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New Apple TV focuses on 'what works'

Michael deAgonia | Oct. 12, 2010
Latest version is streamlined for streaming video -- but more content would be good.

Once the Apple TV is set up, you're presented with five main categories on the Apple TV home screen: Movies, TV Shows, Internet, Computers and Settings. Under these headings, the subcategories are self-explanatory:

* Under Movies, you'll find Top Movies, Genres, Search and In Theaters (all pointing to iTunes content that can be rented).

* In the TV Shows category, you'll find Top TV Shows, Genres, TV Networks, and Search (again, these point to iTunes content available for rental).

* Under Internet, you get Netflix access, YouTube, Podcasts, MobileMe, Flickr and Radio.

* The Computer menu offers access to any Mac or PC on your network with iTunes Home Sharing enabled, making it easy to view music, movies, TV shows, podcasts and photos from any computer in the house.

* The Settings menu is where you configure various features, like slideshows and device sleep.

Above the main categories is a "shelf" that displays cover art for movies, albums and TV shows, depending on what main category you've highlighted. The shelf is also where Apple TV stores content that's been rented.

ITunes rentals are as straightforward as everything else, but with a few caveats. Content rentals are all handled through iTunes: You have 24 hours to watch a movie, and 48 hours to watch a TV show. (This seems backwards, I know.) TV show rentals are 99 cents each; HD movies are $4.99 for recent titles, and $3.99 for older ones. You can hold on to unwatched content for 30 days, but the 24-/48-hour timer starts the moment you press Play.

You should be aware that titles you rent and purchase using iTunes on your Mac or PC can be copied over to the iPad or iPhone, as well as streamed to Apple TV, but content purchased directly from Apple TV can only play on Apple TV. Be mindful of this when choosing your rentals; if you wish to view the content on more than one device, your best bet is to download it through iTunes on your computer or iOS device.

More content needed

Another thing: Using iTunes on your computer to purchase or rent content gives you more options than doing so directly from Apple TV, and you can't purchase stuff from iTunes and then access it via the cloud on any of the Internet-enabled iOS devices. Thankfully, iTunes isn't the only place to find movies and TV shows. The Netflix integration is very well done and helps fill some of the content gaps in iTunes.

Netflix requires at least a $7.99-per-month subscription, but the instant-watch streaming-video plan comes with the DVD rental plans for free. Navigating through Netflix is similar to the way it's done online: You can browse your current movie/TV show queue, search, add content and watch streaming videos instantly.


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