DTV Primer

Chris Llana, Editor



Apple Pushes Multimedia Envelope

September 12, 2006

Steve Jobs hosted another press event today to announce new products and a revamped iTunes music store. Actually, it's now simply called the iTunes store, because as of today, they are also selling movies (and TV shows, and audio books, and free podcasts) in addition to music.

75 movie titles from Pixar, Disney, Touchstone, and Miramax are now on sale. Other titles will follow, no doubt in quick succession, as Jobs has made the pricing concessions that the studios were demanding. To wit, instead of flat-rate pricing for all movies, new releases will sell for $12.99 (pre-order and first week), and $14.99 thereafter, and catalog titles will sell for $9.99.

Resolution will be 640 x 480 encoded using H.264, with Dolby Surround audio. (TV shows sold at iTunes will now also be encoded at 640 x 480, yielding four times the resolution of the old 320 x 240 pixel count.) If you have a 5 Mbps broadband service (cable or a fast flavor of DSL), it should take about 30 minutes to download a movie.

Jobs also announced a new Apple wireless set-top-box for getting video content from your computer and the internet into your TV. This box will work with Macs and PCs, will cost $299, and will be available in the first quarter 2007. Working name is "iTV."

The box itself will be about 7" square and around 1.5" high. It will have a built-in power supply, optical audio, USB, Ethernet, component, and HDMI ports (along with the old stereo RCA jacks). Did I mention it's wireless (Wi-Fi)?

Software will have a 3D animated interface that will allow you to select music or video from your computer or via internet and iTunes (movie trailers, etc.)

The video resolution potential was described as DVD quality, but apparently the Jobs demo showed an HD version of The Incredibles. Guess we'll have to wait to see. Expect the final rollout announcement at MacWorld Expo in January.

New iPods

As expected, Apple did not announce the long-rumored widescreen "video" iPod (still expected around year-end, hopefully ATSC), but Jobs did present a complete remake of the whole iPod line.

The 5G video-capable iPods are now brighter (60%) and cheaper with substantially longer battery lives (all the better to watch those movies). They still have 4:3 320x240 pixel screens. The big size is now 80 Gb (up from 60).

The iPod Nanos are completely new. The three old models (1, 2, and 4 Gb) are now 2, 4, and 8 Gb at the same prices. They are thinner but now their construction has reverted to that of the wildly popular iPod Mini -- i.e. different colored aluminum bodies with rounded-over sides.

The new 2 Gb Nano is silver, the 4 Gb $199 version comes in silver, blue, green, or pink, and the 8 Gb is available in black only.

The 1 Gb $79 Shuffle is now impossibly small! (ships in October)

New 24" iMac

The new iMacs were separately announced on September 6. I'm mentioning them here because Apple added a 24" size to the 17" and 20" models. The 24" iMac screen is the big thing: 1920 x 1200 pixels. That's more than full specification HD, and it's a lot brighter than the old smaller models.

Since Apple is a big supporter of Blu-ray Disc technology, and is expected to introduce BD drives in its computers (perhaps early next year for the Mac Pro), it stands to reason that their best-selling desktop computer would need an HD screen to display Blu-ray high-definition 1080p movies.

I expect I'll replace my old 15" flat-panel iMac with the 24" beast when Apple puts a digital TV tuner in them (you know they gotta do it!).