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October 12, 2005

Apple tries to up the ante in Home Media

Posted by David Hunter at 8:31 PM ET.

The question is, did they succeed? Here’s the rundown from Apple with some comments and some quotes:

Apple Unveils the New iPod

The new iPod, featuring a gorgeous 2.5-inch color screen, can display album artwork and photos, as well as play stunning video including music videos, video podcasts, home movies and television shows. The new iPod holds up to 15,000 songs, 25,000 photos or over 150 hours of video and is available in a 30GB model for $299 and a 60GB model for $399, with both models available in stunning white or black designs.

As an iPod, it’s fine, but the real question is who wants portable video in an iPod sized format?

CNET: While highlighting the new iPod’s video features, Jobs appeared careful to stress several times that it was still fundamentally a music-playing device, with video features added as a “bonus.” … Sam Bhavnani, an analyst at Current Analysis, noted that the appeal of video is more limited than music. “You can’t use it when running. You can’t use it while working. You can’t use it while driving,” he said. However, downloading a TV show to use on an airplane flight, for example, will appeal to some consumers.

Andrew Orlowski: It’s twenty years since the first wristwatch TV appeared, and video on the move looks just as unappealing now as it was then. Microsoft’s much vaunted Portable Media Center was demonstrated two and half years ago at CES, and devices began appearing a year ago from OEMs including Samsung and Creative. Just try finding one of these clunkers now.

Apple Announces iTunes 6

iTunes 6, the next generation of the world’s most popular music jukebox and online music store, lets fans purchase and download over 2,000 music videos and six short films from Academy Award-winning Pixar Animation Studios for just $1.99 each. Customers can also now purchase and download their favorite television shows from iTunes the day after they air on TV, watch them on their Mac or PC and Auto-Sync them onto the new iPod for viewing anywhere.

You get the opportunity to pay to watch a few videos on the small screen.

Andrew Orlowski: Apple has snagged a deal with Disney for the sale and playback of TV episodes on the new model. The DRM-protected files will be formatted for the half-VGA screen (320×240) and available for download from $1.99 per episode. Music videos will also be available at the same price. So now you can pay to watch advertisements.

Paul Thurrott: A tiny collection of newer TV episodes are also available for download, and Apple added a new “Video” section to the iTunes UI. This is bare bones stuff, people. Even the WMV-based online movie download sites like CinemaNow beat the living crap out of this.

Apple Introduces the New iMac G5

The new iMac G5 features a built-in iSight video camera for out-of-the-box video conferencing and Apple’s new breakthrough Front Row media experience. Front Row gives users a simple, intuitive and powerful way to play their music, enjoy their photo slideshows and watch their DVDs and iMovies, as well as popular movie trailers from and music videos and television shows purchased from the iTunes Music Store, on their iMac from up to 30 feet away using the new bundled Apple Remote.

First, consider the new hardware which seems quite nice:

Paul Thurrott: Now this one is particularly interesting. Previous versions of the iMac G5 were alternatively lauded for their thin form factor and bemoaned for their propensity for overheating. I don’t know if the problems have been fixed, but the new iMac G5s look sweet.

Gizmodo: First off, this Mac is so thin that they might as well take off the stand, add a touchscreen, and call it a tablet. Barring that possibility, let’s look at what we’ve got. “Behind its breathtaking 17- or 20-inch widescreen display, iMac G5 displays some monstrous power — with a 1.9GHz or 2.1GHz G5 processor, a sizzling new PCI-Express ATI Radeon X600 Pro or XT graphics processor with 128MB of dedicated video memory and a new high-bandwidth system architecture.” Ok. So we’re talking a very nice competitor to a mid-level P4. Built-in everything—iSight, Might Mouse, AirPort Extreme, and Bluetooth—make for a nice, compact package. The design, obviously, is a big win.

And then there’s Front Row, the home media center:

Paul Thurrott: Apple has finally unveiled its nascent Media Center challenger, called Front Row, which interacts with the user via a bundled remote control (the latter of which looks almost identical to an iPod shuffle). Front Row provides a fun front-end to the music, photos, and videos you have stored on your Mac, and can play back DVD movies. What it’s missing, of course, is TV functionality (tuner, watching, recording), so it gets a B.

Ed Bott: I do hope the people who were so outraged about Microsoft ripping off Apple “innovations” – the Windows Vista interface, Microsoft Gadgets, etc. – are slamming Steve Jobs right now for Apple’s blatant (and frankly pretty lame) ripoff of Windows Media Center Edition, Front Row. After all the buzz earlier this year about what a cool media platform the Mac Mini would be, this is a big letdown. … It appears they’re going after the dorm room, not the living room.

Of course, the lack of TV fuctionality may not be such a big problem since the XP Media Center market exploded without it.

My take is that the video iPod (or at least the video portion of the new iPod) isn’t a winner unless something arrives from left field like video podcasting. The new iMac is a nice hardware improvement for the midrange, but Front Row just seems to be a placeholder for better things to come. For Microsoft, the bar is a little higher in personal media players and clearly someone is thinking of them in the Media Center space, but it doesn’t seem likely that it will impact Media Center sales.

Filed under Apple, Coopetition, Digital Media, OS - Client, Portable Media Center, Technologies, XP Media Center

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One Response to “Apple tries to up the ante in Home Media”

  1. Microsoft News Tracker » Blog Archive » New Apple Mac mini aimed at Media Center PCs? Says:

    [...] Macworld Expo is scheduled for January 9-13. The new mini is supposed to have an iPod dock, FrontRow 2.0 media control, and a “TiVo-killer” DVR application. That would seem to answer the complaints about the new iMac G5 and FrontRow 1.0 announced in October. [...]

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