Apple TV, Take Two: A positive first impression

Apple TV "Take Two" is definitely worth the upgrade. It so transforms your old Apple TV, it is almost as if you sold the old model and purchased a new one. And it's free. There's virtually no downside here.

Among all the new features in Take Two, I already have three favorites:

Podcasts. This is my #1 favorite new feature. While there are many podcasts that I would enjoy listening to, I rarely do—because I rarely want to take the time to sit down and listen for an extended time. With Apple TV Take Two, however, I can easily listen to podcasts from my living room TV, allowing me to (for example) prepare and eat dinner while the podcast plays in the background.

True, I could play a podcast from my iTunes Library even with the old Apple TV. But the new version makes it so much more convenient. I don't have to subscribe to a podcast or worry whether the one I want to listen to is on my Mac or not, or synced to my Apple TV or not. I just directly start browsing podcasts on the Apple TV and play the one I want. As a bonus, you can play it without having to download it. This means that, once you are done listening, you don't even have to remember to delete it from the Apple TV (assuming you don't care to save it, as will usually be the case). The process is as simple to do as it is to select a broadcast TV channel to watch.

Some users have complained that you cannot subscribe to a podcast from the Apple TV. Personally, I don't see this as a negative. If I really want a subscription, I can still do it from my Mac.

.Mac and flickr photos. I had already been using Apple TV "Take One" to displays photos from my iPhoto Library. With Take Two, I can now play slide shows from .Mac Web Gallery and Flickr accounts. This doesn't add much value for playing my own photos at home (it's just as easy to use my iPhoto Library directly for that). But it's a great way to view other people's photos—or even to show your own photos when you are at someone else's house (if that someone else has an Apple TV and is willing to put up with watching your vacation slideshow!).

HD content. You can rent HD movies directly from your Apple-TV connected television. Unless you already own a Blu-Ray or HD-DVD player, and prefer having physical discs, Apple TV is currently the best way to rent HD content for your television. With "Take Two," you can even play theatrical movie trailers in HD. Very cool!

I do have one relatively minor complaint with "Take Two": All the menus are organized around iTunes Store content. This means, for example, if you want to play music from the iTunes Library on your Mac, you first have to select "Music" from the main menu and then (from a submenu that lists Top Music, Music Videos, Genre, Search and My Music) select the last choice (My Music). This finally takes you to the menu for your iTunes Library; a menu that looks pretty much as it did in "Take One." The net effect, however, is to make you feel as if your own music is semi-buried amid the iTunes Store options, as if Apple TV is now designed primarily as a device to sell iTunes content (and maybe it is).

On the other hand, as a music video fan, I welcome how easy it is now to browse through and purchase music videos directly from the Apple TV. If you purchase a music video (or any item, other than a rented movie), it is transferred to the iTunes Library on your Mac, automatically, the next time you sync your Apple TV.

One caution: I have my Apple TV connected via a 802.11n connection. I am not sure how much streaming and downloading would be negatively impacted by a slower 802.11g connection.