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Apple TV (third generation): What you need to know

Macworld staff | March 8, 2012
While Apple executives have continued to call the Apple TV a hobby, over the past couple years, the company has dedicated a fair amount of resources to it. The Apple TV 2 was a major upgrade, and Apple has added a good number of features to that media player through software updates.

However, a new feature automatically pushes new iCloud photos to your Apple TV for immediate viewing.

Can you buy TV shows or movies from the Apple TV?

Provided you have an iCloud account, you can purchase TV shows and movies directly from the Apple TV--and later download and watch them on your other iCloud-enabled devices, as well.

Has anything changed in terms of movie rentals? Do you still get only 24 hours to watch a rented video? How much does it cost to rent TV shows and movies?

Apple hasn't announced any changes to rental terms.

Can you still buy movies and TV shows in iTunes and then play them on the Apple TV? What about ripping your own movies and playing them from iTunes on your computer?

As before, you can buy movies and TV shows on the Apple TV itself, or you can buy on your Mac or other iOS device and later watch on your Apple TV. And thanks to iCloud, you can re-download (or, in the case of Apple TV, stream) purchased TV-show episodes and movies onto any device without having to go through iTunes on your computer. (You previously couldn't re-download movies.)

However, there's a catch here: You still can't re-download movies from Fox and Universal, thanks to pre-existing deals those studios have with Time Warner.

What if I live outside the U.S.?

As with the previous Apple TV, content availability and terms vary depending on the country. Similarly, depending where you live, your iCloud and iTunes Match features may differ from those in the U.S.

Will the 2010 Apple TV support the new features via a software update?

The 2010 Apple TV (which Apple calls the second-generation model) will get the new user interface via a free software update. However, the older model won't gain support for 1080p video, as it doesn't have the necessary hardware.

So what are the supported video and audio formats?

The new Apple TV supports H.264 video at up to 1080p resolution at 30 frames per second; MPEG-4 video up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels at 30 frames per second; and Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) up to 35 Mbps, 1280 by 720 pixels, at 30 frames per second. (Apple's tech specs page has more details about supported video profiles and audio tracks.)

In terms of audio support, you can play HE-AAC, AAC, protected AAC, MP3, MP3 variable bit rate, Audible, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV files; the Apple TV also supports Dolby Digital 5.1 pass-through.

What kinds of connections does the new model have?

As with the previous model, the new Apple TV sports an HDMI output for digital audio and video, a Toslink-optical output for digital audio, a 10/100Base-T ethernet port--sorry, no Gigabit ethernet yet--a Micro-USB port for service use, an infrared receiver for the included remote, and 802.11a/b/g/n for wireless networking.


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