Ditch the Apple TV remote and use your iPhone or iPad instead.
The Apple TV remote is pretty lame. It's small, the buttons are too close together, and it's difficult to input text for searches in Netflix and other on-screen menus.
With the latest version of Apple's Remote app for iPhone and iPad, you can control your Apple TV over your home's WiFi network with a higher degree of control. Plus, search is a snap because you can type stuff on your device's keyboard. The free app is available for iPhone and iPad.
Already subscribing to either HBO or ESPN? Apple TV's addition of HBO GO gives you access to every season of every HBO show, available on demand, along with HBO movies and specials. Watch ESPN allows you to stream live ESPN straight to your Apple TV.
You'll need to make sure you have an HBO GO account or ESPN subscription. Just sign in with your cable provider's credentials.
Jailbreak it and install extra apps.
There's currently no Jailbreak for the third-generation Apple TV. But if you have a first or second generation Apple TV, it's worth it. In fact, second-generation Apple TVs are selling for more than double the price of a brand new third generation Apple TV because of this.
A jailbroken Apple TV will let you run other kinds of apps and streaming services that aren't normally allowed by Apple.
If you have a compatible Apple TV model, it's a relatively simple process to jailbreak it if you have a Mac. Lifehacker has a great tutorial to get you started.
Install Plex to your non-jailbroken Apple TV.
For those wishing to skip the jailbreaking process, or for owners of a third-generation Apple TV, PlexConnect is for you.
PlexConnect lets you stream any multimedia file format to your television. There's also an iPhone and iPad app for greater functionality. Think of it as AirPlay without restrictions. Setup time is quick, and you can follow these directions over at GitHub.
We found this nifty app for Mac called AirFlick that lets you push any video or audio file directly to your Apple TV without jailbreaking it. It will also transcode non-iTunes files on the fly, so there's no waiting to watch. It's a good way to watch different kinds of content on your Apple TV without hacking it.
Transcode your video files to an Apple TV-friendly format.
If you already have a bunch of videos on your computer that aren't compatible with iTunes, there are several programs you can use to transcode them. iMovie, which is included when you buy a new Mac, is a good start. You can also use QuickTime Pro, which is available for both Mac and PC for $29.99. HandBrake is a free app for Mac, PC, and Linux that works well too.
These will all let you dump your videos onto your iPad and then beam them to your Apple TV using AirPlay.
Rip your DVD library and never use a disc again.
Instead of downloading a movie from iTunes that you already own, rip your DVD collection for streaming to your Apple TV. If you have a Mac, try RipIt ($24.95) or HandBrake. For PC, HandBrake will work too.
Use AirPlay Mirroring to put whatever you're watching on the big screen.
AirPlay Mirroring allows you to take whatever you see on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac and beam it wirelessly over to your big screen TV. Directions and the list of compatible iPhone/iPad devices are available here and the list of supported Macs here.
It's worth noting that not all apps are AirPlay compatible, as it is up to the app developers to incorporate AirPlay functionality. But it can be used to play games, show keynote presentations, or perform product demos on a regular TV.
Stream shows from your TiVo.
Roxio's Toast Titanium ($79.99) software will let you access shows recorded to your TiVo and store them on your Mac. From there, you can drop the files in iTunes and stream to your Apple TV. You'll save space on your DVR and never have to worry about paying for new shows from iTunes.
Out of the box, Apple TV will only work with newer televisions that have HDMI ports. If you have an older TV, you can buy an adapter that will allow you to use it with composite cables. (The red, yellow, and white ports). HDMI-Component adapters sell for around $30 - $45 on Amazon. Browse around to find the best price.
Use an Ethernet cable for a more reliable connection.
If your Apple TV is close enough to your router, connect it to the internet with an Ethernet cable instead of WiFi. Since you'll be streaming a lot of video on your Apple TV, an Ethernet cable will give you a more reliable connection, especially if you have an older router.
Stream your tunes through your home theater.
In addition to streaming your video library, Apple TV also lets you stream music through your television. If you have a home theater system, this is a great alternative to the Sonos wireless music system. You can also control your music with the Remote app for iPhone or iPad.
To use, enable Home Sharing on both your Apple TV and iTunes on your computer.