Both the movies and TV shows interfaces are excellent. There's now a banner to let you quickly jump to stuff like the top movies lists, purchase TV shows or to search by TV network or movie genre.
Beneath this there's a banner with promoted content -- usually a mixture of new release and popular shows or movies. Below is a grid of content divided into categories such as comedy, kids and family and new releases, with each movie represented by its poster art. It looks fantastically inviting and makes it a cinch to find the type of movies or shows you want to watch.
While the user interface is slightly different to what you get on the PlayStation 3, it's still very quick and easy to navigate around and looks ace, as you can browse through movies by poster art.
Home Sharing and Airplay
Sharing your existing media collection to the Apple TV from iTunes really is child's play. Just open iTunes on your computer and turn on Home Sharing. You can then browse through it using the computers option on the Apple TV. However, this simplicity comes at the cost of flexibility.
Its reliance on iTunes means you always have to have your computer turned on and iTunes loaded up to get access it. You can't simply go to a library of tunes stored on a NAS drive, for example, as you can with most other media streamers. Also, there's no way to share videos in popular formats such as DivX, Xivd and MKV. It's a case of Apple's way, or no way.
Naturally, the Apple TV can also be used as an Airplay device, so you can send music, photos and videos to it directly from any iOS device or your computer over Wi-Fi. On the 'now playing' screen on your iOS device, you just tap the Airplay icons at the bottom and select the Apple TV as the device you want to use as your player and your content will start streaming. It really couldn't be much easier to use.
The range of other services supported by the Apple TV is not great. Apple has added an app for Netflix, which is most welcome, as it means there's finally another way for UK viewers to access movies and TV shows other than iTunes. However, currently the database of content is a tad limited, as we highlighted in our.
There are a few other useful services, including YouTube, Vimeo and Flickr, along with Apple's own move trailers app. Naturally, the radio and podcast apps are still present, and MobileMe and a Photostream apps are here too. After that, things become pretty desperate. I mean, who cares about Major League Baseball.TV or even the The Wall Street Journal video news service in the UK? Obviously, the biggest omission here is the BBC iPlayer and there's no support for 4oD, ITV Player or Demand 5. It also lacks a Lovefim app.
The fact remains that if you want the best access to UK online TV content, you're better off buying a PS3 as it supports iPlayer, Netflix, Lovefilm, 4oD and ITV player, and only costs £20 more.
Also, I can't really understand why Apple doesn't add an App Store to the Apple TV and open the device up to third-party developers. After all, apps have been one of the things that made the iPhone and iPad so great, and even the Popcorn Hour and players now have app stores onboard.
The hardware inside the Apple TV has been beefed up. It now uses a single-core A5 processor and supports 1080p resolution Full HD video, rather than the 720p HD-ready resolution that the previous model was limited to. As I've already said, the menus zip along and have beautifully fluid coverflow-style animations. The jump in resolution does make a big difference when streaming video, especially on larger screens.
So if you've got a monster 50-inch set then you will see a significant improvement in the quality of the video output. While iTunes HD streams are not quite Blu-ray quality, they are remarkably good for a streaming service. They're much better than the HD streams you get on BBC iPlayer, for example, which are limited to 720p.
The player is also fanless, so there's no annoying whirr in the background to distract you from the viewing experience. On a decent broadband connection -- I tried it on an ADSL line that speed tests at around 17Mbit/s -- HD movies and trailers take just 8 seconds to play, so you won't be sitting around twiddling your thumbs waiting for your movie to start.
The third generation of the Apple TV is a great product if you're happy to rely on iTunes and Netflix for your TV and movie content. It provides a slick and polished experience and it's the easiest-to-use player of all the network media streamers I've reviewed. However, the lack of support for UK services such as BBC iPlayer is frustrating, and I can't help wishing that Apple would add an App Store so other developers could create apps for it.
Although there's a huge amount to like about the device, if you didn't find the idea of the Apple TV appealing before, then there's not much here that's going to change your mind.