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I've been an Apple TV fan since the second incarnation of the set-top box. And the third gen model (mine arrived Thursday morning) is even better, thanks to an improved interface and, at long last, support for 1080p programming.
Yep, the Apple TV now supports iTunes movies and TV shows, Netflix, Vimeo, photos and more in HD. However, not all content is available in the highest resolution. You should read the fine print at the iTunes Store to make sure that you're getting a 1080p version and not a 720p version.
Look under the "buy movie" info to see if it mentions 1080p. Downloading a 1080p does take time. I bought "The Adventures of Tintin" with iTunes Extra and it took around 90 minutes to download. In case you need it, in the iTunes Store section of the Apple TV’s Settings app, there’s a Video Resolution item that lets you toggle between 1080p, 720p, and standard definition. I mention this because downloading or streaming 1080p content requires some serious bandwidth; Apple says you'll need at least an 8Mbps connection.
But let me be upfront about 1080p: it's not Blu-ray quality, though it's surprisingly close -- especially considering the smaller-than-expected file size. Also, Blu-ray discs boast uncompressed multi-channel audio, multiple audio language options, and other special features, so they'll continue to be the choice of dedicated movie buffs.
Also, with iTunes in the Cloud, you can purchase and play movies and TV shows from the iTunes Store and watch them instantly on an HD TV, as well as an iOS device, a Mac and (if you must) a PC. Of course, the new Apple TV supports AirPlay, so you can stream or mirror content from an iPad or iPhone 4S to the set-top box. That includes videos, games web pages, spreadsheets and more. And when Mountain Lion arrives this summer, you’ll be able to AirPlay stream or mirror just about anything from your Mac to your HDTV.
The new Apple TV interface is slicker and more intuitive. Besides offering easy access to items at the iTunes Store, it makes it easy to select content from Netflix’s streaming catalog, live sports from MLB, NBA and NHL as well as Internet content from Vimeo, YouTube and Flickr.
Content from more third party content providers would be nice. I'd also love to see some Apple TV-specific content available from Apple -- but perhaps that's coming with the rumored "iTV."
Should you upgrade? If the difference in 720p and 1080p content is important to you, definitely. If you don't care -- or, like some folks, can't tell much difference -- you'll be just as happy with your current Apple TV.
Rating: 8 out of 10
-- Dennis Sellers