Apple unveils video iPod, strikes deal with ABC

Hoping its success in the music business translates to television, Apple Computer Inc. on Wednesday announced plans to make episodes of five different TV shows available through a new version of iTunes.

Apple’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Steve Jobs announced that his company has cut a deal with the ABC television network to make five popular ABC shows available for download on iTunes the day after they are broadcast.

Ad-free downloads of “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost,” “Nightstalker,” “That’s So Raven” and “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” will be available on iTunes for US$1.99 each. “That’s So Raven” and “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” also appear on the Disney Channel.

“I think this is the start of something big. Sometimes the first step is the hardest one to take,” Jobs said.

The shows can be watched on a PC or Mac or on a new video player iPod. The new iPod comes in 30G-byte or 60G-byte versions with a 2.5-inch TFT (thin film transistor) display for watching TV shows, music videos or short films.

ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. and new Disney CEO Robert Iger joined Jobs on stage to announce the partnership. Jobs believes the deal is the first that would allow downloads of new TV programs to PCs or video players.

“This is an incredibly exciting venture for us,” Iger said. Disney has had a content-production relationship with Pixar Animation Studios, run by Jobs.

Iger has officially been the CEO of Disney for two weeks, but was appointed to replace former CEO Michael Eisner in March. Eisner and Jobs had a famously rocky relationship fueled by a dispute over the terms of a new content agreement between Disney and Pixar.

Broadband Internet connections are a necessity for the new services, Jobs said. It will take about 15 to 20 minutes to download an episode of “Desperate Housewives,” which is usually one hour long with commercials, over a broadband connection, he said.

Over 2,000 music videos will also be available for download on the new iTunes along with six short films produced by Pixar. The video content is only available in the U.S. at present.

The 30G-byte version of the new iPod will cost $299, while the 60G-byte version will cost $399 when they become available next week. The cheaper iPod is 30 percent thinner than the 20G-byte model it is replacing, but comes with more storage and the 2.5-inch screen.

Apple will also introduce a new generation of iMac all-in-one desktop computers that come with a built-in video camera and faster G5 processors. The new systems also feature a remote control that activates media-organizing software present in every new iMac.

That software, called Front Row, is Apple’s answer to Microsoft Corp.’s Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system. Like Media Center, Front Row allows users to organize their music, photos, and videos from a central location and is designed to be used from across a room, rather than directly in front of the screen.

But Front Row’s remote control is much smaller and simpler than remotes used by Media Center PCs, Jobs said. He showed pictures of two Media Center PC remote controls, one with 43 buttons and one with 45. The new iMac remote control has six buttons.

The new iMac costs $1,299, the same as its thicker predecessor. That configuration comes with a 1.9GHz PowerPC G5 processor, a 17-inch built-in display, 512M bytes of DDR2 (double data rate 2) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM) running at 533MHz, Apple’s SuperDrive for burning DVDs and CDs, a 160G-byte hard drive, and a Radeon X600 Pro graphics card from ATI Technologies Inc. with 128M bytes of video memory.

A more powerful version costs $1,699 with a 2.1GHz PowerPC G5 processor, a 20-inch display, 512M bytes of DDR2 SDRAM running at 533MHz, a SuperDrive, a 250G-byte hard drive, and ATI’s Radeon X60 XT graphics card.

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