updated 05:50 pm EST, Wed March 7, 2012
Apple TV retrofitted with new UI
Apple through an update has given existing Apple TV owners the same software interface as for the new Apple TV hardware. We've tried it, and the upgrade replaces the text-heavy earlier interface with an easier-to-decipher icon layout. We found it quicker to use than before if you need to go into one of the third-party services, although scrolling down also hides previews of content that would normally be visible at the top.
That the various features are now under icons and not text is a possible clue to us; we're wondering if it isn't a clue as to a third-party app platform. AT the least, it's an element of consistency that makes it easier to understand for someone coming directly from an iPhone.
Other changes are subtler. Genius recommendations are simple enough, but best for those with younger children or who tend to be obsessive genre watchers. In our experience, the movie recommendations tended to be closely related and focused on recent movies.
We like a mildly Cover Flow-like carousel, but it's meant to highlight new releases and is more cosmetic than practical. Other apps, including podcasts, radio, Flickr, and other services, are very much in step with the earlier version. Digging through the menus didn't show any significantly new features outside of a known support for direct Netflix sign-ups that's convenient if you're willing to use iTunes.
If you're an existing Apple TV user, then, the update is somewhat lackluster. It's a nice cosmetic change with a few functional improvements, but it won't add the features that most existing owners would really want, such as 1080p. For that, you'll need a new device.