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Apple TV Gets a Major Overhaul

Apple has given Apple TV, its struggling set top device, a considerable software makeover today that includes a redesigned menu, a host of new options, iTunes support and more.

While Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) has dominated the smartphone and MP3 player markets and has gained considerably share in computers, Apple TV shows that, at least to date, even CEO Steve Jobs can strike out once in a while.

Apple TV first came to market in early 2007 as a set-top device for playing music and movies from a user's own collection or computer as well as downloading content from the Internet, notably iTunes and YouTube.com. It's been a slow seller although it does have its supporters and Jobs has referred to it as the company's "hobby."

This update is the first major one for Apple TV since early 2008 when 2.0 software added one-click movie rentals. Today's new 3.0 software features a redesigned main menu for easier navigation, the company claims.

"The new software for Apple TV features a simpler and faster interface that gives you instant access to your favorite content," said Eddy Cue, Apple's vice president of Internet Services in a statement. "HD movies and HD TV shows from iTunes have been a huge hit with Apple TV customers, and with Apple TV 3.0 they get great new features including iTunes Extras, Genius Mixes and Internet radio."

The iTunes LP feature introduced with iTunes, which is intended to help record labels sell whole albums instead of singles, is available in 3.0, as is the Genius Mixes that recommend new content based on the user's current collection. Apple TV 3.0 also supports Internet radio station streams.

Extras and behind-the-scenes features

Apple also added iTunes Extras, a feature that allows customers that download feature-length films or TV from iTunes to view the extras normally only seen on the DVD. These include special features, making-of features and behind-the-scenes material, like interviews.

Apple describes iTunes LP as "the next evolution of the music album, delivering a rich, immersive experience for select albums on the iTunes Store by combining beautiful design with expanded visual features like live performance videos, lyrics, artwork, liner notes, interviews, photos, album credits and more."

The main menu on Apple TV has been significantly redesigned to give users instant access to their favorite content. This includes TV shows, music, podcasts, photos and YouTube videos all accessible from the new main menu. Users can also look up their purchases and recent rentals.

Apple TV 3.0 is a free download for all Apple TV owners. Apple TV sells for $229 and comes with 160GB of storage, 802.11b/g/n wireless network or 10/100 Base-T Ethernet networking. A broadband Internet connection is required.

As part of the update, Apple also updated iTunes to version 9.0.2, which adds support for Apple TV 3.0, plus a few tweaks and, according to some Palm Pre blogs, once again breaks compatibility with the Palm Pre.