The second-generation Apple TV that Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced back in September has finally hit the shelves here in Japan. Despite the fact that it looks like little more than a hockey puck, the new digital-media receiver from the folks at Cupertino should satisfy users who consume most of their entertainment online.

And while a recent Nielson study found that American viewers are seemingly not ready to “cut the cord” (i.e. make the transition from cable TV to online services like Netflix, Hulu, and Apple’s iTunes store), it’s possible that Japan might be an easier sell for Apple.

Of course, first there needs to be content, so this past week Apple announced that more than 1,000 movies are now available via the iTunes store in Japan, ranging from international film companies 20th Century Fox, Disney, Paramount, Warner Brothers and Universal, to top Japanese studios Fuji TV, Toei, Kadakowa Pictures, and others.

Movies are rented on the Apple TV, which means that once you’ve paid, then the download will start. And if your connection is good it will begin playing seconds later. One would expect that this service should perform far better here in Japan where faster Internet speeds will likely make for better video delivery. Once you have your movie, there’s a 30-day window to begin watching it, and you then have 48 hours to watch it as many times as you wish. As for pricing, high-definition movie rentals will start at ¥300 with new releases tagged at ¥500, but you can opt for the cheaper standard-def versions for ¥200 and ¥400 respectively.

There is also, of course, an increasing amount of quality free media becoming available online, such as films and documentaries on YouTube for example. The promise of even more in the future make solutions like the Apple TV even more attractive.

At a very affordable price point of ¥8,800, the Apple TV is 80 percent smaller than the original version. Occupying an area of just less that 10cm × 10cm, the new Apple TV differs from the previous model in that it doesn’t have any hard drive. It does however have 8 gigabytes of flash memory used to cache media when it’s needed. You can connect the Apple TV to other Macs and draw from your iTunes library elsewhere, or else stream media from online sources.

If you do plan to purchase an Apple TV, don’t forget that you’re also going to need a HDTV capable of 720 pixel output as well as a HDMI cable to connect the two. As for the controls, the new Apple TV includes an Apple remote that allows you to browse through your own media library as well as content online. But if you prefer to use an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch to control your Apple TV, you can install the free Remote application. After that, simply navigate to the general settings on your Apple TV where you can add a remote app. This at least gives you keyboard functionality rather than having to click through a virtual keyboard with the Apple remote.

The release of Apple’s iOS 4.2 and the Apple TV 4.1 software update this week also adds some new goodies. Apple TV users can take advantage of Air Play, a system that lets you stream audio and video wirelessly around your home. There will be support for spoken menus as well.

Expect this Apple TV to sell much better than its predecessor, but don’t expect any big marketing push because this still looks to be very much a “hobby” for Apple, to quote Steve Jobs from back in 2007. During a recent visit to the Ginza Apple Store in central Tokyo, this writer found no demo unit available to try, but merely a stacked display of Apple TVs on the shelf.

Rick Martin is a contributor to Gizmag.com. Read more of his work at 1rick.com.

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