Apple previews iTV home theater playback box

Following Tuesday’s release of iTunes 7, which adds movie purchases to the newly-renamed iTunes Store, Apple CEO Steve Jobs previewed a new device -- code-named iTV -- which will allow iTunes customers to view movie and TV shows on flat-screen televisions.

Jobs described the forthcoming $299 set-top box as “completing the package” of Apple’s multimedia offerings. Users can download music, TV programs, and now movies from the iTunes Store. They can watch those multimedia files on both their Macs and iPods. However, there’s no easy way of watching such programming on their television sets—Jobs sees iTV as the key piece of that puzzle.

Resembling a squat Mac Mini, the iTV will use wireless networking to stream movies and TV shows from iTunes to a television. The power supply is built right in to the unit; it also features USB 2.0, Ethernet, High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) plug, component video, analog audio and optical audio interfaces.

The box is driven by software that carries a slight resemblance to Front Row, the multimedia control application Apple bundles with newer Macs. However, software features 3-D animated graphics with a menu on the right while dynamic graphics are displayed on the left.

In demonstrating iTV to the press at a Tuesday event in San Francisco, Jobs scrolled through menus for movies, TV shows, photos, and podcasts using an Apple remote. Floating artwork—movie posters for the Movie menu or album art for Music, for example—appears on the left-hand side of the screen while a list of titles appears on the right.

Because iTV connects wireless to the Internet, it can also show movie trailers from Apple’s Web site.

iTV represents something of a departure for Apple, which normally keeps information about products tightly under wraps until they’re ready for release. iTV -- which Jobs stressed was an internal Apple code name and not the product's final moniker -- won’t ship until sometime during the first three months of 2007.

“We usually keep things corralled until we ship them,” said Jobs, who conceded that Tuesday’s preview was a bit unusual for his company. “But we think this completes the story, so we decided to go ahead and show it to you today.”

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