On June 20, 2007, Apple released Apple TV Software Version 1.1, the first of multiple planned updates to the company’s TV-tethered media player. Its most publicized and conspicuous addition is a YouTube video player, capable of playing back certain content from the popular free user-submitted video site. But there are several other additions hidden in Software Version 1.1, as well. This article discusses all of the new features we’ve found.
The Update Process
Updating to Software Version 1.1 is relatively easy—if you know that’s an option. At least right now, neither iTunes nor Apple TV lets you know that an update’s available, so you’ll need to go to Apple TV’s Settings menu and select Update Software. Once you’ve done that, the installation process is simple. You select Download Now to grab the update, then wait several minutes for the download to complete.
Once it’s finished downloading, you’ll be asked whether you want to update Apple TV now or later. Pick now, and the system will reset several times, flash its orange front light, and bring up a progress bar screen with an Apple logo.
The updating process will complete in a minute or so, and when you check the Settings menu’s About screen, you’ll see that you’ve been updated to Software Version 1.1.
YouTube: The Player, Features, and Caveats
Apple TV’s most conspicuous sign of being 1.1-ready is the addition of the YouTube option to its main menu. Now equally prominent with the system’s other forms of media, YouTube content is streamed over the Internet rather than fully synchronized onto your Apple TV’s hard drive. Though not all of the service’s videos are available for Apple TV viewing, the last several weeks of submitted videos can be seen right now, and all of the service’s past videos will be transcoded into Apple TV-ready H.264 format by year’s end.
To help you sift through tens of thousands of videos, you are initially presented a menu with 7 total options. Four of the options are designed to take you to content that’s been pre-sorted for you. Featured is content picked by YouTube. Most Viewed is, as the name suggests, the service’s most viewed content, while Most Recent and Top Rated are obvious, as well.
The content on YouTube varies pretty dramatically in quality and appropriateness for viewers of all ages. In the pre-sorted categories above, you’ll find music clips from major artists next to “shocking videos” and bizarre non-sequitur rants from people against other users of the service. Just like the YouTube web site, it’s a free-for-all, and free for all, now on Apple TV.
The search feature brings up one of two keyboard interfaces found in the YouTube application. You can enter any search term to find content on YouTube that has been formatted for Apple TV, and sometimes the results will surprise you. Looks like Gizmodo’s been submitting Apple’s iPhone commercials to YouTube—something that got parent company Gawker Media in trouble back in February. Yikes.
You can also log into your YouTube account to access personal settings such as video ratings for videos you’ve watched. A full-screen keyboard appears for this, letting you enter your user name, then your password.
As shown in the Transformers image above, video clips play on a substantial part of Apple TV’s screen in decent but not spectacular resolution; they don’t fill the complete screen, but they don’t play in a tiny window, either. Hopefully future H.264-encoded content will make better use of the device’s high-resolution capabilities. Videos can be interrupted for rating, saving to your Favorites list, or reporting as inappropriate. Favorites becomes an eighth menu option on the main screen as soon as you have added a video to the list.
Several additional features have been added to Apple TV 1.1’s settings menu. One, Parental Controls, appears to be here solely to protect children from YouTube content.
As with an iPod’s Screen Lock feature, you set a four-digit passcode, confirm it, and then toggle YouTube into one of three positions: On, Off, or Ask. When turned on, any user of Apple TV can watch YouTube. When turned off, it’s inaccessible. With Ask, you have to enter the four-digit code to access it.
Because of the way the menu’s set up, it seems obvious that Apple will add other parental controls to this menu in the future, but for now, YouTube’s all it’s concerned about blocking.
Apple has added a couple of tricks to Apple TV’s Screen Saver. There’s now a Slideshow screen saver in addition to the past cascades of photos and album covers; this screen saver basically mimics the full-screen, transition-laden photo show you see when using Apple TV’s Photos menu.
The second change is that you can now select from different albums when picking photos for the old cascading Photos screen saver or the new Slideshow one. You can use Apple’s library of photos—previously inaccessible once you’d synced your own—or pick an album from your own library, the latest roll, or a Last 12 Months subset of your library.
Though Apple apparently hasn’t fixed Apple TV’s inability to stream photos from a connected computer, rather than requiring you to synchronize them, iTunes 7.2 has also quietly added a feature called Sync Photos Before Other Media. Found in the Apple TV Photos menu, this lets you make sure that the first files sent to the Apple TV are your photos, so if you’re waiting a while for the hard drive to fill over your 802.11b, g, or n connection, photos will appear quickly rather than at the end of the process.
In what appears to be more a sign of future updates than a major addition to the Apple TV right now, there is an iTunes Store option in the Settings menu with a list of countries.
Selecting your country will provide customized Top 10 lists of music, movies, TV shows, and music videos, assuming your selected country actually has all of those types of content in the iTunes Store. If it doesn’t, Apple TV will disable the lists for types of content it’s not selling in a specific region. Viewed in a different light, you can now use this feature to browse top 10 content from international iTunes Stores—a fun Apple TV distraction, rendered awkward only by the inconvenient location of the store selection option in the Settings menu. Apple still hasn’t added any “Buy” buttons to content you find in the Top 10 lists.
A couple of other minor changes are also apparent in the system’s menus. Apple has added subtle dividers to separate Top Songs, Music Videos, Movies and TV Shows from the rest of your content. And its Top lists are now numbered throughout the interface.
What hasn’t changed? TV Shows still lack their Season hierarchies. And the rest of the system’s interface seems to be pretty much the same as we saw before. We’ll update this report further if additional subtle tweaks are discovered; feel free to add your findings to the Comments section below!