It’s a fairly hidden feature that not many people seem to know about, but the Apple TV has some pretty great options for customizing its screen saver. There are a few default sources of photos you can choose from, including National Geographic (probably what you are using now), Animals, Flowers, Trailers (which shows movie posters of films on the iTunes Trailers website) and iCloud Photos (Photostream and iCloud albums).

But more interesting is the option to use Flickr. That may sound odd, but the reason I say it is because when you combine it with the awesome power of IFTTT, you can create some really unique screen saver options. For example, for the last few months I’ve been using a combination of Flickr, IFTTT and Instagram to create an Apple TV screen saver that cycles through images that I have liked on Instagram and it is far better than seeing the same old National Geographic photos (as great as they are) over and over again.

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Amazon introduced its Fire TV yesterday, and one of the features the company touts is “voice search.” Using a tiny microphone in the device’s remote, you will be able to speak when searching for content, instead of pecking out letters by moving a cursor around on your TV screen. For example, you might want to look for a specific movie to watch, so you will simply say its name into the remote to have its text typed in a search field.

But you can already do this with the Apple TV; not with its own remote, but with the iOS Remote app.

Nice tip by Kirk McElhearn – this doesn't exactly replicate the experience of having a remote with a microphone built-in, but it's close. Plus, the Remote app for iOS 7 is pretty good.

Written by TidBITS managing editor Josh Centers, the ebook walks new owners through setup, and then dives into explaining how to best control the Apple TV with the included remote, Apple’s Remote app, or another TV remote. You’ll learn to customize the icon grid on the main screen, enable parental controls, and make your screen saver look awesome. Josh also covers uses of AirPlay, the Apple technology that lets you beam audio and video from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac to the Apple TV, and lets the Apple TV send audio to compatible speakers anywhere in your home.

Last December, I decided to connect my second-generation Apple TV to my television again because I wanted to check out the progress Apple had made with channels and the user interface. I ended up “using” the Apple TV a lot with Plex and Infuse, both set up to stream videos over AirPlay. Each weekend, my girlfriend and I watch a couple of movies on the big screen with our Apple TV, and I'm constantly impressed by the simplicity and reliability of AirPlay.

However, the Apple TV's interface can be clunky and there are a variety of settings that aren't immediately clear. That's why I wish I had a copy of Josh Centers' new book three months ago: from first setup to advanced tips such as installing PlexConnect, Josh covers every aspect of the Apple TV to get the most out of the device, AirPlay streaming, compatible iOS apps, and more. The book's layout is easy to parse and navigate, there are handy illustrations and tooltips, and, in general, it has the usual degree of quality and care that you can expect from the Take Control eBooks.

A must-have for Apple TV owners interested in knowing everything about it, and well worth $10.

As noted by MacRumors’ Richard Padilla, Apple today added a new channel to the Apple TV to celebrate The Beatles’ debut in the United States 50 years ago:

The channel allows users to view The Beatles’ groundbreaking performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” for a limited time, and also offers download links to The Beatles’ U.S. releases, which are available digitally for the first time on iTunes.

The Beatles made their first appearance on American television on February 9, 1964, on The Ed Sullivan Show. From Ed Sullivan’s official website:

Never before had so many viewers tuned-in to a live television program, which with 73 million viewers, was three-fourths of the total adult audience in the United States. A music group from England had never crossed over into American culture in such a way, and, at the time, it wasn’t too common for a variety television show to book an English rock band. However, because Ed Sullivan traveled to England frequently, and had a great eye for talent, The Beatles caught his attention and earned a slot on his popular variety program on CBS.

After years of negotiations, The Beatles’ digital catalogue arrived on iTunes in 2010, with Apple celebrating the event with a press release and promotion on its website and iTunes’ front page. Apple has been adding standalone channels to the Apple TV in the past several months, including Yahoo Screen, PBS, Crackle, Bloomberg News, Vevo, Disney Channel, and The Weather Channel.

