SLIDESHOW

Nine cool features of the Apple TV

The second-generation Apple TV is in many ways a radical departure from Apple's original set-top box. Here are some of the things that make it a must-have device in your media cabinet.

Netflix

Just about every Blu-ray player, HDTV, and video-streaming device for sale today seems to include the ability to play streaming Netflix content. The Apple TV, with its strong focus on Apple’s own iTunes Store, has never supported such a service in the past, but that’s all changed. Netflix subscribers with streaming access—starting with the $8-a-month Watch Instantly Unlimited streaming-only plan and including all DVD-rental plans $10 a month and up—can use the Apple TV to watch the entire Netflix streaming video library.

In addition, the Netflix interface the Apple TV uses doesn’t look like the ones found in most other devices that feature embedded Netflix support. Apple TV’s Netflix feature uses the same interface conventions as browsing through TV shows and movies on the iTunes Store. Apple says it wanted a consistent design with the rest of the Apple TV interface—poster thumbnails are laid out and look as they do when browsing Apple’s own iTunes Store catalog, and if you know how to use the Apple TV, you know how to use Netflix on the Apple TV.

TV show rentals

Want to watch a TV show episode from last night without both waiting to download the whole thing and paying to buy it? That’s where TV show rentals come in. With the Apple TV, you can browse through TV shows and the begin watching an episode almost instantly—even in HD—for just $1. You have 30 days to begin watching and then 48 hours of viewing once you’ve pressed Play.

Of course, not everything Apple offers for sale is available for rental. That’s because Apple has only secured the rights to stream TV show rentals from some of the TV networks and production companies. But hopefully those relationships will continue to expand in the future.

MLB.TV

The Apple TV began its life only able to reach out to a few Internet video sources. With the Apple TV 4.2 software update, Apple added a few others.

One of these new sources is MLB.TV, Major League Baseball’s live game subscription service. With it you can follow your favorite team(s) and enjoy their home and away games on your HDTV. Because of standard blackout restrictions, however, you can’t use it to watch your local team.

NBA League Pass

The same Apple TV 4.2 software update that brought MLB.TV to the Apple TV also added NBA League Pass. With it, you can follow NBA basketball games via the Apple TV.

As with MLB.TV, blackout restrictions prevent you from watching your local team and some national broadcasts.

Movie rentals

Although streaming movie rentals are available from a number of sources—your cable or satellite company, Amazon via your TV or Blu-ray player, and so on—it’s nice to know that the Apple TV connects to the iTunes Store’s vast catalog of movies as well.

As mentioned earlier, the latest Apple TV only supports streaming, so if you want to buy a movie to watch over and over again, you’ll have to do so from your computer or iOS device.

YouTube

Sharing is caring, or so they say. And if you care about what the world has to offer, YouTube is the place to look. And with the Apple TV, you can browse and enjoy the nuggets of joy posted on the popular video-sharing site.

In addition to YouTube, the Apple TV also lets you view content from Flickr galleries and MobileMe accounts.

Internet radio

If you enjoy listening to free audio content from thousands of streaming Internet radio stations, be sure to check out the huge list of stations available via the Apple TV.

And if you’ve connected your Apple TV’s audio to your home theater system, you can enjoy music from real speakers, not the ones built into your TV.

New features

Perhaps the coolest feature of the second-generation of the Apple TV is the fact that it’s an evolving product.

For example, in addition to AirPlay support and MLB and NBA subscriptions, the 4.2 software update also brought Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound to Netflix streaming, new slideshow themes, and an improved on-screen keyboard.

What will Apple add next? Who knows, but Apple has clearly moved beyond the ‘hobby’ phase of the Apple TV, and it’ll be fun to see where the product goes from here.