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Apple tunes for movies, takes two for TV

17 January 2008

A revamped Apple TV set-top-box has turned what CEO Steve Jobs last year described as “a hobby” into an attempt to directly target the TV set for internet movie and TV downloads. During his Macworld keynote speech on Tuesday, Jobs revealed Apple TV Take Two, the simplest way yet of buying or renting movie and TV downloads from your TV, writes David Fox.

Where the previous version needed owners to use a computer, which it linked to wirelessly, the new software can access all sorts of content directly (and then sync them to a computer, if users want it to).

Importantly, Apple has also won the backing of Hollywood to supply content, with all the major studios signing up for the new movie rental service (which will also be available on any Mac or Windows computer via iTunes, and for downloading to iPods or the iPhone). Movies can be rented in DVD quality or, for a dollar more, in HD (although HD only works with the Apple TV, as it has an HDCP-compliant HDMI connection whereas few computers have this anti-copying protection).

Apple is already the world’s largest supplier of digital music downloads, having sold four billion (as of last week), but it has also sold 125 million TV shows, “that’s way more than everyone else put together,” said Jobs, and seven million movies – also more than everyone else, but not as many as Apple had expected, which is why it has added rentals, which will be available only in the US initially and probably later this year internationally. Apple TV can also access the 50m videos on YouTube and some 125,000 podcasts already on iTunes,

As Jim Gianopulos, chairman and CEO, 20th Century Fox Filmed Entertainment, pointed out, others offer download content, but there were music downloads before Apple started its iTunes music store, and it now dominates the legal downloads market in any country it operates in. “Apple does things in an intuitive, insightful way. This will be a transformative version of the rental model. We’re incredibly excited about it,” he said.

Apple also launched “the world’s thinnest notebook” computer, which is particularly interesting for its use of the multi-touch gestures first seen on the iPhone. This enables users to do flicking movements across its trackpad to move backwards or forwards in a web browser, or rotate a photograph with a simple movement. It could make video editing more intuitive, although the initial MacBook Air doesn’t have a FireWire port, which means it probably won’t form part of a lightweight shoot and edit kit. However, Apple could easily adopt multi touch for its video and music applications and larger laptops.

Apple has also released a new range of high-end Mac Pro models that are particularly suited to audio and video use. They come with eight-core processors, much higher memory and data throughput, and a selection of extremely powerful graphics cards, including one with a stereo 3D port. There is also a new range of Xserve models for back-end use in studios and facilities.

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