The Apple TV has today received an update which brings a fresh new design that removes skeuomorphic flourishes, adds more vibrant colors and more closely matches the style of iOS 7/8 and OS X Yosemite. Besides the visual refresh, the update also adds support for peer-to-peer AirPlay and the new Family Sharing features in iOS 8.
Supported Apple TV Models
Today's update is unfortunately only available for the 3rd generation of Apple TVs, which is the 1080p model currently on sale. If you're not sure which model you have, have a look on the bottom of your Apple TV and if it says Model A1427 or A1469, then you have 3rd generation Apple TV which is eligible. Apple TVs with model number A1378 are unfortunately the 2nd generation models with the older A4 processor and aren't eligible for the update.
Apple TV (3rd generation) users should be prompted to update their Apple TV when they next turn it on, but you can also manually update by going to Settings > General > Software Updates > Update Software.
Earlier today the Apple TV was updated to add channels for ABC News (US only), PBS Kids (US Only), AOL On (US, Canada and UK only) and Willow TV (US and Canada only). It is now the 19th occasion on which Apple has updated the Apple to add new channels, pushing the total number of third party channels to 37 for those in the US. Also updated was the existing Flickr channel, which received a redesign.
Back in April, when we originally posted the above visualization, I wrote:
Even more interesting is the fact that in the last 12 months Apple has rapidly increased their pace of adding new channels, with 26 being added in that time period.
With today's additions, it takes it to 30 third-party channels being added to the US Apple TV in the last 12 months. If you want to see what channels are available in your region, Apple has a helpful knowledge base article.
The Apple TV is a curious product. It has been called a hobby product by Apple; rumors constantly suggest a 'groundbreaking' new Apple TV is imminent, and Apple has chosen to add features to it on a more frequent, but irregular, schedule than their other products. What I mean by this last point is that unlike other products and services such as iOS, iCloud and even Apple Maps, Apple has not seen the need to wait for a keynote to update the Apple TV with new services.
In fact, since the Apple TV (second generation) was released in 2010, Apple has added new 'channels' to the Apple TV on 18 seperate occasions. Excluding Apple's own channels, the Apple TV now has 33 third party channels in the US, with a handful of other channels only available in countries outside the US. Even more interesting is the fact that in the last 12 months Apple has rapidly increased their pace of adding new channels, with 26 being added in that time period.
I did this research after noticing a more frequent and steady stream of news about new channels being added to the Apple TV. I don't have any explanations or theories for this recent acceleration of channel additions, but am curious as to where the next few months will take us. Will the pace continue, will Apple slow down, or will they eventually open the Apple TV up with an App Store? Of course, the even bigger question is whether the Apple TV will ever really become more than an accessory to your TV or iOS device and become a so-called "revolutionary" device that challenges 'the status quo'. Only time will tell.
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.
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.