Instant Expert: Secrets and Features of Apple TV 2.2
Late last night Apple quietly released an Apple TV Version 2.2 update, providing bug fixes, stability improvements, and a few additional new features. While the obvious new features include things such as Genius playlist support to bring the Apple TV in-line with iTunes 8 and the 2008 iPod models, there are quite a number of other significant changes hidden away under the hood.
As usual, we have gone through Apple TV 2.2 in detail to see exactly what has changed. Curious about what’s new? Read on.
The most obvious new feature in Apple TV 2.2 is support for Genius playlist creation and management, mirroring the Genius features now available on the 2008 iPods and iPhone. A new “Genius” section appears on the main Music menu; selecting this option the first time will provide instructions on how to operate the Genius feature, unless you haven’t synchronized the 2.2 Apple TV with iTunes 8.0.1 (or later) yet.
As these instructions indicate, you create a Genius playlist by holding down the Play/Pause button on the Apple Remote from either the “Now Playing” screen or the track listing. Doing this will pop up a context menu that allow you to initiate the Genius feature for the current track:
The first time you play a track after updating to Apple TV 2.2, you will also see a fading note at the bottom of the Now Playing screen: you can press and hold the Play/Pause button for more options.
Working with Genius playlists on the Apple TV is much the same as on other devices. You can begin playing the Genius playlist directly, refresh the Genius playlist with a new selection of tracks, or save the Genius playlist to your Apple TV. Saved Genius playlists will appear in the top-level playlists folder, and will synchronize back to iTunes during your next sync.
You can also access existing Genius playlists, whether created on the Apple TV directly or synced from iTunes, refresh their content and re-save them. As with new Genius playlists, any changes you make on the Apple TV are synced back to your main iTunes library.
Note that you cannot remove Genius playlists directly on the Apple TV once they have been saved. To do this, you will need to remove them from iTunes and re-sync the Apple TV. Note also that Music Videos cannot be used with the Genius feature.
As with other devices, once you have begun creating Genius playlists, the main “Genius” option will show the last Genius list created. This queue is cleared each time you sync your Apple TV with iTunes, however, so you should ensure that you save any Genius playlists that you would like to keep.
In addition to Genius support, the Apple TV 2.2 update also provides On-The-Go playlists similar to those found on the iPod and iPhone. The On-The-Go playlist is found at the bottom of your main playlist folder, in much the same way as it appears on Click Wheel iPod models. Selecting the On-The-Go playlist before adding tracks will present a brief instruction screen on how to use this feature:
Content is added to an On-The-Go playlist in the same manner as initiating the Genius feature: simply hold down the Play/Pause button on your Apple Remote, and select “Add To On-The-Go” from the pop-up menu.
Further, much like the iPod you can also add entire track groupings to your On-The-Go playlist on the Apple TV simply by holding down the Play/Pause button on a track grouping, such as an existing playlist, artist, album, or genre. This will pop-up a slightly different menu with only the “Add To On-The-Go” option listed, since you cannot create a Genius playlist based on multiple tracks.
Selecting the Add To On-The-Go option in this case will add ALL of the tracks contained within that particular grouping to the On-The-Go playlist—such as all tracks from a selected album, or all tracks by a specific artist. Keep in mind that if you’re adding a large group of tracks, such as an entire genre or another large playlist, this can take a few extra seconds, during which time the Apple TV may appear unresponsive as no status indicator is provided.
Once you have finished adding content to the On-The-Go playlist, simply scroll to the bottom of your playlists and select the On-The-Go playlist to see the content contained in it. From here you can also clear the On-The-Go playlist entirely or save it as a new playlist.
On the Apple TV, when saving an On-The-Go playlist, you’re also given an opportunity to name the playlist:
On-The-Go playlists that you have saved will be transferred back to your iTunes library the next time your Apple TV syncs. Note that unlike the iPod and iPhone, unsaved On-The-Go playlists do not synchronize back to your iTunes library. However, the On-The-Go playlist is also not cleared until you either save it under a new name or clear it manually.
With the Apple TV 2.2 update, Apple has quietly snuck in a feature that many users have been requesting since the initial release of the Apple TV. You can now use video playlists properly on the Apple TV—videos will continue to play sequentially from the playlist as they would for a normal audio playlist. This will be an extremely welcome feature for using the Apple TV in a party setting.
