Apple TV 4 & Global Television – For Smart DNS Users
It may have been noticed by now that we’re really excited by the Apple TV 4, especially for global television viewing via Smart DNS. In fact, I can tell you one thing right now, this set-top-box looks to be the Smart DNSer’s dream machine. If you want a way to easily watch content from all over the world, whether it is BBC from the UK, Plus7 from Australia or Hulu from the US, we’ll show you how!
Back when the ATV3 was first launched, outside of Roku there really wasn’t a lot of serious competition in the streaming set-top-box stakes. These days however the competition is stiff, with the Amazon Fire TV and Nexus Player (along with gaming consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One) even allowing back-door ways to mix apps from multiple countries onto a single hub – the holy grail of Smart DNS users.
Until now, the only two major STBs that didn’t offer this was the Apple TV and Roku, but with the new Apple TV 4, Roku is the last holdout in this regard.
That’s right, the new Apple TV 4 can mix apps from multiple countries onto a single hub, meaning you can have Hulu from the US sit next to TenPlay (from Australia), TVPlayer or the BBC iPlayer (from the UK) or Watchever & Zattoo (from Germany), and it is incredibly easy to do as well. As long as you have a good Smart DNS service to unblock geographic restrictions, it will be possible to switch seamlessly between the multinational apps.
What is Smart DNS? It’s a way to easily unblock geographic restrictions so that users of the Apple TV (and many other devices) can access content from around the globe which is normally blocked unless you live in a specific country. The advantages of Smart DNS over VPNs are numerous, but two of the best are that it can unblock multiple countries at the same time, and avoids the traffic bottlenecks plagued by VPNs. There are a lot of Smart DNS companies out there, but we recommend one of the following:
Before we get into the nitty gritty of how well the new Apple TV works for Smart DNS users, at the end of the day it is only as good as the apps that are actually available. After-all, Android TV has been out for a while now, with various set-top-boxes from Asus (like the Nexus Player), Nvidia Shield, and baked directly into many Smart TVs – yet outside of the US, there are still virtually no worthwhile streaming apps available.
The last Apple TV was also notorious for its lack of support outside of America. Although faring a little better than the Android TV, in many countries, with the exception of AirPlay or iTunes, it was about as useful as a paper weight.
But now the Apple TV 4 has a 3rd Party App Store, meaning developers and broadcasters alike can easily port their own apps across to the new platform – and just like iOS’s app store, there is every chance this will fill up far quicker than many of its main competitors.
The list below includes apps we thought were worth mentioning at the time of publication, and is sure to grow over time.
- HBO Now/Go
- Showtime/Showtime Anytime
- PBS Kids
- Fox Now
- FX Now
- USA Now
- Disney XD
- Disney Junior
- Nat Geo TV
- Smithonian Channek
- Watch ESPN
- NBC Sports Live Extra
- Willow TV
- BBC iPlayer (including live streams)
- Sky News
- iBox UK
- ABC iView
- SBS On-Demand
- (Plus 7, TenPlay, & 9Now have all been announced for a later release)
- Sky News
- iBox.ie (for live and catch-up Irish TV streams)
- TVStreams (for live TV channels)
While this is a far cry from the Roku or Amazon Fire TV in regards to app quantities (at least in the country where those two are available), it is already better than the Nexus Player in many regions and will no doubt grow quickly. (Until it improves, you can supplement the apps with airplaying from an iPhone or iPad if you have one).
Some apps like Netflix and Hulu have converted their old ATV apps to follow both their standard conventions, whilst using the new TVOS’s features like blur, global search and wobbly icons. But by far, most apps have just ported their older ATV UI right across without modification in time for launch. Hopefully we’ll see a bit more effort in the coming months as they rebuild their apps for the new OS.
As already mentioned, the new Apple TV 4 can mix apps from different countries onto a single Hub. Whether this is by design or not is a debatable question, as it does require separate iTunes accounts from each country you wish to add apps from.
Essentially, this is the same principle as used by iOS, so if you already have these iTunes accounts set up, all the ground work has already been done – in fact, it is even easier to switch than with your iPhone or iPad as previously used accounts are all remembered, so you can quickly flip between them via a single tap on the remote to add new apps.
