2nd and 3rd generation model, however, it still applies to Apple TV 4.The new Apple TV 4 features an App Store with thousands of apps, many of which are content channels. The tvOS App Store features numerous free content apps for Apple TV 4.

Interested in Apple TV 4 and tvOS? Check out these articles:

 

    • Apple TV tvOS Apps – Features the top 10 free and paid tvOS apps and a YouTube video with every tvOS app in the App Store.

 

 

    • Apple TV Channels by Cost – Apple TV channels for 2nd and 3rd generation models ordered by cost. These prices also apply to the same Apple TV 4 tvOS apps.

 

Apple TV, as a standalone device, offers a lot of free content. Apple TV currently features the following channels: A&E, ABC, ABC News, ACC Sports, AOL On, Apple Events, Bloomberg, CBS, CBS News, CBS Sports, CNBC, CNNgo, Crackle, Computers, Crunchyroll, Dailymotion, Disney, Disney Junior, Disney XD, ESPN, Feeln, Flickr, FOX NOW, Fusion, FX NOW, FYI, HBO GO, HBO NOW, History, Hulu Plus, iCloud Photos, iMovie Theater, iTunes Festival, iTunes Radio, KORTV, Lifetime, M2M, MLB.TV, MLS, Movies, Music, NatGeo TV, NBA, NBC, NBC Sports Live Extra, Netflix, NFL, NHL, 120 Sports, PBS, PBS Kids, Podcasts, Qello, Radio, Red Bull TV, Showtime, Showtime Anytime, Smithsonian Channel, Sky News, Tastemade, TED, Tennis Channel Everywhere, The Beatles, The Scene, Trailers, TV Shows, UFC, USA NOW, Vevo, Vimeo, Weather Channel, Willow, WSJ Live, WWE Network, Yahoo Screen, Young Hollywood and YouTube.

It is important to note that some channels require a paid subscription, while others need to be activated with a cable or satellite provider. Many Apple TV channels offer completely free content, with no strings attached. For a complete list, description and price of every Apple TV channel, read “Apple TV Channels”. If you’re looking for a quick reference of Apple TV channel costs, check out “Apple TV Channels by Cost”.

While this is a lot of free content, there’s a lot more to watch if you beam content from your iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, or computer using AirPlay. This article focuses on the iOS ecosystem — Apple TV with the iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. If you have a Mac or PC and use AirPlay screen mirroring, you have even more free content at your fingertips. All of these content sources work with Apple TV, although you may need an iOS device to access them. Since these apps are so easy to use, I won’t be exploring their features in depth. Information is provided for enabling AirPlay and viewing this content in full-screen mode. Video quality is rated for each content provider.

The video quality assessments assume you will be using AirPlay and Apple TV on a flat screen TV. For most of these options, one can enjoy better picture quality by watching the shows directly on an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. Like many people, I prefer to watch TV shows and movies on the big screen, while seated comfortably.

ABC
Apple TV: iOS app supports AirPlay screen mirroring
Quality: below SD

ABC, along with most major networks (with the exception of FOX), allow access to their content from your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. The ABC app allows iOS users to watch full episodes of shows such as Dancing with the Stars, Scandal, Nashville, and more.

As with most major networks, the app is well designed, but there is little attempt to make it AirPlay friendly. In fact, many reviews in the App Store claim that these apps do not support AirPlay. They do offer indirect support for AirPlay through screen mirroring. To enjoy these shows on your Apple TV, simply turn on AirPlay screen mirroring on your iOS device. I recommend doing this before you start the app. Use the zoom feature on your flat screen TV to enable a full screen picture.

AirPlay Screen Mirroring
Slide your finger up from the bottom of any screen to reveal Control Center. From here, you can activate AirPlay and Mirroring.

The ABC app’s video quality is not great. It is below standard definition. If you are experiencing network issues, the video quality is pretty bad. If you use the zoom feature on your TV to fill the screen, you will experience even worse picture quality. If you require better picture quality, look for the show on Netflix, Hulu Plus, or iTunes.

The ABC app has commercials. As with most online content, the commercial breaks are shorter. Commercial breaks are less than one minute long. This allows you to watch a 30 minute show in less than 25 minutes. (continue…)

Watch ABC App for iPad

CBS
Apple TV: iOS app supports AirPlay screen mirroring
Quality: below SD

The CBS app is similar to apps created by other major networks. It offers full episodes of popular shows such as Person of Interest, VegasElementary and many others. The app works smoothly and is well designed. The video quality is not great. You need to use AirPlay screen mirroring to view it on your flat screen TV.

As with most content providers, there are advertisements. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, after all. With TV commercials, you pay with your time, unlike web banner ads. It’s a small price to pay. If you want better quality without ads, you can purchase the show on iTunes or wait for it to come out on Netflix. Hulu Plus offers better quality, however, they subsidize content costs through advertising.

