Beyond iPhone: Apple TV 3.0 First Impressions and Screenshot Gallery

Apple TV 3.0

Apple TV 3.0 (or Apple TV 3, or Apple TV Take 3) is the just-released third version of Apple's and Steve Jobs' "hobby". And, for good or for ill, its latest feature-set seems designed to keep iTunes' living room gateway as niche as ever. That's not to say it isn't good, because it is (though it does have problems we'll get into below), but it's certainly not great. Not yet. And we're beginning to wonder if Apple (now or ever) even wants it to be?

Preamble 1

Yes, this is an iPhone blog, but just as other SPE Network sites like WMExperts will touch on the big Microsoft picture and Android Central will keep its electric eyes on Google, TiPb tries to include everything Apple that connects to the iPhone ecosystem. So you won't find a review of the latest Mac Pro, you will find one of the pocketable iPhone's big screen cousin, the Apple TV. If your interests lie elsewhere, just skip on to the next post. If you are interested, however, follow on after the jump for more!

Preamble 2

I've had an Apple TV since version 1.x and I use it every day. For me it's part of the Apple/iPhone ecosystem and it "just works" to let me use the same music and video on my iPhone and on my TV (and in iTunes on my PC). My living room setup is a 1080p LCD with 7.1 surround (which I put together as cheaply as possible -- check out this forum post for more), which I use Apple's Remote app to control the Apple TV with my iPhone or iPod touch.

Long ago, I ripped every DVD I owned to iTunes format, and whenever I find a movie or TV series I love on sale at Amazon or elsewhere, I buy it, rip it to a Drobo, and box ye old physical media as backup. I also buy via iTunes, especially when they have their sales. I'm exploring going all in on PVR'ing content as well, but I'll save the rant on how Canada has no consumer protection when it comes to telecommunications, and Canadians have no access to CableCard, mandated unencrypted OTA broadcast signals, etc.

All this by way of saying I have a lot of content and I watch it via my Apple TV a lot, and so the Apple TV 3.0 update is something I take seriously. Apple... well, we'll see...

Software not Hardware

Apple TV 3.0 is, sadly, a software only update. There's no new Apple TV gear to go buy. No better chips, no bigger capacity, no added features like TV tuners or 1080p out. If you haven't bought one before, it's cheaper than it was a few months ago, but it's not better. That's a far bigger problem at this point than the software.

New Look, Tweaked Feel

The user interface for Apple TV 3.0 has been refreshed -- at least on the top level. Now, instead of just two vertical menus, a horizontal menu cuts across the top showing off poster/album art for your content. The spots on the left are, refreshingly, reserved for your own media -- your most recently added movies, TV shows, music, podcasts, etc. I count 5 spots on mine. The spots on the right show stuff Apple would like you to buy from the iTunes Store. Yeah, it's like that -- Apple TV remains a hard-sell for purchases and rentals. It's not as bad as it used to be -- they've even moved your content above store content in the menus, but it's still the overall purpose of the device. Then again, online rentals seem to be the future of the set-top box, so fair enough...

LP and Extras

One of the major reasons cited for the Apple TV 3.0 update was to add compatibility for iTunes LP and iTunes Extras. If you already have either or both, iTunes will download new versions of the content (?!), but once done, they look great. Extras present similarly to DVD extras, however the interface for the one we tested -- Wall-E -- was very un-Apple. It wasn't clear where to click or when. Choosing one option left that option highlighted when, in order to actually use it, we had to navigate over to the artwork, and then notice the dots beneath the artwork denoting a number of different elements to that content. Apple usually nails this stuff, but we'll test a few more and hope very hard it was an isolated accident.

Note: there aren't very many iTunes LP and iTunes Extra offerings yet, barely a dozen of each, but expanding it to the Apple TV is a good sign Apple is making at least another "hobby" out of it. We'll see how well it plays out.

Also note: Are we waiting on iPhone 3.2 so we can get those extras on the mobile screen as well? Sure would be nice to have them if we got them...

Final Thoughts

Apple TV Take 3 it certainly isn't. Only its elegance, simplicity, and seamless integration for iTunes users makes it a valid alternative against Windows 7 Media Center or competing set-top boxes that offer Netflix (for those in the US) or XVID/DIVX/MKV (for those who get their content... elsewhere).