If you don’t have iTunes accounts set up in other countries, there is an easy one-off procedure required for each country with a step-by-step guide to be found here.
Once you switch to a new account, you can easily add an app from the App Store, and keep switching to different accounts until you have all the apps you wish to install – afterwards they will all be found on your main hub.Apps1Apps2Apps3Apps4Apps5Apps6Apps7Apps8
A couple of points:
- People who use iTune’s Match always had a few issues when switching iTunes accounts on iOS, so I have to warn people that I don’t know if the same issues will be seen on this box (as I don’t use iTunes Match at all). I’ll get back with an answer there as soon as I find out myself.
- Apps seem to update automatically, regardless of which iTunes account is active. When they do update, you should see a small blue dot when you hover over them until you fire up the app again.
Global search is another holy grail of Smart DNS users. Actually, everyone can benefit from global search, whether they’re multi-region users or not – it’s just that people who use apps from multiple countries have always found this more difficult.
Basically, global search is where a user can make a search request, and the results will not just find content from Apple, but also any of their other supported 3rd party apps such as Netflix and Hulu.
Global search is not new, but it has always been restricted. Roku for instance has kept this limited to their American users, while Amazon basically decided they don’t like their users finding content outside of their own, so they stopped rolling it out.
Apple on the other hand have stated that not only will their global search work around the world, but it will also be open to 3rd party developers via an API. The catch; at launch only iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Showtime and HBO from the US will provide results. We will have to wait until the API is released and further apps are added.
Configuring Smart DNS
Mixing apps from different regions is only as good as the ability to set up Smart DNS on the device or network. Without Smart DNS, it is not easy to access geographically restricted content.
Some devices like Roku and Chromecast make this extremely difficult, as they don’t provide adequate networking settings directly on the device, forcing users to configure their routers instead – an operation that is not only more difficult, but not possible on many routers.
However the Apple TV makes this all a walk in the park, with an incredibly easy configuration setting that can have you unblocking geographically restricted content in no time – Just make sure you are signed up to a Smart DNS company such as the ones below, add their DNS servers to your Apple TV and you are away to go!DNS1DNS2DNS3DNS4DNS5
When the Xbox One and Playstation 4 showed it was possible to mix apps from multiple regions easily onto a single hub, it wasn’t long before many of the cheaper set-top-boxes followed suite. And while this is now possible on the Amazon Fire TV or Nexus Player, the Fire TV’s method is a tad fiddly and Android TV still doesn’t have enough apps to make it worth the effort.
The ATV4 on the other hand could really be the golden orb for Smart DNS and global TV users. Not only is adding apps from multiple countries easy, but with the prospect of global voice search, and easy switching between accounts, it may seriously end up becoming the Smart DNSers platform of choice.
With already the most beautiful UI to be found on any streaming device, combined with the above mentioned advantages and a great remote with touch-sensitive pad, the Apple TV 4 looks like it can give any of its competition a decent run for its money, regardless of the price point – and that is taking into account the obvious elephant in the room.
While omitting 4K support will hardly be noticed in real terms by 95% of potential buyers, it’s omission is still loud enough that the lack of UHD doesn’t go unnoticed. Whether we would use 4K or not, doesn’t take into account the fact that the Apple TV 4 is more expensive than any of its competing STBs, with only major gaming consoles costing more.
And while it may have huge potential for new apps to arrive in the near future, we can’t hide from the point that right now, the AFTV and Roku boxes have far more apps available in the UK and US than the Apple TV – with the Fire TV also allowing apps from multiple regions to be mixed onto the single hub.
But the Apple TV still holds out in my mind because of its huge potential. Even despite many more people owning Android smart phones, television streaming apps almost always appeared on iOS before anywhere else.
If you are a Smart DNS user and live outside one of the countries that sells the Amazon Fire TV or Roku boxes, the new Apple TV is a no-brainer. However, there will be real issues for British buyers, as right now, the Apple TV does not support all then major broadcasters. The chances are that they soon will, but there is always the risk, as small as it is, that this box could go the way of Android TV and be shunned by most media developers.
Remember, mixing geographically restricted apps onto the Apple TV’s main hub requires a good Smart DNS service to unblock them. We recommend one of the following:
31.10.2015: First Published.
14.12.2015: Updated with new services.
28.01.2016: Updated with more services.