Apple unveils movie downloads, iPod models

Apple Computer on Tuesday unveiled three iPod models, including one the size of a matchbook; and launched a movie download service through its popular iTunes online store.

In addition, chief executive Steve Jobs demonstrated at a San Francisco media event a new device codenamed iTV that would carry content from a PC or Apple Mac to a television.

The new iPod Shuffle, which Apple claims is the world's smallest digital music player, contains 1GB of flash memory capable of holding up to 240 songs. The device, which weighs half an ounce and has a battery life of 12 hours, sells for $79.

Jobs also introduced new generations of the iPod and the iPod Nano. The fifth version of the former includes a brighter 2.5-inch colour display for playing movies from the iTunes Store, which launched its new download service with 75 Hollywood titles. Along with movies, Apple also started selling videogames through iTunes. Titles included "Pac-Man," "Tetris," and "Texas Hold'em."

The new iPod is available with 30GB of storage for $249, and 80GB for $349. The latter can store up to 20,000 songs, or 100 hours of video.

The latest iPod Nano, which is smaller than the iPod, includes a new aluminum body and more than twice the music capacity for the same price as the previous generation. The device, which has 24 hours of battery life, sells for $149 for 2GB of storage, $199 for 4GB, and $249 for 8GB.

The iTV device would grab iTunes content wirelessly from a Mac or PC, and deliver through a hard-wired connection to a television.

"This really marks Apple's foray into the battle for the digital living room," Ross Rubin, analyst for the NPD Group, said.

That battleground includes Microsoft, which offers its Windows Media Center operating system to connect a PC to a television. The software can record cable content and turn a computer into a set-top box or digital video recorder. Microsoft's Xbox videogame console can also connect to a Windows Media Center PC and a TV.

While the Mac can also be connected to a TV, the software that ships with the computer does not have all the capabilities of Microsoft's operating system. Nevertheless, in unveiling iTV, which is expected to ship early next year, Apple apparently plans to run a tighter race.

What isn't immediately clear is how Apple will be able to stream video and movies from a Mac and have it delivered to a TV at the same quality as a cable or satellite connection, Rubin said. Wi-Fi technology widely used today can deliver video, "but it's not a consistently good experience."

Apple unveiled its movie download service on iTunes less than a week after launched its service. The online retailer, which could become a serious challenger to iTunes, has signed 30 TV networks and Hollywood studios for content.

Movies on Amazon cost between $7.99 and $14.99 apiece. Apple on Tuesday was selling most titles for $9.99 apiece, with some costing $12.99.

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