Apple offers peek at iTV wireless router

In rare advance look at an unreleased product, company shows device that will stream movies from a computer to a TV.

Apple Computer's take on the living room became a little clearer Tuesday with its preview of a new networking product.

The company broke with tradition, announcing a product months before it becomes available. CEO Steve Jobs announced that Apple is working on a product code-named iTV that will allow both Mac and PC users to watch movies or television shows purchased from the iTunes store in their living rooms.

Veteran Apple watchers couldn't remember the last time the famously secretive company preannounced a product. The iTV box won't be available until the first quarter of 2007, but Jobs said it will cost $299 and walked attendees at Apple's press event in San Francisco through a brief demonstration of its capabilities.

The iTV unit is basically a wireless router with ports for video connections to televisions, including an HDMI port for high-definition digital televisions. The idea is to hook it up to a television or set-top box as another video input device, and access video content stored on a Mac or PC through a special Apple remote control, Jobs said.

Such devices have been available for years from networking companies such as Linksys, but they haven't proven very popular with consumers due to their complexity. Part of the reason is that not many people have tons of movies stored on their PCs, and that's because movie download services from companies like Movielink haven't taken off. But Apple thinks the public is ready for digital movies in the same way it was ready for digital music.

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Video: iTV links televisions, PCs
Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs shows off the new wireless device, code-named iTV.

"I think it completes the story, and shows you where we're going" with the company's digital media strategy, Jobs said.

Plenty of questions about the iTV product were left unanswered on Tuesday. Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of marketing, declined to comment on the type of wireless chip the iTV product will use, although it will be some version of 802.11, Jobs said. However, it was unclear whether Apple is waiting for the Wi-Fi Alliance to begin certifying 802.11n products or whether it plans to use the slower 802.11g standard.

It's surprising that the company doesn't have the product ready for the upcoming holiday season, said Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray. But, when released, the device will help Apple's attempt to control the video download market the way it does the music download market, he said.

"The approach that worked for them in music was to have content in a device and have it seamlessly integrated," Munster said. "That's what they are trying to do with the living room now."

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