Whether you subscribe to Apple TV+ or not, the TV app on your iPhone is a great place to watch movies and TV shows. On the surface, it looks like a pretty straightforward app, but hidden features are lurking in the shadows that can enhance how you use it.
First, there are the obvious things you should be setting up in the TV app. Connect your cable or satellite provider — or just individual streaming apps you subscribe to — so you have easy access to all of the content within those services. The TV app becomes a one-stop destination for finding content to watch, and it'll give you a link to open the title up in the streaming channel's own app if it can't play it.
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Then there are the other basics you should customize, like subscribing to Apple TV Channels you don't already have access to, changing your streaming and download quality, adding content to Up Next, and so on. But there's more to it than that, and some of the best features are truly hidden.
Since iOS 15.4, there's been an option in Settings –> TV –> Up Next Display that lets you choose between "Still Frame" or "Poster Art" as the image shown for each title in your Up Next queue. The still frame will show an image of where you left off, or close to it, while the poster will show the movie's or episode's default cover art.
Shared with You first appeared on iOS 15, and it shows you content that your friends share with you via Messages directly in the content's host app. For Apple TV, any movie or TV show links you get in a text message or iMessage will appear in a "Shared with You" section in TV's Watch Now tab.
That's great, but it can get cluttered with content you have no interest in watching. To make the app show only movies and TV shows you want to watch, go to Settings –> Messages –> Shared with You, then toggle off the "TV" switch. Now, only content you pin in a conversation will appear; Long-press the Apple TV link in the message and hit "Pin" from the quick actions to pin content.
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If pinning Apple TV content in your Messages app sounds like too much work, you could also just remove recommendations made by one or two friends. That way, you only see content from friends with similar tastes in Shared with You. To do so, open the conversation with the consistently bad recommendations, tap the name up top, and then toggle off the "Show in Shared with You" switch. However, this will also hide shared content from Music, Safari, Photos, Podcasts, and Notes.
Not every movie or TV show has a perfect audio balance to hear whispering but not go deaf from explosions. To combat that in the Apple TV app, go to Settings –> Sounds & Haptics –> Headphone Safety, then toggle on the "Reduce Loud Sounds" switch. Adjust the decibel level to the most comfortable position for your ears from the slider that appears. Any change will apply system-wide for headphones, not just the Apple TV app.
Choosing a dark or light appearance for the Apple TV app is just the start of the customization options. Go to Settings –> Accessibility –> Per-App Settings –> Add App. Choose TV from the list, then go into its preferences. Here, you can set bold text, text size, button shapes, contrast, transparency, labels, motion, and more. And these settings apply only to the TV app. On iOS 17, you can also prefer horizontal text in languages that support vertical text, as well as control animated images.
Notice that the Per-App Settings doesn't include a Dark/Light mode switch? If you prefer the Apple TV app's UI to only use Dark Mode or Light Mode, there's a perfect workaround: Shortcuts automation. You'll have to build a few automations in the Shortcuts app, which are a little bit above the beginner level. However, we walk through everything step by step, so you should have no issues setting it up.
If you prefer downloading movies and TV shows over streaming, you can embed any supported audio or subtitle language into the file. Doing so increases the download size, but it's better than downloading it again with the correct language. Go to Settings –> TV –> Languages (under Download Options) –> Add Language. Pick the language you want, then repeat for other languages.
Not all languages are available for all videos, so you may or may not see some or all of your selections as options during playback.
When you need subtitles, they can either help you hear what's said on-screen or block essential visuals in the film or TV show. To customize the look of subtitles, go to Settings –> Accessibility –> Subtitles & Captioning. Next, choose your style or tap "Create New Style" to design one yourself. These changes will also apply to other apps that show subtitles, like Netflix, so keep that in mind.
In the Shortcuts app, you can use the "App" trigger in a personal automation, set it to "TV," and build a shortcut that will run whenever you open, close, or open and close the TV app. It's just like the Dark/Light Mode switch seen above, but you could do much more than that.
Your shortcut could switch the interface style beyond what the per-app settings let you do, automatically set a focus mode, send a text or email or tweet to let people know you are about to watch something, log how much time you spend watching TV, and more.
And while there aren't any TV-specific actions for regular shortcuts, you can open the TV app whenever another shortcut triggers it. To go beyond that, you can use URL schemes in your shortcuts to open specific content in the TV app, such as links to shows, episodes, movies, genres, and celebrities.
If you're not a big fan of Up Next or want to build custom lists to share with others, you can make a shortcut that will add whatever TV content you share with it to a specified list, complete with a URL scheme to open each piece of content up.
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