That, however, is exactly how Apple has positioned it. Want a DVD option? get a Mac Mini. Want portability, get the AV cables with an iPhone or iPod touch. Want to take iTunes content and splash it on your big screen, there's an Apple TV for that. For now. But "hobbies" only last for so long. If Apple doesn't make a serious run at "business" with a proper 3.0 (or 4.0 we guess) and updated hardware, we're guessing it will dwindle into "canceled" before long. And that would be a shame.


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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Beyond iPhone: Apple TV 3.0 First Impressions and Screenshot Gallery


Apple really needs to nail the next apple tv. Features like dvr, a built in DVD & blu Ray player, iTunes DVD/blue Ray ripping would really make this a great product and could really solidify apple's (currently failing) venture into the living room.
Steve, let's make this hobby an enterprise. =]

This should be a no brainer... but if you have xbmc/boxee, the atv 3.0 update will kill it. check for updates

If it had 1080P output and the ability to be an iPhone backup/restore general iTunes goto center then I would have bought one.
They would sell a lot more and get money for each if it had DVD upscaling and Bluray player abilities as well. As a set-top box the PS3 is much better IMO.

Apple TV seems irrelevant when you compare it to Windows Media Center, you still have to convert your vids to play on Apple TV. Secondly, you throw in an HP Media server you can stream your ripped DVDs without loss of fidelity to your iPhone, all the while Media Center will take advantage of all the Dolby sound and features that come with the entire dvd

I'm a huge fan of the new internet radio feature. The Apple TV has never been for anything else than music for me and to be able to listen to particular types of jazz (upbeat/swing station playing right now) is an amazing way of discovering new stuff.
If only I could find a britpop station too!

I love my appletv and use it every day. I use handbrake to store my movies on my timecapsule and either sync it to the appletv or play it ota. I just wish it could play from my time capsule ota without my mac on. A remove with a keyboard (maybe virtual like the iPhone) would be nice as well. Other than that, you really font know what your missing unless you have one. I love taking 40 movies over a friends house all in one little box and two cables.

"we’ve given our iPhones to toddlers and they’ve been able to use them well.
That’s still Apple’s killer app."
You're not serious, are you? You think that most folks want/need a device that emulates the methods and the design of a dumbed-down kid's toy?
Naw. I think that there's a niche of users who want/need this, but that most normal adults buy stuff that is capable - like the Blackberry, and upcoming, like the Droid, even if it means that they can't get usage advice from their kids. Maybe that is why the Blackberry outsells the iPhone by a 2 to 1 margin? Maybe that is why the dominant prediction is that Android will overtake the iPhone? And Apple will (once again) languish in single-digit market penetration?
"The Telephone for the Rest of Us - Those who have trouble figgerin stuff out..."

Good summary of ATV's limitations by RR. only need to add:

  • ATV is three year old Mac technology. it runs a version of Tiger OS and has only 512M RAM. that's why it is so cheap.
  • you can hack it and add a lot of great features via aTVFlash (browser, applications, mouse/keyboard, etc), but those limitations make it unstable.
    -Toast is a great but expensive program that can convert almost any media you have to ATV/iPod format with just (almost) one click. think of it as the missing piece of iTunes that solves all those problems (like DVD playback).
  • on the other hand, with iTunes Home Sharing you don't need a "media server" like many are trying to sell naive consumers (including MS). you can stream to ATV from as many as 5 macs. or slicker, just create a master library on a big external drive plugged into any mac on your LAN (don't forget to back up somehow!).

one theory that makes sense to me is that Apple has focused its engineers on the upcoming new iTab the last year or more and simply pushed ATV development aside. but soon they can go back to work on ATV.
so i bet in the fall of 2010 we will finally see ATV Take 3. its OS will be updated to a version of Leopard like the iPhone/touch, along with new chips and more RAM. that will enable it to run iPhone/iTab apps! which would be a huge addition to its consumer capabilities and make them sell like hotcakes. but i doubt Apple will ever add a DVD or DVR to ATV, although 1080p will come someday.

forgot to add:
Until then, a better option today is to buy a used Mac Mini on eBay for about the same price as a new ATV. older PPC Mini's support the same 720p display and Front Row is almost the same. but you get everything else too - DVD, browser, mouse/keyboard (or iPhone) control, web streaming (like Hulu etc), and whatever you want to add.

ATV is a disappointment to me. Granted, it does everything as advertised very well. But they call it a hobby and it is treated like a hobby.

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