The Apple TV is probably the smoothest way to get Apple content on your television - either from iTunes on a computer or directly from the iTunes store. Sadly that's about all it's good for.
What's missing in AppleTV
You can't use the Apple TV to watch live television, watch movies on DVD/Blu-ray or even watch DivX files you've downloaded from the web. It's basically just a media extender for the iTunes store, which is the way Steve Jobs likes it because Apple doesn't like including features that might encourage you to buy content from anywhere but the iTunes store.
What's new in AppleTV 3.0
The new features of the 3.0 software update include:
- an interface redesign
- refined syncing options with iTunes 9
- Movies Extras and iTunes LP compatibility
- Genius Mixes compatibility
- enhanced support for iPhoto Faces and HD photos with iPhoto Events
- Internet radio access
- YouTube HD access
|AppleTV: still no playing files straight from a network drive playback, or DivX access
AppleTV 3.0 - merely a bug fix?
It's hard to see how Apple can justify calling this new software 3.0, rather than just 2.5 (upgrading from 2.4 which was released in June 2009). 3.0.1 was released soon after 3.0, but it's merely a bug fix.
If your media library is built around iTunes (both the software and the store), you'll probably love the Apple TV and the refinements of the 3.0 software update. If you've avoided the Apple TV because its feature set is too limited, there's very little here to change your mind.
Access to Internet radio and YouTube HD sound nice, but it would take something like DivX access - or at least the ability to play files straight from a network drive - in order to make the Apple TV attractive to anyone but Apple fanboys.
Not surprisingly, there is a community willing to modify the AppleTV to get around these limitations. Like the early iPhone, the only way to make the Apple TV really useful is to hack it. Your one-stop Apple TV hacking shop is wiki.awkwardtv.org and there's already a guide to hacking the Apple TV 3.0 software.
You don't need to pop the bonnet and make any hardware changes, so it's easy to revert back to official firmware if things go pear-shaped.
Once you've hacked the Apple TV you can play a wide range of formats (from the hard drive or streamed from your local network), run Boxee to watch online video and even run a browser or full version of MacOS 10.4 Tiger.
Also in this series, Picking the Perfect Home Entertainment Box:
Part 11: Not all universal remotes are created equal
Part 10: Hulu blocks international access via Witopia
Part 9: What does Windows 7 offer in the lounge room?
Part 8: forget scratched DVDs, build a video jukebox instead
Part 7: Is Foxtel Download worth getting excited about?
Part 6: Is interference destroying your digital lounge room?
Part 5: Do you need a Freeview sticker?
Part 4: What's the best way to record your favourite shows?
Part 3: Networking your TV, PVR, console, set top box
Part 2: Creating a P2P season pass
Part 1: Internet video on the PS3
Buying a TV? Also see our series How to Pick a Great Flat Screen TV, And Not Get Sucked In By Marketing Hype