New iMac serves as digital entertainment hub

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Apple on Wednesday unveiled a new, slimmer edition of its all-in-one iMac G5. Powered by faster processors and numerous new internal components, the new iMac also features two new integrated Apple software applications, an infrared remote control, and a built-in video camera.

“We think [the new iMac G5] is one of the best computers we’ve ever made,” Jobs said at the computer’s unveiling at a special press event in San Jose, California.

The new iMac models — priced at $1,299 (17-inch display, 1.9GHz G5 processor) and $1,699 (20-inch display, 2.1 GHz processor) — are currently shipping from Apple’s factories in Asia and will be available to customers in the United States next week, Jobs said.

New remote, webcam

The new iMac ships with a six-button infrared remote control that allows users to view video content, listen to music and view videos without needing to be right in front of the computer. The back of the remote is magnetic, and a small magnet is embedded on the lower right side of the iMac’s case, giving users a convenient place to stow the remote when it’s not in use. The iMac’s infrared receiver is hidden behind the Apple logo on the center of the lower portion of the iMac’s face.

Jobs compared the simple six-button remote control that ships with the new iMac G5 to the ones available with Windows Media Center-based PCs, littered with dozens of buttons, and said, “I don’t know if there’s every been a slide that shows what Apple’s all about like this one.”

This new iMac model also offers a first for Apple: built-in version of the iSight, a video webcam that up to now has been available only as an add-on peripheral. The iSight’s lens is located at the top center of the iMac’s front face. To its right is a green LED that lights up when the camera is in use.

New onboard software

Front Row is an application that interacts with the new remote control. When Front Row is activated, it takes control of your Mac’s screen, sweeping the Mac user interface into the background and fading it out until only four icons (representing movies, DVD, photos, and music) remain. Via the remote control, Front Row lets you play DVDs and navigate through DVD menus; browse and play back any QuickTime-compatible movies in the Movies folder; play back slide shows from iPhoto books, albums, and slideshows; browse and watch movie trailers streamed directly from Apple’s web site; and browse and watch music videos, movie shorts, and television shows purchased from the iTunes Music Store using iTunes 6, also announced today.

Jobs called Front Row “one of the most amazing things [Apple has] done in a while.”

The new Photo Booth utility lets users take snapshots using the iSight camera, then add visual effects such as sepia tint, x-ray, bulge and squeeze. When it comes time to take the picture, Photo Booth turns the entire iMac screen white, creating a “flash” effect that illuminates the subject. Once Photo Booth takes the photo, a Polaroid-inspired icon of the photo slides into a tray near the bottom of the Photo Booth interface.

Once you’re done playing with your pictures you can share them using Apple’s Mail application, iPhoto, or save them as icons for use in iChat, Address Book, or to represent your user account on your Mac.

Improved performance and better hardware

The new iMac G5 has a more slender profile than its predecessor — up to 1/2 inch thinner and 15 percent lighter.

As with its predecessor, the iMac G5 is available in 17-inch and 20-inch widescreen configurations. But under the hood the systems use faster processors; the 17-inch model has been bumped from 1.8GHz to 1.9GHz, and the 20-inch from 2.0GHz to 2.1GHz. Frontside bus speed has been bumped from 600MHz to 633MHz on the 17-inch and from 667MHz to 700MHz on the 20-inch.

The 17-inch model features a 160GB hard disk drive, while the 20-inch gets a 250GB hard disk drive. Apple previously offered a low-end 17-inch iMac with a CD-RW/DVD-ROM “Combo” optical drive; now all units get an 8x “SuperDrive” capable of burning DVD-R media.

The iMac G5 is the first Macintosh model to feature PCI Express graphics. PCI Express is a growing standard on PCs, and provides faster performance for graphics systems than what the AGP interface on previous models is capable of doing. It’s also the first Mac model to support DDR2 SDRAM, a faster RAM technology; both models ship with 512MB of RAM standard, with an open RAM slot that supports modules up to 2GB in size (giving the iMac a memory capacity of 2.5GB).

ATI’s Radeon X600 Pro video card is featured on the 17-inch iMac G5, while the 20-inch model gets the Radeon X600 XT. Both systems are coupled with 128MB VRAM. They also feature built-in AirPort Extreme wireless networking and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR (Enhanced Data Rate).

The new iMac G5 also ships standard with Apple’s multi-button Mighty Mouse.

Updated 2:44 PM 10/12/05: Added more details about the iMac G5’s specifications and availability.

Updated 3:10 PM 10/12/05: Added comments by Steve Jobs.

Updated 9:00 PM 10/12/05: Added more detail about infrared remote, Front Row, iSight.

This story, "New iMac serves as digital entertainment hub" was originally published by PCWorld.

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