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September 13, 2006

Apple dazzles the crowd with a move on the living room

Posted by David Hunter at 2:35 PM ET.

In the original match-up of the PC Titans, it was all Microsoft, but now that the return bout has shifted to personal entertainment gadgetry, Apple is showing some fancy footwork. Microsoft dominates the entertainment PC space with Windows XP Media Center Edition (particularly since they let OEMs ship it in PCs without TV tuners), but the problem is that entertainment PCs are still hanging out in the home office of most consumers and not with the stereo and TV. Meanwhile, Apple hit Microsoft with a roundhouse they didn’t see coming in the form of the iPod personal media player and iTunes music store which knocked down Microsoft and its PlaysForSure hardware partners.

For the next round, Microsoft has been talking tough with its Zune personal media player, but Apple came storming out of its corner yesterday and went right for the living room with a new appliance to bridge the PC to entertainment center gap:

But then Apple made what can only be called a highly unusual move for a company that forbids employees from even speculating publicly about forthcoming products. Jobs unveiled the iTV, a product he’s hoping will bridge the chasm between those movie downloads and the TV set in the living room. Thing is, it won’t be available until early 2007. When released, it will sell for $299.

“Apple is in your den, Apple is in your living room, Apple is in your car and, of course, Apple is in your pocket with iPods,” Jobs told the audience at the San Francisco event. “I hope this gives you a little bit of an idea where we’re going.”

Where Apple is going—or hopes to go—is territory that rivals have so far failed to conquer. Apple says iTV is capable of moving music, movies, and other content from a computer to a television, or another entertainment device. This would be done using wireless technology—probably some variant of wireless fidelity, although Apple didn’t explain further.

And iTV is supposed to work with both Macs and Windows PCs. By itself, this isn’t new other than the promise to support HTDV which will require the bandwidth of some variant of the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard which hasn’t been ratified yet. Indeed, Microsoft currently has two offerings in this area:

Now there’s no claim of HDTV support for the above, but it isn’t like Microsoft left the space empty. The Apple value proposition seems to be like that for the iPod: a simple and foolproof device coupled with simplified video pricing and ordering at the iTunes store.

Speaking of video at the iTunes store, Apple also announced yesterday the availability of a selection of Disney movies (640×480 resolution) via iTunes with further studios expected in short order. (There have already been some complaints of long download times and you can’t start viewing until the download is complete.)

Finally, Apple also raised the bar for Zune with a revamp of the iPod line including brighter screens, more storage, and new iPod video games.

So how does the bout stand? Apple got in a few good punches yesterday, but this round’s not over, much more the fight.

Filed under Apple, Argo, Coopetition, DRM, Digital Media, Media Connect, Media Player, Microsoft, OS - Client, PlaysForSure, Portable Media Center, Technologies, Windows Mobile, XP Media Center, Xbox, Zune

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