Speaking of the Apple TV, the app I used to stream movies to my television wirelessly was Infuse. Developed by FireCore, Infuse is a good-looking video player with support for multiple formats, Dolby Digital Plus sound, integration with the TheMovieDB and TheTVDB for metadata, and AirPlay.

I wasn't interested in features like trakt, social sharing, or subtitles – I just wanted an easy way to stream videos from my iPad to the Apple TV without loss in terms of quality and smoothness. I downloaded Infuse, connected the iPad to my Mac (my movies are on an external drive), and used iTunes' file manager to drop files into Infuse. Seconds after the copy was finished, Infuse would see the video, collect metadata, and display a gorgeous artwork preview with cast information and technical details on the file.

To stream videos with AirPlay, you need to unlock the $4.99 “Infuse Pro” In-App Purchase, which I bought immediately and didn't regret. I gave Infuse various formats including MKV and AVI at both 720p and 1080p and streaming to my second-gen Apple TV was always smooth and fast.

I'm impressed by Infuse because, once it had my videos, it didn't require me to fiddle with any setting or file conversion – it just worked with AirPlay and videos looked great. Infuse is free on the App Store and you can read more about supported formats (for video, audio tracks, and subtitles) here.

A Reddit thread with a series of great tips for Apple TV settings and AirPlay-compatible apps I didn't know about. I could have used some of these suggestions (like Beamer and the Menu shortcut) for Christmas, as I watched movies with my family through the Apple TV every day. It takes a while to read through the comments, but it's worth it.

Less than a month ago Apple brought channels like Yahoo Screen and PBS to the Apple TV, and today they’re bringing over streaming news services like Bloomberg, ABC (for streaming local content from ABC news affiliates), Crackle for movies and TV shows, and Korean language channel KOR TV. Darrell Etherington of TechCrunch echoes what I suggested last month regarding the Apple TV as a viable alternative for cable cutters:

This launch is just the most recent in what’s been an increasingly fast-paced rollout of new content partners on Apple’s set-top box, but it brings some interesting ingredients to the mix, including local broadcast TV streaming and a 24-hour news channel, which are key ingredients to what many users would consider basic TV service. Apple TV didn’t start off as a really viable cord-cutting alternative for people looking to ditch their cable subscriptions, but it’s been building up a piecemeal library of a la carte content that begins to become a truly worthy option.

In a nutshell, the Apple TV now has a 24-hour news channels, multiple sports outlets, various channels for kids, and channels apps for watching TV shows and movies on demand.

For a listing of channels currently available on the Apple TV, check out the “Whats on Apple TV” page at Apple.com.

Apple’s small set-top box has received two new apps this morning according to Peter Kafka of All Things Digital. Yahoo Screen delivers programs such as The Daily Show and channels from partners such as ABC News, while PBS’ app will have a back catalog of shows that can be watched after they air on television.

The PBS app offers popular programs like “Frontline”, but it only appears to offer old episodes, and not live streams. [...]

Yahoo’s screen app offers a mix of clips, ranging from a recent Saturday Night Live performance by Lady gaga to movie trailers to game reviews; it also offers channels from Yahoo partners including Conde Nast magazines, ABC News and The Onion.

When it debuted, the Apple TV was really only appealing to iTunes customers who primarily wanted to stream downloaded TV Shows or Movies to their televisions over AirPlay, but this is becoming a legitimate competitive alternative to things like Roku’s streaming players. Between Hulu, Netflix, sports broadcasting, recently added apps like the Weather Channel and the Disney Channel, Crunchyroll, and now these extras, it’s a competitively priced product that’s starting to become an actual alternative for cable cutters and anyone who subscribes to digital programming. There are some apps like HBO GO that require a cable subscription, but we’re getting there.

Eric Slivka from MacRumors writes:

Apple today added several new apps to the Apple TV, including the previously reported Vevo music video channel. Other new additions include a dedicated app for The Weather Channel, an app for the Smithsonian Channel, as well as two Disney television apps: Disney Channel and Disney XD.

Vevo’s library of 75,000 HD music video should keep the kids busy for a while.