CBS iPad App

NBC
Apple TV: iOS app supports AirPlay screen mirroring
Quality: below SD

NBC provides an iOS app that features full episodes of popular shows such as The Voice, Chicago FireRevolution and many more. Like the other major network apps, you must use AirPlay screen mirroring to view it on your television. When I first tested this app, I was able to get proper AirPlay support by turning on the main AirPlay control, without screen mirroring. I was excited when the first part of the stream, an advertisement, appeared on my Apple TV without screen mirroring. It had excellent video quality! Unfortunately, as soon as the program began, AirPlay only played the audio track. Use AirPlay screen mirroring as a workaround, and zoom your television to get a full picture. The video quality leaves much to be desired.

Like all the major networks, there are commercials. The commercial breaks are shorter than on broadcast or cable TV.

NBC App for iPad

PBS
Apple TV: iOS app directly supports AirPlay
Quality: below SD to SD

Once again, public broadcasting has surpassed the corporate media, offering excellent content with a superior app. The PBS app for iOS, particularly the iPad, is beautiful and well designed. It is a treasure trove of free content, updated daily. I use this app regularly to watch the PBS NewsHour, which is updated every night.

The PBS app features shows like Downton Abbey, Frontline, Nova, and just about everything the network has to offer. It’s free, but donations are accepted. I used the app to watch season 3 of Downton Abbey, which wasn’t available on Netflix or Hulu Plus. I could have purchased it on iTunes, but thanks to this wonderful app, it wasn’t necessary.

PBS does not offer every episode of each program. For each show, there are a limited number of episodes, which expire as new episodes are posted. Watch them while you can. One can set up notifications to inform when episodes are about expire. The app contains mostly new episodes that are posted shortly after they have aired on television. (continue…)

PBS App for iPad

The video quality is standard definition, but if bandwidth is limited, it will thin the stream. Before you see a drop in resolution, you will notice a lower frame rate. This makes motion a bit more blurry. This is fine for most programming, but one won’t enjoy the visual splendor of Downton Abbey or nature shows with this app. Most cord-cutters are able to watch PBS over the air in HD. You can also buy most PBS shows on iTunes, or watch older episodes on Netflix and Hulu Plus.

There are commercials on the PBS app. PBS shows are underwritten by corporations. PBS simply does not get enough money from donations or the government, so this is a necessity. There are far fewer commercials than regular TV or most online offerings. Typically, you only see a commercial at the beginning of the program.

Adult Swim
Apple TV: iOS app directly supports AirPlay
Quality: below SD to SD

Adult Swim is a popular late night cable TV network. It mostly features animation, however, there are live action shows as well. The content is humorous and often a bit raunchy. It features many wildly popular shows, such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show: Great Job!, and Metalocalypse. They also have syndicated shows from other networks, such as Family Guy. For those who have cut the cord with their cable company, Adult Swim content is still accessible for free. For those who still have cable, Gold access is available. The Gold member service allows most cable subscribers to access additional episodes through the app. Much like HBO, Adult Swim has a relationship with cable providers and limits access to cord cutters. Cord cutters still have quite a lot of free content to enjoy.

The Adult Swim app is mature, stable, and easy to use. Simply start the app and pick a show to watch. You are presented with full episodes or clips. Once you start a video, you can turn on AirPlay within the app. Don’t be alarmed when you see an Apple TV menu screen appear in the middle of your show. This happens between commercial breaks. The commercials and main content are separate videos, with a small gap in between while loading the next part of the video. The full length episodes are limited, but the collection is frequently updated. Older episodes are replaced with recent ones.

As with most online content, there are fewer commercials than on TV. The video quality is inferior to TV. If you require better quality, watch the show on cable TV or download it on iTunes if you cut the cord. Netflix and Hulu Plus also have some Adult Swim shows.

Adult Swim app for iPad

iTunes
Apple TV: native support; iOS app recommended
Quality: SD to HD

iTunes has free content. It is surprising how many people overlook this. Beyond numerous movie trailers, iTunes actually has whole episodes of TV shows for free. While many of these are just the first episode, sometimes iTunes offers a complete season of a series for free. At one point a whole season of “Bizarre Foods” with Andrew Zimmern was free on iTunes. I love this show. Andrew Zimmern travels the world eating very strange and often disgusting food. Unfortunately, it is no longer free. iTunes’ free offerings are ephemeral. Get them while they are available.

There are no advertisements with iTunes content. Apple makes their money from pay-per-view content. They’re hoping a free episode will encourage you to purchase the series. iTunes has always been generous with free samples.

