While the latest iteration of the Apple TV doesn't quite stand as an indispensable home entertainment tool, it does bring enough features to suggest that it will play a bigger role in the company's future. In its current form, the diminutive set top box has evolved into a robust streaming device, with an offering that create more reasons to get rid of your cable and DVD rental subscriptions.
Clad in a small, matte black enclosure, the device measures a compact 3.9 x 3.9 x 0.9 inches and weighs a light 0.6 lbs. One of the main reasons for the minuscule dimensions is the lack of any onboard storage, requiring you to stream all content, whether from online or from your computer's hard disk.
Apple TV is powered by an Apple A4 chip CPU (unspecified model), with ports for HDMI, USB, ethernet and optical audio. Streaming is available both via cable or WiFi, with support for a variety of video (up to 720p), audio and image formats. It comes with a small, aluminum remote (you can also employ your iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch as remote using a free app).
Movie and TV show rentals are the bread and butter service, with Netflix, YouTube, Flickr and Mobile Me fully integrated into the experience. You'll need iTunes 10 to stream from your computer, with AirPlay allowing playback of media from an iOS device.
The Apple TV itself will retail beginning end of September for $99.99. Movie and TV rentals will probably vary depending on the deals in place. For now, shows from ABC and Fox will be streamed in 720p for 99 cents each, with first-run movies (released at the same time as their DVDs) going for $4.99 apiece. Preorders are now available from Apple's website.