First Look: Apple TV 3.0
Main menu aside, the major new feature addition in Apple TV 3.0 is support for the new expanded-feature formats Apple introduced to the iTunes store back in September, iTunes LP and iTunes Extras. Since these formats bring a DVD-menu-style interface to music collections and movies, respectively, it was a natural that they'd end up on the Apple TV. And now they have.
I think iTunes Extras is a fantastic idea. It allows Apple to bundle together the bonus content previously seen only on DVDs, and make it available as a part of an iTunes download. It closes the gap between iTunes downloads and DVDs in a compelling way, and I expect that it will be come the new standard for how movies are sold on iTunes.
(Image Caption: An iTunes Extra menu in action.) On the Apple TV, iTunes Extras work pretty much as you expect. I navigated to My Movies and chose Iron Man, which has a small icon of a stack of items off to its right to indicate that it's a film containing iTunes Extras. When I click, Apple TV brings me to the Iron Man main menu, rather than just playing the movie. At that point, it's essentially a DVD experience--I can play the movie, navigate through a list of chapters, see special features, and even see a page of ads for other stuff the movie studio wants to promote. (Let's hope the format doesn't allow for mandatory trailers and an FBI warning every time you want to play an iTunes Extras file!)
I was excited about iTunes LP, too, but after having used it on the Apple TV I'm less convinced it's a good idea. Unlike iTunes Extras, iTunes LP files just show up within an album's track listings--you have to select the iTunes LP file and click on it to launch the menu-driven interface. That's probably a fine interface choice, since it's more likely that you'd just want to pick a track than thumb through a set of virtual liner notes.
But I was still disappointed once I entered the iTunes LP interface. When you choose Play Album, the interface drops away and you're left with the standard Apple TV Now Playing screen. The same thing happens if you pick a track from an iTunes LP's Song List menu, go to the page that features song lyrics and artwork, and click Play Song.
I own a handful of DVD Audio discs, and one of the fun things those discs tend to do is display the lyrics pages for the songs as they play, along with playback controls. But iTunes LP doesn't work like that. Yes, if you want to read lyrics while a song is playing, you can click the menu button to re-enter the iTunes LP interface. But there's no way to simply start playing an album and then sit back and watch as the album art advances as each track plays.
iTunes LP pages can also be quite long, scrolling things--at least that was the case with the iTunes LP I tried, Paramore's "Brand New Eyes." (Peppy punk-pop. I like it.) The scrolling interface on the Apple TV is smooth, but I completely missed the faint scroll bar in the corner that indicates that I could press the down button on my remote to scroll down and see more of the lyrics pages.
Then there's the matter of Apple's boner when it came to both these formats, which the company only released last month. People who have bought iTunes LPs and iTunes Extras in the past 50 days will discover that their files aren't yet compatible with the Apple TV. Apple will have to push out an update via iTunes to the libraries of every single person who has purchased this content. Sure, in a couple of weeks this will be nothing more than a hazy memory, but it shows a remarkable lack of planning on Apple's part.
Other new stuff
Great news, everyone: Apple has finally added streaming Internet content sources to the Apple TV! Hooray! Dance the happy dance!