I recommend downloading the free episodes onto your iPad or iPhone. Once downloaded, play them via AirPlay onto your Apple TV. If you try to play video content directly from iTunes on your Apple TV, it will take a long time before it actually plays. You will not be able to use your Apple TV while the download is taking place. Apple forces people to experience high quality video without pauses. This means you will have to wait until the show has downloaded enough data to avoid pauses. Furthermore, the show is not saved on your Apple TV. If you want to watch it again, you will have to download it again. Apple TV only has an 8GB SSD, which is not user-manageable. I only watch iTunes movie trailers directly on my Apple TV. I download everything else onto my iPad.

YouTube
Apple TV: native support
Quality: below SD to HD

YouTube is a bastion of free content. Most of the video is amateur. This is not necessarily a bad thing. With increases in affordable HD cameras and easy video editing software, the amateur auteur can create visceral content. YouTube is not just about amateur content. Many professional musical artists host video on YouTube. For my tastes, I have been using YouTube to watch a lot of the Montreux Jazz Festival shows from the past. I can’t get enough of the Weather Report concert from 1976. There are also several performances from Miles Davis. These are decent quality with great audio.

YouTube news videos often feature content from professional sources. Usually, people access these when reading a news story on the web. You can search YouTube directly from your Apple TV and find video content about breaking news stories.

You can even watch premium content on YouTube. Many networks host full episodes of shows and even full movies on YouTube. These are all free. HBO, for example, runs a YouTube channel that offers full episodes. Every time I explore YouTube, I am impressed by what it has to offer.

Video and audio quality vary greatly on YouTube. There are plenty of videos recorded on smart phones with shaky video and poor audio. There are also amazing, full length videos produced by professionals. YouTube videos can often take a long time to load. One of my favorite music videos is Yes performing Close to the Edge in 1975. I don’t watch it often, because it usually takes 20 minutes to load on my Apple TV. Unlike Netflix and Hulu Plus, YouTube doesn’t seem to use advanced codecs to provide HD quality at normal broadband speeds. This can be frustrating. The Apple TV YouTube app does not allow the user to change video quality settings. (continue…)

YouTube app for iPad

NPR Music
Apple TV: iOS app directly supports AirPlay
Quality: HD

The NPR Music app is another example of public broadcasting outshining the corporate media. I wrote a review of the NPR Music app, which is worth reading if you want more details. If you want to watch an episode of Law & Order, go elsewhere. The NPR Music app does one thing and does it well. It is a portal for music and hosts some amazing full length concerts in HD quality. NPR Music is one of the few free content providers with HD content.

If you don’t mind waiting a while for the content to load, the NPR app is a great way to explore new music. Typically, the music tends to be oriented toward classical, jazz, and alternative/indie rock tastes. However, they do have a lot of mainstream music. Most people can find something to enjoy in their video archive. Some of the more popular acts in the video archive include Chick Corea, Tori Amos, and McCoy Tyner.

There’s one quirk with the app. If you go to the “all videos” view and pull up the page to load more videos, it doesn’t work. At first I thought they keep a limited number of videos online. When I browsed concerts, however, I found dozens of videos.

The videos range in length. Sometimes there’s just a clip. There are many full length concerts that are over an hour long. There are no commercials in the video streams. NPR Music is quite impressive — HD quality with no commercials and direct AirPlay support.

You Get What You Pay For

There is plenty of free content for Apple TV, especially if you have an iPad or recent iPhone. I have just scratched the surface. The services covered are the ones I feel are the best. There are others, like TV.com, which I find to be horribly buggy.

You can expand on free content by using AirPlay screen mirroring. I sometimes use AirParrot on my Mac to watch free episodes of Star Trek. It doesn’t look great, but it gets the job done.

The problem with most free content is that it just doesn’t look good. You’re rarely going to experience HD quality. Many of these offerings aren’t even SD. They look like CD-ROMs from the mid 1990s — “pixellated” with poor resolution. You get what you pay for.

If you have the means, I would strongly recommend subscribing to Netflix or Hulu Plus. Subscribing to both would be even better. For a mere $8 a month, there’s simply no better deal out there. Both services can be put on hold or discontinued when they’re not in use. If you want to get the most out of your Apple TV, a small investment in content goes a long way. For cord cutters who have cancelled cable, the price of both services is nominal when compared to a $100+ cable bill. Both Netflix and Hulu Plus are mature and stable on Apple TV. This wasn’t always true. If you used these services when they were first introduced and cancelled due to poor quality, you may want to try them again. I put Hulu Plus on hold for a while, because it was just didn’t work well. After recent updates, it seems to perform even better than Netflix. Both services offer free trials, so there’s nothing to lose.

Recent

How to Find the Best Apple Music Plan
Best Apple Arcade Games
How to Sign In to Apple Music
Dynamic Island Sucks
Deleting Apps on Your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac, and Apple TV

Trending

How to Calibrate Your iPhone's Battery
iPhone Tips for Cold Weather
Best Prices on Apple Products at Amazon
Apple TV Channels
How to Use Your iPhone’s Microphone