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Can Apple TV change your life?

Since the loss of BBC and ITV channels earlier this year, television viewers throughout the Algarve and other parts of Europe have been frantically searching for alternative ways to watch their favourite television programmes.
A plethora of competing options have quickly arisen from what seems like everybody and his dog offering the “latest and greatest” solution. The majority of these solutions are IPTV boxes – a small box that plugs into your television set and streams live TV programmes over the internet. With the right box and the right service we’re told we can continue to watch all of our favourite channels without interruption.
But what about Apple’s €99 “Apple TV” device? Apple has sold more than 20 million of them over the last seven years. Is it not also an IPTV box? Has the answer to the Algarve’s television woes, perhaps, been there all along?

What is Apple TV?

Put simply, Apple TV is a small set-top box designed to wirelessly connect your flat screen television to various channels and services on the internet. It sounds simple but in practice this opens up a whole world of possibilities.
One of the online services Apple TV users can access is the iTunes Store. Using the tiny aluminium remote control you can instantly rent or buy HD films and TV shows, in addition to accessing millions of songs, albums and music videos. The choice is vast with hundreds of thousands of current and classic movies and shows to choose from in an easy-to-navigate interface.
The content accessible to you depends upon which country’s iTunes Store you are a member of. This is determined, not by where you are physically located, but by the country in which your credit card was issued. This means that British ex-pats can continue to access UK content regardless of where they are in the world, so long as they have a UK-issued credit card – even if it has a Portuguese billing address. The same applies to other nationalities. Apple currently has 800 million iTunes Store members – and their credit cards – on file.
However, iTunes is not the only service available. Apple TV users also have access to various international news, sports and entertainment channels in addition to online services such as YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr and Apple’s own iCloud. Sadly, BBC 1 and ITV are not included but the story does not end there.
The other outstanding feature of Apple TV is a technology called AirPlay. AirPlay allows you to wirelessly stream the content of your Apple iPhone, iPod, iPad or Macintosh computer directly to your television screen. Now, this is where it gets really interesting.
In principle that effectively gives your humble television set access to the 1.2 million different iPhone and iPad apps currently available on the iOS App Store, as well as the contents of the entire internet! If it’s on the web, then it can be on your television. This means you can use your TV screen for making video calls to friends and family, browsing your photos, surfing the web, checking your email, playing Flappy Bird or … watching BBC and ITV!

BBC iPlayer and ITV Player

Many Brits living abroad have already become used to watching UK television through websites such as and its associated apps. This is all fine and well, except that the quality is not that good and the service is limited.
Most TV channels, though, now have their own “catch up” services which can be accessed on their website or via a free app downloadable from the App Store. However, due to international broadcasting laws these services are not designed to work in countries other than those in which they originate. In other words you can’t watch BBC iPlayer content in Portugal. Well, not without a little help, that is.
The reason it doesn’t work is that your IP Address reveals to the content provider that you are outside their broadcast region. You can’t change your IP Address but you can hide it. This is easily done through a Proxy Server or a VPN service. Both of these technologies are designed to mask your true location by allowing the content provider to see the IP Address of a computer or network within the chosen country. While these services are often used for illegal activity such as hacking, the use of them in itself is not unlawful.
There are many VPN and Proxy services to choose from and they do tend to come and go. One of the most popular and time-tested ones, however, is Netshade which is available from both the iPhone/iPad App Store and the Mac App Store. The app is free but subscribing to their Proxy service costs around £20 per year.
Many Algarve residents now watch UK television this way and comment on how much more flexible and convenient it is than “traditional” TV viewing methods. One benefit is that you are not restricted to watching just the currently airing episode.
Instead you can pick and choose any episodes from a current or recent series. Of course you can just watch them on your handheld device or computer but the real pleasure comes from wirelessly streaming them in full HD glory to your big screen television via the Apple TV set-top box.

On demand – the future of television

Truly, the shape of television has changed over the years as much as the shape of television sets themselves. We can now instantly access whatever content we want, when we want it, where we want it. Gone are the days of families gathering around a small wooden box in the living room at a time predetermined by some faceless corporation.
But, what does the future of television hold? Before he died two years ago, the co-founder of Apple Steve Jobs famously stated that they had “cracked” the challenge of reinventing television for the modern world. Will Apple’s much-rumoured, yet-to-be-released Ultra High Definition Television Set or, perhaps, the upcoming iWatch contribute to the change in the way we think of television? Only time will tell.


App Store
Apple’s online shop for downloading iPhone and iPad apps. There are currently 1.2 million different apps on the store.
Apple ID
The email address by which Apple identifies you. This is used for iTunes, the App Stores and your iCloud account.
Apple TV
The set-top box that acts as a gateway between your television and several online services and Apple devices.
The Operating System, or main software that runs on Apple iPads, iPhones and iPods.
IP Address
Internet Protocol Address – a number that is assigned to you every time you connect to the internet. It identifies where you are and is used in crime prevention, among other things.
Internet Protocol Television – a small set-top box designed to deliver television channels over the internet.
iTunes Store
Apple’s online digital shop for downloading films, TV programmes, music, eBooks, audio books and other digital media. There are 800 million members.
Proxy Server
A computer other than your own, through which you access the internet making it appear you are physically located at that computer.
Virtual Private Network. Similar to a Proxy Server, but a network of computers.
By Russell Newton
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Russell Newton has been using Macintosh computers since 1986 and has worked in Apple technical support for over a decade. He holds several official Apple qualifications including Apple Certified Macintosh Technician, Apple Certified Support Professional and Apple Certified Technical Coordinator. He currently works as Senior Consultant at Lagoa-based Newteq Solutions. |