The new Apple TV: A true multimedia device

The recent update of the Apple TV fulfills its promise of easy home entertainment

Although the Apple TV didn't get an overhaul for almost a year. During that year, the device, which promised to bring digital media (music, photos and video) from the computer to the living room, tried to establish itself in a marketplace rife with competitors. Systems such as Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Netgear's EVA series, not to mention TiVo, are all striving to dominate that elusive space.

Introduced at Macworld in January, this second iteration of Apple TV (which some call Apple TV Take 2) is a response to many of the initial criticisms of its predecessor as a media device that lacked direct access to online content. Users can now search and buy content from the iTunes Store directly on the Apple TV, including music, TV shows and movie rentals (which were introduced at Macworld).

In addition, it now allows users to browse Flickr and photo galleries from Apple's .Mac service just as easily.

In other words, the new-and-better Apple TV (a firmware/software update is free for existing owners) is designed to make the device an entertainment product in its own right rather than a computer accessory connected to a TV. The question is: At a cost of $449 for a model with 40GB of storage space and $579 for a 160GB model, does this new version of the Apple TV make the cut?

Improved interface

As with my first experience with the Apple TV, I found the menu structure and navigation to be almost brilliant in its simplicity. In Apple TV Take 2, the menu has been somewhat redesigned. Instead of maintaining an iPod-like navigation in which users must drill down through several options to locate a feature, the new two-column approach makes it faster and easier to switch from one facet of the device (say, music) to another (such as YouTube browsing).

Like the original Apple TV, Apple TV Take 2 includes and relies on Apple's standard remote, the same one that Apple ships with current Mac models. The remote carries through that ease-of-use theme: It features only six buttons (up, down, right, left, pause/play/select, and menu). Apple has certainly figured out how to limit the confusion often associated with remote control devices.

The one thing that I wish could be improved is the method Apple TV uses when you need to actually type in a search term or a site ID: You have to maneuver around an on-screen keyboard, picking out letters one at a time using the directional buttons on the remote. It works, but the process of entering even moderately long movie or song titles or search strings quickly becomes tedious.

Admittedly, there's really nothing that Apple can do about this, short of providing a remote with a keyboard on it -- but at times it did feel like I spent more time typing with the on-screen keyboard via the remote than actually accessing content.

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Ryan Faas

Computerworld

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