You can also mix audio and video in the same playlists. The Apple TV will simply switch to the normal “Now Playing” screen when playing an audio-only track, and switch to the video playback screen when playing a video. When playing videos, a small overlay will appear in the bottom-left corner at the beginning of each video displaying the track information.
Further, the audio portion of videos will now continue playing in the same way as audio-only tracks when you navigate away from the video by pressing the “Menu” button on your Apple Remote. You can return to the video simply by waiting a few seconds without pressing any keys or by going to the “Now Playing” menu item.
Videos can be added to On-The-Go playlists as well in the same manner as audio tracks. Note that adding an entire artist to an On-The-Go playlist from the Videos menu will add all of their audio tracks as well, and vice-versa.
Viewing Movies, TV Shows, and Video Podcasts
When viewing a Movie, TV Show, or Video Podcast with a description, pressing the Up button on the Apple Remote twice will display a pop-up window over the currently-playing video showing more information about the video:
Further, if the video that you are watching contains chapter markers, pressing and holding the Play/Pause button at any time while viewing the video will bring up an on-screen chapter browser. If the chapter markers contain thumbnails, an image of each chapter is shown; otherwise only a text-based chapter listing is shown:
Note that the presence of additional options such as chapter markers is also indicated on the video description overlay with instructions to press and hold play/pause to bring up additional options.
HD TV Content Changes
The Apple TV now identifies HD TV content by placing a small “HD” icon beside any TV series containing any HD episodes.
Further, within the episode listing for a given TV series, those episodes that are in HD will be similarly identified.
Note that the Apple TV 2.2 update itself does not fix the issue that many users were experiencing with both HD and SD versions of recently purchased episodes showing up (see our news section for more information), as this was not an Apple TV problem at all, but rather an iTunes problem with properly associating the different episode versions. The good news is that the iTunes 8.0.1 update (which was also released last night) does fix this problem regardless of the Apple TV software in use.
Purchasing HD TV Content
The Apple TV 2.2 update now allows HD TV content to be purchased from the iTunes Store directly from the Apple TV. An HD section is provided under the normal TV shows store listings which will bring up a list of all available HD TV shows:
Entire Series and Season Pass purchases are available in either SD or HD from the main series listing, and individual episodes may be purchased in either SD or HD as well.
More Movie Information
The new Apple TV firmware also provides some additional information for each movie in the iTunes Movie listings. Opening a movie summary screen and selecting the “More” button will show a listing of additional options, including the full summary, an “Add to Wish List” menu item, and a cast and crew listing. Highlighting any of the names will show a listing of other movies which include that particular actor, director or writer.
You can use the Apple Remote to select any of these additional titles and open them directly from this screen.
Settings Menu Changes
A few small changes have been made to the Settings menu as well. Firstly, a “Standby” option now appears at the bottom of the Settings menu. Selecting this simply puts the Apple TV in Standby mode. It was presumably necessary to add this as a menu option as the old method of putting the Apple TV in standby—holding down the Play/Pause button for a few seconds—has now been superseded in some places by the new Genius and On-The-Go playlist features.
The Audio and Video settings have now been combined in a single “Audio and Video” menu, and the AirTunes section has been moved out of the Audio menu into the main Settings menu. The new Audio and Video menu also includes settings for default Audio Language and Subtitles.
What Hasn’t Changed: Performance
While this Apple TV adds a number of very useful new features to enhance the end-user experience, overall performance does not appear to have changed at all. Apple TV 2.2 doesn’t perform any worse than previous versions, but it’s also no better, particularly for those users with large iTunes libraries. When syncing with larger iTunes libraries, the Apple TV tends to become unresponsive while the sync is occurring, and starting to play even an on-device video during a sync will usually result in some skipping and stuttering as the Apple TV cancels the iTunes sync to give priority to showing the video. This has not really changed for the better or worse in Apple TV 2.2, and remains a disappointing flaw in what should be a seamless user experience.
Update or Wait?
The Apple TV 2.2 update offers a number of significant new features that many users will find very enticing. In our testing, no major or obvious problems were observed. Other than normal caution about installing any new update, there’s not really any reason to recommend against this one.
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