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Third-Generation Apple TV Adds 1080p Video

As a teaser leading up to the main introduction of the day, Apple announced a new third-generation Apple TV at last week’s media event. The new box can play 1080p video when available and offers a streamlined user interface in the full glory of 1080p resolution. The new Apple TV is available for pre-order for $99; it begins shipping this week. A software update provides the second-generation Apple TV with the same user interface through a software update, though not the 1080p capabilities. The new model includes a single-core A5 processor, presumably to handle the additional decoding necessary for 1080p, in favor of the previous model’s A4 processor.

The third-generation Apple TV can act as a destination for streamed music, photos, and video, and AirPlay mirroring remains available from the iPad 2 and just-announced third-generation iPad, and the iPhone 4S. Interestingly, the Apple TV specs note that mirroring the third-generation iPad is done at 720p resolution, even though both devices are capable of pushing 1080p.

iCloud integration is present, so you can access your iTunes playlists from iCloud, and your photos in Photo Stream. Speaking of iCloud, iTunes in the Cloud now supports movies, so you can re-download most movies you’ve purchased from the iTunes Store on any device, including the Apple TV. We say “most” because Fox and Universal aren’t participating due to contractual obligations to offer availability windows to HBO.

Although the Apple TV runs iOS under the hood, its interface is still entirely customized, and bears little resemblance to iOS on other devices. Despite the rumors, there’s no indication that voice interaction via Siri has been added — that will have to remain rumor fodder for future models. New to the interface are Genius-based movie recommendations based on what you’ve seen, presumably only for movies in iTunes.

The interface changes largely revolve around the Apple TV’s main screen, where the Cover Flow-like preview at the top is fed by icons for Movies (from the iTunes Store), TV Shows (also from the iTunes Store), Music (from iTunes Match), Computers (your Mac’s iTunes library), and Settings. All other content sources for the Apple TV — Netflix, Vimeo, Flickr, and so on — appear below as app-like icons; selecting one drops you into that source’s own screen. In essence, Apple appears to be relegating non-Apple services to a secondary status, albeit without reducing navigability.

One tip: press and hold the remote’s Menu button to jump quickly back to the main screen, where you can press and hold the center select button to put the Apple TV to sleep. (When we’re done watching, Tonya and I always power down the Apple TV and the television to reduce power consumption and wireless network usage from the streamed photo screensaver.)

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