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Hands on with second-generation Apple TV

Source from Apple.com and Macworld.com

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Apple TV 2The new Apple TV offers the simplest way to watch your favorite HD movies and TV shows on your HD TV for the breakthrough price of just $99. With Apple TV, you can choose from the largest online selection of HD movies to rent, including first-run movies for just $4.99, and the largest online selection of HD TV show episodes to rent — from ABC, ABC Family, Fox, Disney Channel, and BBC America — for just 99 cents.

Apple TV, streamlined.

Stream movies, TV shows, music, photos, and more to the smaller, redesigned Apple TV. All you need is a single cable to set it up.

Instant movie and TV show rentals.

Rent thousands of HD movies starting at $3.99. Or rent TV shows in HD, commercial free, for just 99¢ per episode.

Tune in to Netflix, YouTube, and more.

Stream from the huge Netflix catalog of movies and TV shows, and watch YouTube on the big screen.

Apple TV and iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

Control Apple TV with the free Remote app or stream content from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch with AirPlay.

Apple TV 2The Apple TV was released four years ago, and even with an updated interface, added features, and price cuts, it was never what we'd call a success. Part of that can be attributed to the fact that Apple considered it a 'hobby' and never really devoted the time or resources to make it a better product, but as Steve Jobs admitted during today's event, it also didn't give customers what they wanted.

It lacked content and quality, cost too much (both the hardware and downloaded media), and was too complicated. The Apple TV reboot is an attempt to address those issues and make it a well-respected member of the Apple ecosystem. (We say attempt because it's too early to tell if the updated model will satisfy current owners or convince those who've never used an Apple TV to take the plunge.)

This new Apple TV certainly wins on the hardware front: On the outside, it's a quarter the size of the original, a tiny black box that will likely run cool and quiet due to its utter lack of a hard drive. You can pick it up and hold it in the palm of your hand, easily. On the back is a small selection of ports, far fewer than on the previous model. If you don't have a TV that supports HDMI, forget it—this device has only an HDMI port for video out. There's also an optical-audio port, an ethernet jack (along with built-in 802.11n networking), and a USB port that Apple says is for support use only and not for any end-user functions.

On the inside, the specs have been updated to support 720p video at 30 frames per second (the previous model could only hack 24fps, and even then there were often issues). This is a big deal because a lot of TV-show content is shot at 30 frames per second, and Apple wants everything on the new Apple TV to be in HD, including TV rentals (although Apple does appear to plan on offering SD TV show rentals—presumably for any content not available in HD—for the same 99-cent-an-episode price).

As for the interface itself, it's going to be pretty familiar to current Apple TV users. It's the same remote-driven UI, with a series of menu items from left to right. The details have changed, and the Netflix instant-watch implementation Apple has done is very much in keeping with the Apple TV's design philosophy, rather than looking like every other Netflix implementation we've seen on various standalone and embedded devices. (There's no support for buying stuff anymore, just renting movies and TV shows—if you want to buy stuff and keep it forever, you'll want to do that on your computer and then stream it to the AppleTV.)

And the price drop to $99 might be low enough to entice the curious who would never have dropped $200-plus on such a device.

The audio/video playback of the new second-generation Apple TV

Audio formats supported:

HE-AAC (V1), AAC (16 to 320 Kbps), protected AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, and 4), Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV; Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound pass-through

Video formats supported:

H.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per second, Main Profile level 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps per channel, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats
MPEG-4 video, up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats
Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) up to 35 Mbps, 1280 by 720 pixels, 30 frames per second, audio in ulaw, PCM stereo audio in .avi file format

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