The Apple TV 3.0 update also brings Genius mixes of "songs that go great together" to the device, plus internet radio and iTunes LP, Apple's new music offering that adds album cover art, sleeve notes and interactive content to album downloads.
Apple said the free software update will feature a redesigned menu that will make it easier for users to find and download movies, television shows, podcasts and songs from the iTunes store.
“The new software for Apple TV features a simpler and faster interface that gives you instant access to your favourite content,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of internet services. “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 some great new features.”
However, some critics have argued that overhauling a menu will not breathe new life in to Apple TV, a device that has sold poorly by Apple's standards, and which some users even believe the company treats as an afterthought. Industry experts have been particularly critical of its 720p maximum video resolution, while Steve Jobs, Apple's chief executive, dismissed the device as "a hobby".
"The fundamental problems of the Apple TV, which offers poor resolution and is still more expensive than its competition, have not been tackled," says Nick Farrell, an expert with the technology website The Inquirer. "This product is heading to the guillotine and requires a little more to save it than letting users eat interface cake."
Apple TV, which was launched in 2007, costs from £219 and offers 160GB of storage. It gives users direct access to more than 8,000 films, with 2,000 of those available to download or stream in high-definition.
"Overall, the update seems rather iterative," said Don Reisinger, an expert with technology website Cnet. "As an Apple TV owner, I was hoping for something ground-breaking. Instead, Apple has added a few extras and internet radio. They're nice to have, but they certainly pale in comparison to my hopes for bigger and better things from this product. For now, it seems that the Apple TV is still just 'a hobby'."
Apple has updated the iTunes Store Terms and Conditions to reference a forthcoming 3.0 software update for the Apple TV, which will allow viewing of iTunes LP and iTunes Extras content.
The new paragraph under the "iTUNES LP AND iTUNES EXTRAS" section references an update to Apple's set-top box hobby: "iTunes LP and iTunes Extras Products are usable only on computers with iTunes 9 or higher and Apple TV with software version 3.0 or higher."
The new iTunes LP format, which debuted in September, is designed to encourage sales of full-length albums. The new format comes with additional content such as photos, videos and other bonus material. The iTunes LP format was joined by iTunes Extras, which delivers bonus materials for movies, much like are traditionally found on DVDs.
TuneKit content is designed for a 1280 by 720 pixel resolution, which is too large to play on the 13-inch MacBook Pro without entering full-screen mode. But it does exactly fit the HDTV output resolution of Apple TV, and could even scale down to a 480p display.