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Apple TV: More Powerful Than You May Imagine


Apple's refreshed TV product hasn't yet hit the stores, and though it revealed some of its details, Apple's been quiet about the tech potential inside the tiny box. Now its secrets are leaking, and it looks good.

What we know about Apple TV: It's got a USB port for "support," HDMI out for maximum-res 720p video connection to your TV, optical audio out, wired and wireless network connectivity, and inside an Apple A4 ARM CPU provides the computing oomph. We also know it has a custom UI, heavy on the simplicity, for browsing the iTunes-linked and Net-connected audio and TV content.

The most interesting new data about the Apple TV comes from an experiment by the guys at with the developer release of Apple's newest software, which contains its new wireless-sharing AirPlay system and Netflix's iPad app. The initial discovery was novel enough, all by itself—Netflix can successfully stream its audio content over AirPlay through an Airport Express router to a remote speaker "perfectly with absolutely no hiccups." But the bigger implication is that when Apple TV arrives, you'll be able to stream both audio and video from the app directly to your TV, wirelessly. What this means for other apps on the iPad and iPhone is unclear, but it's extremely promising.

Digging inside iOS 4.2 Beta, other curious types (the tireless team at TUAW) have discovered that the mysterious "iProd2" found in earlier versions of the code—which may have been a future iPad update—has turned out to be the Apple TV. That solves one rumor, but it also starts off a much bigger one: We'd suspected the Apple TV had the same operating system core as the iPad and iPhone thanks to its A4 chip ... but now we know for sure. What's still a mystery is whether or not Apple will give official access to the full OS through its interface, or whether it'll keep the UI locked down as it did with the earlier Apple TVs (based on a cut-down OSX with a custom UI). The suspicion is that it won't, but it may use the core iOS to enable more powerful features on the device with future over-the-air updates.

There's still the option of hacking the device though, as became popular with the first incarnation of Apple TV—using the USB port as a quick way in. The new TV would need to be jailbroken, versus simpler hacks used previously, but there's a thriving community ready to attempt this feat. And this opens up the wondrous possibility of iTunes App Store apps (or even custom-made unofficial ones) running on an Apple TV on your television screen.

It'll remain a mystery until the units ship out in "2 to 4 weeks" (according to Apple), but it's now certain the Apple TV may be capable of far more than we worried it may be.

To keep up with this news, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.