First Look: Apple TV, Take Two

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5.1 Audio

The original Apple TV supposedly didn't support 5.1 surround sound, but that wasn't quite true. If you encoded a video's audio track in exactly the right way, you could get the Apple TV to output 5.1 audio. However, Apple explained that it didn't pass Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound--and audio standard routinely used in commercial movies--through the Apple TV. It now does.

With the updated Apple TV, you can string an optical audio cable between your Apple TV and a digital audio input on your 5.1 AV receiver and videos that include 5.1 soundtracks will play in all their surround-sound glory.

HD

There was also some debate over the original Apple TV's ability to play HD content. If you could find such content and get it onto the Apple TV--an high-def podcast, for example--it would play in a form that fell within the HD specification.

The Take Two Apple TV has the same video specifications. So what's changed? The availability of content. Unlike in the past, the iTunes Store will brim with HD content in the form of rental movies and high-definition video podcasts. Although the Apple TV is limited to displaying 720p HD video at 24 frames per second, guess what? Movies play at 24 frames per second.

Streaming Internet Media

Shortly after the Apple TV's release, Apple updated the device so it could stream YouTube content. The updated Apple TV not only continues to stream YouTube videos but can now also stream pictures from a .Mac or Flickr account.

Streaming Local Media

While you could store media on the Apple TV's hard drive, the device's ability to stream music and audio quickly over a fast broadband or Ethernet connection was impressive enough that savvier Apple TV owners kept their media on their computers and simply streamed it to the Apple TV connected to their television. If you wanted to play media directly from the Apple TV's hard drive, you still had the option by switching sources.

The Apple TV continues to offer the ability to stream media or play it from the device's hard drive, but the updated interface discards the distinction between local and remote storage. Your media is your media--My Movies, for example--and the Apple TV doesn't force you to choose a source. You select what you need and Apple TV plays it--either streaming content stored on a computer or media stored on the Apple TV's drive. Better yet, it can automatically determine which media will work better when stored on the Apple TV's hard drive and sync your media accordingly.

Getting It

Those with strong opinions about the Apple TV fell into two categories--those who had one and loved it, and those who had never laid hands on the thing and didn't understand its appeal. The Take Two Apple TV, with its ability to obtain great looking and sounding content, from the comfort of the couch, is likely to draw many of those from the latter group into the former.

This story, "First Look: Apple TV, Take Two" was originally published by Macworld.

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