Your Apple TV 4K is secretly good for video games

An Apple TV 4K box with a remote next to it, both on a black reflective surface.

Apple's little TV box may not be a gaming console, but it's a good option for mobile games. Omar Rodriguez / Unsplash

Gaming might not be the primary reason you bought your Apple TV 4K box, but it’s a nice extra benefit—there’s a huge selection of games you can play on the device.

The main advantage of doing this is that the connected TV screen is much larger than the one on your iPhone or iPad, and if you’ve already bought games on these mobile devices, you won’t have to pay again to play them on the Apple TV 4K.

For more advanced and involved gameplay, you can even hook up a Bluetooth controller, giving you a true console-like experience, even if the selection of games doesn’t quite match the top-tier titles on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S.

Getting started

The Apple TV 4K screen resolution options.
Check the display options for your Apple TV 4K before you play any games. Screenshot: Apple

For starters, you need a physical Apple TV 4K device to play games on a connected television. That means this article doesn’t apply to the Apple TV app you might have on your smart TV, or on a streaming dongle you’ve connected to it. The Apple TV app is for movies and shows only, while the Apple TV 4K box is for movies, shows, music, photos, and games.

Your Apple TV 4K box is already set up and ready to play games—though it’s always worth checking that you’re running the very latest tvOS software, which you can do through Settings > System > Software Updates > Update Software. When up to date, you’ll have the latest bug fixes and performance optimizations installed, so the games you pick should run as smoothly as possible.

It’s also worth checking that the Apple TV 4K is outputting video at the best possible quality: 4K resolution, with HDR, at a 60 hertz refresh rate. You can do this via Settings > Video and Audio > Format, though the available formats you see will depend on the TV you’ve connected your Apple box to.

How to find games for the Apple TV 4K

The Apple TV 4K Games menu showing some available games.
There are plenty of games that work on the Apple TV 4K. Screenshot: Apple

You shouldn’t have any trouble finding games to play: Open the App Store (the icon showing a white “A” on a blue background) from the home screen, then scroll across to Games to see what’s available. The store will only show you games that will work on the Apple TV 4K, so there’s no danger of installing something that’s incompatible. Scroll across to Purchased to see games you’ve bought and installed on other Apple devices.

If you subscribe to Apple Arcade for $4.99 a month, you get access to an additional pool of more than 200 games. To find them, you can switch to the Arcade tab in the App Store or use the Apple Arcade shortcut on the home screen (an icon showing a white joystick on a red background). Select any game to see details about it, including the category it’s in and the age rating attached to it.

[Related: 14 tips for your Apple TV 4K]

Because your Apple TV 4K box is connected to a display far bigger than the one on your smartphone or tablet, the games that work best will be those that make full use of that extra screen space. If you need inspiration, the games we’ve enjoyed on the Apple TV 4K include the endless scroller Alto’s Odyssey ($4.99), the addictive puzzler Donut County ($4.99), and the classic car-dodging adventure Crossy Road (free with in-app purchases).

How to add a game controller to the Apple TV 4K

An Apple TV 4K game menu with a popup dialog box showing that a controller is required.
Apple TV 4K games will tell you if they need a controller. Screenshot: Apple

As you make your way around the App Store and Apple Arcade portal, you’ll notice certain games say a controller is required, others say a controller is optional, and some don’t say anything at all. For simple single-tap games like the aforementioned Alto’s Odyssey, for example, you can play using just the Apple TV 4K remote.

For more advanced titles, you’ll need to connect a controller like the one you might use on your PS5 or Xbox Series X. Just about any standard gamepad will do, as long as it supports Bluetooth—including the ones that came with your PlayStation or Xbox. If you’re going to buy one, though, make sure it supports the Apple TV 4K.

To connect the controller, you’ll need to make sure your controller is in pairing mode (its instructions or a quick web search will tell you how to do this if you’re not sure), then go to Settings > Remotes and Devices > Bluetooth. The controller should appear on this list, but if not, follow the How to Pair Game Controllers link for extra help.

Play Apple TV 4K games from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac

The screen mirroring option on an Apple TV 4K when used with an iPhone.
You can stream games from an iPhone, iPad, or macOS computer to your Apple TV 4K. Screenshot: Apple

If you prefer playing a game on your iPhone or iPad, but still want to take advantage of the larger screen your Apple TV 4K is connected to, you can beam them over from your mobile device—as long as everything’s on the same WiFi network. This uses Apple’s AirPlay protocol for streaming video and audio, which is supported by most Apple devices—it’s not quick enough for super-fast gameplay, but it works fine for slower-paced games.

On the iPhone or iPad you’re using, swipe down from the top right corner of the screen to bring up the Control Center, then tap the Screen Mirroring icon (two overlapping rectangles). Choose your Apple TV 4K from the list, and the display will be duplicated on your TV. This is a good way to play games that aren’t officially supported by the Apple TV 4K, and you can always add a controller to your iPhone or iPad too.

[Related: 24 iPhone settings that feel like secrets]

If you’re on a Mac, click the Control Center icon on the menu bar (it looks like two toggle switches), choose Screen Mirroring, and select the Apple TV 4K box you want to connect to. Click Screen Mirroring again and choose Use As Separate Display to have the Apple TV 4K act as a second monitor, where you can display any games that can run on your Mac, while still controlling them with your computer. Click Screen Mirroring and the name of the Apple TV 4K to break the connection.