How To Stream Videos To Your Apple TV

January 26, 2008

First get your video into a format playable by iTunes. The general rule seems to be, if a file plays in iTunes, it will play on the Apple TV. AVI files aren’t compatible. I’ve decided on MP4 as my format of choice.

If you already have some video files, use iSquint to convert your files. Change the setting to Optimize for TV. iSquint can convert AVIs and WMV files to MP4.

You can also use Handbrake to rip a DVD directly into MP4 format. It rips and compresses in one step. They have a preset for AppleTV but I’ve used the default “Normal” setting successfully.

To do this, insert a DVD, and launch Handbrake. Click Source and select your DVD. Then use the Title drop down to select the movie or TV show. For TV shows, each episode will show up as a different chapter group you can choose. You can usually figure out which group is which episode by its order and running time. Here, it’s safe to assume the first four titles are the first four episodes because of the running time.

Handbrake Titles

Note: If your program has subtitles, make sure to change the setting that has them appear, or your ripped file won’t have them. This is under Audio & Subtitles.

Once you’re have a title selected, click Start and wait a long time. After it’s all done you’ll have a video file that plays in QuickTime Player, VLC, or iTunes.

Now that you have some video files, let’s get them into iTunes for streaming to the Apple TV. I recommend storing video files on an external drive. To do this you have to first keep iTunes from copying the files into its own iTunes library. First copy your video to the external drive. Then open iTunes, go to Preferences, and then Advanced. Uncheck the check box “Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library”. Now when you add your movie files to iTunes, they’ll stay on the external drive.

iTunes Setting

Now drag all your video files into iTunes, or use File -> Add To Library.

By default, imported videos appear in the movie section. If you just added a movie, you’re pretty much done except for changing the title to the title of the movie.

If you’re dealing with television shows, the meta data is more complex – in particular all the episode information. The metadata is an important step as it’s used to organize your files in both iTunes and on the Apple TV. You want to have descriptive tags rather than just the name of the video file, otherwise navigating to the episodes via the Apple TV will be difficult.

So for TV shows, first visit a site like Episode Guides for the particular show I’m dealing with and find out all this tagging information.

Then in the iTunes movie area, select the first episode file and open up the info window. Change the type to “TV Show” and add the season and episode number. For Episode ID I’ve been using the season followed by the episode number. Use the next button to move onto the next episode.

Set as TV

The files will disappear from the movie view, so change over to the TV Show area of the iTunes library. Now they’ll appear a bit differently, using the file name as the episode name. Do an info view here and change each episode title to its correct name. Don’t worry, the references to the video files won’t break.

TV Show View

You can also add cover art. Create an image that is at minimum 300 pixels high. Then select all the shows and get info. A pop up appears where you can edit multiple items. Paste your art into the Artwork square and click OK.

Add Artwork

Now take a look at the TV view and enjoy your anal retentive metadata tweaking.


Note: If this metadata stuff is a little too hairy for you, try Lostify which will add metadata before importing into iTunes.

Now that you have your TV shows in iTunes with decent tags, you can access them via the Apple TV. Make sure iTunes is running on the computer you want to stream from. Then fire up your Apple TV and go to Sources. You should see the shared iTunes library that’s located on your computer. Select it, and you’ll get access to that library. Under TV shows you’ll see the television episodes you just set up, organized in a friendly way.


  1. JC says:

    A tip about the TV/Movie/Music Video drop down list for TV show files: Unlike almost every other metadata you add in iTunes, that particular one (for some unknown reason) doesn’t get embedded into the file itself, but only into your iTunes Library file. This is a problem if you ever have to move that file to another iTunes library, or if you move all your files to a newer, larger capacity hard drive (as I did recently). Suddenly, all of my TV shows (several seasons of several of them) were changed back to movies, and I was facing changing each file one by one (because, for yet another strange reason, iTunes won’t let you edit that particular piece of data on multiple files at once) back to a TV show. Huge pain in the butt.

    I managed to find a little freeware program called “Parsley is Atomically Delicious” (weird name, I know) that will write that TV Show metadata into any MP4 file for you, just as it is with purchased iTunes files. So in the future, if you import that file into another iTunes library (which you will end up doing eventually, believe me), it will remain a TV show. It’s a pretty kludgy little app, but trust me, it’s worth it. If you do it one show at a time, it will be far less painful than spending three days doing hundreds of TV show files later.

