We’ve known for a couple of weeks that it was coming, and had some ideas of what to expect, but to see the Apple TV 3.0 interface actually running is actually somewhat of a relief. Of the several iLounge editors with Apple TVs, only one of us has been using it actively, while the others have basically left ours to collect dust, occasionally struggling with various aggravating bugs and eventually finding the version 2.0 menu scheme to be more of a pain than it was worth. Installing 3.0 has made us feel like there’s a potential to actually start using these things again. The new menu system uses the best element of Sony’s PlayStation 3 Xross Media Bar—the horizontal list of media options—while replacing the often needless icons with nice album art to show off the varied content on the device or streaming computer, and it’s so snappy that the button-tapping problems with version 2.0 (down, down, right, down down down) seem almost like a distant memory.
There are clearly still some issues. The Internet Radio feature that’s just been added looks nice, but several of the stations we went to test wouldn’t play; similarly, a podcast with a list of various supported resolutions came up with a 1080p option that errored out. Using iTunes LP and iTunes Extras via a streaming connection appears to be problematic, and possibly not totally supported by the current iPhone/iPod touch Remote software—something we’re going to need to keep playing with. iTunes LP doesn’t appear to have been completely tied into the Apple TV interface properly, either, as there are some awkward switches between the song playback and iTunes LP on-screen displays that pull you out of the “virtual album” experience rather than drawing you in.
Jesse’s going to have a lot more to say on Apple TV 3.0 in his Instant Expert piece, which is already underway. For the time being, and little problems aside, it’s safe to say that this is a more or less mandatory update for all Apple TV users except those who have hacked the device for various other features.