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Late on Wednesday, Apple released the Apple TV 2.3 software update. This update adds a few refinements to Apple TV, but doesn’t offer any breakthrough new features. If you read my post about boxee and installed it on your Apple TV, you’ll want to wait because boxee won’t run after updating.
Apple’s summary of the 2.3 update highlights four key features that have been updated..
- AirTunes Streaming from Apple TV
- Third-party Remote Controls
- Music Volume Control
The AirTunes update allows the Apple TV to become a source for other AirTunes speakers in the house. I haven’t been able to test this because I only have one Apple TV, and no Airport Express, but this sounds like a great feature for party music. You can now select the music or playlist on the Apple TV and have it play elsewhere in the house. No word yet on if this means simultaneous output to local speakers and remote speakers, or just output to remote speakers and no local audio. And sorry, I don’t have the setup to test it myself.
Third-party remotes are supported by selecting “Learn Remote” under Settings > General > Remotes and then following the on-screen instructions to send IR commands from the other remote. The idea is that you can select an unused device on your existing multi-device remote and have the Apple TV learn the default IR commands that the remote sends and map those to Apple TV commands. This will work well for people that have a multi-device remote for their cable box or something. For those of us that already have a learning remote, this isn’t such a big deal because you can reverse the process and just have the remote learn the commands for the Apple TV. What I’d really like to see next is an update to the Apple Remote app for the iPhone so that you can control all on-screen menus and navigation from the iPhone rather than having to use both the IR remote and the iPhone app.
The Apple TV now has an option to display all playlists in menus, including those with Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, and Music Videos. You can turn this on by selecting Show Playlists > All in the Settings > Audio & Video menu. The Apple TV is somewhat smart about how it decides which playlists to list in each section of the interface. When in Music, showing all playlists will display all lists with music in them. When you are in Movies, only playlists that actually have movies in them will appear. This works the same for TV Shows and Podcasts. Music Videos are still a subset of Music and don’t have their own playlist menu.
Control of music volume is one of those details that certain people have been asking to get for a long time, but unfortunately they only get a partial solution. You can control music volume with the Apple TV remote, but it does not appear to work with TV Shows or Movies. Still, for some, being able to control music volume is great. You can only really appreciate this if you use the white remote that came with your Apple TV. With that remote, you could not control the volume without picking up the remote for your receiver. Now, you have the option for using the Apple remote to control the volume. This works with the optical audio out (which is what I use in my setup) and I assume it will work with analog out as well. You can change this setting by going into the Settings > Audio & Video and selecting “Control Music Volume: On” by toggling that item. Again, if you have a learning remote and have already mapped the volume buttons to control your receiver, this new option is not really for you.
Now for the bad news…
For those of you that love boxee, be warned that this update will kill boxee on your Apple TV. @boxee posted a note on Twitter that this wasn’t working right after the update was released. It has always been true that Apple TV updates disable any extra items like boxee and you would have to reinstall. The difference is that boxee will not run at all on Apple TV 2.3. You can check for updates on the official boxee forums to see when the xbmc/boxee teams finds a fix. There is a sticky thread with the warning and a discussion thread where people are trying to figure things out. The most important tidbit from those threads is that you can disable auto-updates on the Apple TV if you wish to stay at 2.2 with all your boxee goodness still running. SSH into your Apple TV and issue the following command…
sudo bash -c 'echo "127.0.0.1 mesu.apple.com" >> /etc/hosts'
If you’re not sure about SSH and need some help, don’t fret — it’s actually pretty simple. kschroll wrote a nice summary in the boxee forums that is easy to follow. The bottom line is that the technique will prevent the Apple TV from contacting the update server by overriding DNS lookups for mesu.apple.com and instead point all those attempts to check for updates back to itself (which of course, fails).
The 2.3 update itself is pleasant enough, but no boxee will mean “no install” for those that are watching Hulu on their Apple TV. The new features are really more refinements than new functionality. Still, I find it encouraging that in these days of the iPhone and Snow Leopard that Apple still has resources devoted to improving Apple TV. I would love to see some new functionality at MacWorld in January, but this latest update will keep my hopes alive that Apple TV will grow into more than just a hobby business. We’ll see what 2009 brings!