A significant update to the Apple TV certainly wasn’t something I expected to see before the release of iOS 5 later this fall, however, Apple has just pushed out iOS 4.3 for its second-generation set-top box that adds a couple of welcome new features. It has also expanded its iCloud service to support TV shows as well as the existing apps and music.

The Apple TV update gives the existing YouTube feature a bit of competition by allowing users to browse and watch the millions of user-uploaded videos on Vimeo. Users can also log into their Vimeo accounts, and save videos for later viewing.

Don’t think YouTube has been ignored completely either. Apple has introduced a minor update to this feature that finally allows us to access our YouTube playlists — a feature I’ve been hoping to see on the Apple TV for some time.

For those of you in the U.S., undoubtedly the most exciting feature in iOS 4.3 is the ability to purchase TV shows on your Apple TV. No longer are you restricted to renting shows from ABC and Fox — you can now purchase and rent any show currently sold on iTunes. It appears that this feature isn’t available anywhere else at the moment, which is the same case for music.

Furthermore, you can also access and stream any TV shows you’ve previously purchased using your iTunes account, and those that you purchase on your Apple TV will instantly be available for viewing on your computer or your iOS device.

At the moment only TV shows are supported, but I’m guessing that if Apple can do this with TV shows, support for movies will be right around the corner.

In addition to its Apple TV update, Apple has now added TV shows to iCloud — which is great news for those of you who, like me, have purchased shows in the past that you have accidentally deleted or lost in years gone by. You can access your TV shows through the same ‘Purchased’ section of iTunes that you have already been using to access your apps and music.

What do you think of the new Apple TV features? I’m glad to see the introduction of Vimeo, but like my neighbors here in the U.K., I’m disappointed that I don’t currently have access to my TV shows.

[via SlashGear]