    Why Handbrake doesn’t offer to embed that data for you at the time of encoding is beyond me. That would be my top feature request.

  2. JC says:

    Oops. Just saw your little plug for Lostify. Does basically what Parsley does. I’ll have to try that out.

    Trust me, it’s worth it to use something like that all the time, rather than adding metadata in iTunes.

    By the way, I usually name my files as I’m ripping them in Handbrake. Makes it easier to find them in iTunes after the import. By default, iTunes will give each file a name equivalent to its name in the Finder.

    And don’t forget to use the Queue feature in Handbrake. Set up an entire disk worth of episodes and go to bed. Or better yet, use something like Mac The Ripper to rip multiple DVDs into raw digital files, and then Queue it all up in Handbrake and let it run for a day or so. I’ve done entire seasons in one big go that way.

  3. JC says:

    Ahh. Another thing to keep in mind: If you use the Apple TV setting in Handbrake, your files will look as good as they can on the Apple TV, but they won’t be transferable to an iPod. If you want maximum portability, use the iPod Hi-Res preset; that way, it’ll still look great on the Apple TV, but it will also be portable for all your travel needs. Otherwise, you’ll have to convert individual files again next time you want to take some movies or shows on a trip (which takes several hours for each file).

    I’ve been experimenting lately with the settings to see if I can eek a bit more bitrate out of Handbrake while still getting compatibility across devices. But the iPod Hi-res settings are the place to start.

  4. webomatica says:

    Hey JC thanks for all the tips. Especially the one about moving a library to another location and having to redo the metadata that isn’t encoded in the files themselves.

    I’ll try out the iPod Hi-Res setting and see how that fares, as well.

    Now the one last questions I have: is how big of a hard drive do I need?

  5. Nick says:

    Great info. I just got an Apple TV today. Once the software update comes out, I’ll be moving all of my iTunes content to an external RAID enclosure, adding movies, etc.

  6. houserocker says:

    Thanks for the tips I’ll try this at home, hope it works!!!

  7. Fahad says:

    Thanks for the detailed article. I was looking for something like this and with all the screenshots it will be quite easy to set this up. :)

  8. James says:

    Hi! Great post, thanks! I have a problem though with artwork for movies and it’s driving me crazy! Anyone… please help!

    1. I have several .mp4 movie rips that I have added to my iTunes library
    2. Selecting the “Get Album Artwork” option in iTunes doesn’t retrieve any metadata or artwork for the movies.
    3. I’ve manually entered the metadata and have added a .jpg image (296 pixels high) to the movie in iTunes.
    4. The image shows fine in iTunes however on the Apple TV I only get the metadata, I don’t get the movie image.

    What’s going wrong?? Please help!


  9. webomatica says:

    James, are you up to date with iTunes 7.6 and the new Apple TV update? I was experiencing the same thing you’re referring to, but after my updates the issue was fixed.

  10. Hans Luijten says:

    Great info – for some reason I can’t get the streaming to work … AT ALL … :(
    I have several MP4 files … my AppleTV keeps teling me that “there are no movies in this Library” … I’m at a loss here. Are there certain limitations resolution wise?

    I wish AppleTV would support WiZD server like applications, or simple file browsing just out of the box – now I have to install iTunes additionally to get things going … crap … :(

  11. Hans Luijten says:

    Great info – for some reason I can't get the streaming to work … AT ALL … :(
    I have several MP4 files … my AppleTV keeps teling me that “there are no movies in this Library” … I'm at a loss here. Are there certain limitations resolution wise?

    I wish AppleTV would support WiZD server like applications, or simple file browsing just out of the box – now I have to install iTunes additionally to get things going … crap … :(

  12. James says:

    Webomatica – thanks for the tip! Worked like a charm!! :)

  13. Chris says:

    “Then fire up your Apple TV and go to Sources. You should see the shared iTunes library that’s located on your computer.”

