The Apple TV update announced last month at Macworld has finally been released to the public and I finished downloading it a couple hours ago. I ran through the options and took a few photos of the new and notable sections, which I'll describe after the jump.
Overall it feels like every inch of the software has been updated. Instead of an empty box that plays music and movies from another computer, it's definitely starting to feel like a standalone settop box capable of quite a bit on its own. Here are a few shots of areas I hadn't seen mentioned or explored in the Macworld previews:
Flickr in the Photos section
The Flickr feature allows you to navigate a single user's recent photos, favorites, and photo sets, but it doesn't use the Flickr API to log you fully into the service. Without the API, you won't be able to view private photos or view photos from your contacts/friends and there doesn't seem to be a way to even follow RSS feeds of photos from Flickr. Still, it's a nice way to view photos if you're a user of Flickr and have friends on the service.
HD Movie Rentals
To test out the movie rental feature, I rented a few HD movies to check download speeds and download priorities. Two things jumped out at me: one is download speed and the other is the lack of simultaneous downloads.
Even on my top speed Verizon FiOS 30Mbit line downloads were quite sluggish. Judging from the first hour of downloading, HD movies will take several hours (about 6-8 hours is my guess) to download in full even over broadband. This may be slow servers on Apple's end of things due to the new feature coming out and causing some slowdowns thanks to demand because my connection can normally download a 2-3Gb file in less than an hour. On the positive side, the HD rentals being downloaded had enough video downloaded in about 15-20 minutes to begin real-time playback of movies, but I didn't try it out with a movie to see if the download rate kept up with the viewing time.
I quickly noticed that only one movie could be downloaded at a time, and the one that took priority was the most recently purchased one. Even on the Downloads page under Settings, I could not change the order if I wanted my first purchase to complete before my 2nd or 3rd. I was happy to see that while movies were being downloaded my connection wasn't being saturated and I could browse and use the web normally on other networked computers.
I'm pretty impressed with the wide array of choices in the Podcast view and how easy it is to browse -- there are popular shows, HD video, animation, and other interesting genres shown front and center. Looking at the vast array of podcast choices (I looked up a dozen of my favorites and found a dozen more I'd never heard of that looked good), this was the first time I kind of realized that podcasting could become the new Cable TV, offering thousands of options for anyone looking to learn something or be entertained (and it was all free!). I noticed a lot of larger podcast/tv/studio networks get their own option and major players like HBO seem to be copying their video on demand content into the video podcast format.
Ordering from the couch
Something I hadn't seen mentioned in the Apple TV previews was that aside from buying and renting movies, you can buy pretty much everything else on the iTunes Music Store. You can buy albums and whole seasons of TV Shows in addition to the movie stuff. I didn't notice any way to buy just a song or a single episode of anything. Also, once you store your iTunes Music Store password, you can save it and make purchasing new items a one-click process.
It was a nice surprise to see AirTunes in the new version of Apple TV. I had no idea they were adding this capability and though it seemed a little weird at first (can't you just stream music from your Apple TV to your computer instead of the other way around?) I realized this could be a cool feature if a friend comes over with a laptop and just wants to stream music quickly and easily. Also, another cool feature is that the Apple remote is functional and actually pauses and advances music on your connected iTunes computer remotely from your couch.
Overall in the short time I've been able to play with Apple TV 2.0, I've seen a lot to like and the biggest change is definitely the feeling that this is now a standalone device that I can use to browse photos and look for podcasts and it's not simply a container for my downloaded music and movies like it was before. As predicted, the Apple TV device did suddenly become a Pay Per View box in that most of the menu options are geared towards browsing, buying, and downloading other content, with just a tiny option at the bottom to look at your stuff. Most of the menus are definitely geared towards other new stuff. It'll be interesting to see how Apple TV evolves when the next update comes along.