Apple TV app vs. Apple TV+ app vs. Apple TV device

Apple’s original TV and film programming empire continues to expand through the introduction of native apps for smart TVs and other devices. My new Sony TV has the Apple TV app and fully supports AirPlay of content from the iPhone and iPad Pro, whereas the Sky Q box has just received an update to include the Apple TV+ app. I also have the Apple TV 4K device.

What are the main differences?

The Apple TV app is as close to the Apple TV 4K device outside of actually owning it. Of course, it doesn’t support tvOS apps, but it does offer Apple TV+ content, plus you get access to your existing purchased iTunes movie and TV show library. Plus it offers Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos for TVs that support it. But you don’t get any iTunes Extras (e.g. audio commentaries, featurettes, alternative versions of the movie, and so on) if the title you’ve purchased comes with any extra content. Whether this is intentional or whether Apple intends to deliver the ability for smart TV Apple TV apps to access that additional content is not known. I was somewhat disappointed (read: extremely pissed off) with Apple for not including iTunes Extra support. I honestly don’t see any reason not to, unless Apple intends to keep exclusivity to the Apple TV device. They would be wise not to go down that route else a complaint to the Competition and Market Authority should find its way to them. Of course, you also don’t get any support for Spatial Audio/Dolby Atmos content through Bluetooth connected AirPod Max headphones connected to the TV.

The Apple TV+ app only offers Apple TV content. On the Sky Q box this is limited to HDR10 and sound is non-Dolby Atmos, and you can’t AirPlay any video content to the Sky Q box either (just audio). My Dad and I watched Zulu over Christmas and I had intended AirPlaying it to his Sky Q box given that they’d just released the Apple TV+ app – but alas, it doesn’t come with any additional functionality. So we watched the film on DVD instead.

The Apple TV 4K device runs tvOS and offers the full experience, of course. It also acts as a HomeKit manager too, which the Sony TV or Sky Q box cannot do. The downside is that the Apple TV 4K device is not cheap and takes up an HDMI port. I’ve also found it quite fiddly to get it configured properly for a modern TV – especially if you’re using Apple’s AirPod Max headphones and want to get Dolby Atmos/Spatial Audio from it without serious audio sync issues. Dumb (or at least, dumber) TVs are pretty much catered for out of the box.

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