    Is this guide for the old version of Apple TV? I just got the new one, and there is no menu item called “Sources” on mine. I can’t for the life of me figure out how to stream movies to this device. The only thing I got to work was playing music from iTunes on my Mac to the Apple TV like you would to an AirTunes connected receiver. The song will play on the TV, but the screen shows Untitled, Unknown Artist and Unknown Album, with the time slider that goes from 00:00 to 1:00:00 and doesn’t move. That doesn’t seem right. I can’t access my shared iTunes library at all from the Apple TV menus.

    The hard drive on this thing is too small for me for anything but rentals, so I got it mainly to stream from my Mac, and I can’t seem to get that to work. Any guidance would be appreciated! Thanks.

  14. webomatica says:

    Chris – this post was written for the old Apple TV. With the new one, connect your Apple TV to your computer by going to “Settings -> Computers” on the Apple TV. It will ask you to enter in some numbers in iTunes. Then your Apple TV should show up in the iTunes sidebar. Once that is done, when you go to “My Movies” or “My TV Shows” on your Apple TV you should see movies or TV shows you have loaded into your iTunes Library.

    At least, that’s how I remember the steps off the top of my head… I should update this post when I have the Apple TV in front of me.

  15. Chris says:

    Thanks for the reply. I think my problem was that I wasn’t letting the A TV sync first. I was planning on not syncing anything, and just using the A TV’s hard drive for downloads, but it seems that it has to at least sync something from iTunes in order for it to see your library and be able to stream. I seem to be okay now.

    The built in sync functions seem to be poorly thought out…the automatic sync is so random that I don’t see how it would be useful unless your iTunes library is smaller than your A TV’s hard drive, and the custom sync seems to not allow drag n’ drop, like an iPod. Perhaps they’ll work on this functionality in future updates.

    Thanks again for the writeup. Seems Apple is so focused on selling content from their store that they neglected provided any information for users that actually own their own content.

  16. John says:

    I’m about to pick up an ATV and stream it off a hard drive I can access through wireless network. Looking for a good 1 TB model. Anyone have anything they recommend? I can’t get excited about anything I’ve seen out there. Lots of negative feedback – especially with Western Digital “My Book World.” Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  17. webomatica says:

    I personally bought a LaCie 500 GB external drive. You may also consider the Time Capsule. Generally speaking, all hard drives fail so I just picked the one with the least number of terrible complaints. I’ve had other LaCie hardware and a Maxtor that lasted several years.

  18. mp4todvd says:

    Thank you for so detailed tips. I can enjoy more videos on my Apple TV now ;)

  19. tom says:

    If you want to automate all these steps, I suggest having a look at VideoDrive ( Searches for metadata, cover art, numbers your TV Shows, etc. VideoDrive then puts all your videos in iTunes (without reconversion if you want!). If you have Perian installed on your ATV, they will stream right away!

  20. Laura says:

    Laura says:
    May 17, 2010 at 12:00 pm
    Please HELP
    I have all my movies on external disk and want to put them on Apple TV. of course the memory on y computer is smaller than the memory on apple tv, so what I am doing is I upload to Itunes 10 movies and synk them to apple tv. then I erase itunes and upload another 10 movies. when I synk the first 10 movies erase.
    How can I add movie by movie without eraseing what is already on apple tv?
    thank you. Laura

    • C. Welsh says:

      A better option would be to not sync but rather “Add Shared iTunes Library” with Apple TV. This way you can keep the many more movies on your external hard drive of your computer. Just make sure that these movies on that external are in iTunes. If you need help with that just let me know. Downfall is that your computer needs to be running in order to watch a movie.

    • C. Welsh says:

      how to share your iTunes library

  21. Harrison says:

    Curious if anyone tried this on a new AppleTV. My wife and I are considering the purchase of an AppleTV for our bedroom television and doing away with the DVD player and such. Do these steps work on the new one?

    • Hey Harrison, I’m planning on getting the new Apple TV as soon as it comes out, and streaming from a computer will be one of the first things attempted – will let you know.

  22. frogger says:

    Nice guide. Thanks

  23. Freddy says:

    For the ones that don’t know about cuevana try it!! It’s free

  24. Very enjoyable to read this post and your comments.

  25. H Green says:

    if i go to tvduck or sidereel and find a link to an episode I want to watch, is there a way to save this file to iTunes and play it on our HD TV using Apple TV? We have XBMC installed in it, but the show we are desiring to watch is not on there.