By Mielle Sullivan, Janus Networks
The Apple TV has been around for a little over two years. For the newcomers, a brief introduction: it connects to your existing TV with an HDMI cable and lets you play movies, television programs available through the iTunes store, music from your iTunes library and display photos. It connects wirelessly to your home computer and automatically syncs to your iTunes library so you can “play your music on the best speakers in the house”. Now featuring HD capability, Apple TV 3.0 is better than ever with a more streamlined interface and support for Internet Radio through iTunes.

Unfortunately, it seems Apple is still treating the Apple TV 3.0 as the “hobby” Steve Job called it in 2008. For example, youtube, Hulu, vimeo, netflix and are still unavailable.

The Apple TV in 3.0 is an innocuous white box that plugs in to your TV with an HDMI cable, syncs to your home computer’s iTunes library and lets you play your digital media through the TV. It is also a virtual storefront for the iTunes media store; you can buy television programs the day after they air as well as HD movies, music and download podcasts. This seems to be the primary emphasis Apple is putting on the 2.5 year old hardware. It’s a slick way to play your digital media through your home entertainment system but brings nothing new to the table beyond that.

As for the interface, software version 3.0 addresses a few complaints users had. For instance, 3.0 now puts the main menu at 7 columns wide (music, movies, tv, podcasts, photos, Internet and settings) instead of two. It moves the user’s media to the top of each column, instead of putting the focus on the iTune’s store. This feels a little less sales oriented and a little more user focused, which is nice after you’ve spent a couple hundred dollars on a white box with an HDMI cable. It also supports Genius mixes, iTunes Extras and in a limited capacity, iTunes LP along with Itunes Radio.

Genius mixes will be familiar to iTunes users. You choose a song representative of the music you want in a playlist, press the “Genius” button on screen and voila! 25 tracks of music in that same vein. iTunes extras also make an appearance in Apple TV 3.0 – these are the fun DVD Extras you never used to get when you downloaded a movie through the iTunes store. This helps Apple keep an edge over disc purchases. iTunes LP, though, is another story on the Apple TV, even in version 3.0. Designed to bring back the visual fun of a record with album art lyrics and liner notes, iTunes LP includes concert footage, photos and more. It’s the equivalent of iTunes extras for music – bonus materials that provide some incentive to buy the media instead of downloading it with bit torrent. Unfortunately, the 3.0 interface is a bit clunky with LP. For instance, each new song requires you to go back to the LP interface. Also, recent LP purchases will be incompatible with TV 3.0 while Apple codes and distributes a patch – demonstrating a lack of attention to the product.

It is this uncharacteristic lack of attention that will make users wonder just where Apple is going with the Apple TV. Steve Job’s explanation was that it isn’t a very commercial piece of hardware – as in, you buy it and then it’s over. Additional support yields no additional revenue, unless it entices fence-sitters to go ahead and buy the unit. Sales of the basic hardware can only last so long before tapering off, though – and thus the problem. For Apple to make this worth their while, they will need to figure out ways to make the Apple TV generate additional revenue beyond its ability to connect to the iTunes store – after all, you can already do that on your home computer. Till then the Apple TV will probably keep receiving updates like 3.0: nice but nothing to write home about.

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