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Apple eyes gaming as part of its next big TV push

Video games have become one of the top activities on a smartphone or tablet, and Apple's hoping they will help the new Apple TV stand apart as well.

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The new Apple TV

Apple's message is clear: Game on.

CEO Tim Cook Wednesday targeted rivals, such as Microsoft and Sony, with a revamped version of Apple TV that incorporates features designed to appeal to gamers. The new device includes a remote with a built-in glass touchpad that serves as a sort of virtual thumbstick, voice controls so you can jump directly to whatever you want to play, and an Apple App Store, to find new, exclusive Apple TV games.

Among the most prominent: couch-based multiplayer, so someone armed with an Apple TV controller can play alongside friends who own an iPhone or iPod Touch.

It's no surprise Apple is pushing videogames. Games are already among the top software used on the company's iPhones or iPads. Gaming software is also among the most lucrative categories on the App Store.

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Friends on an iPhone or iPod Touch can get in on the action. Apple

If Apple can bring that type of success to its set-top box, the device could challenge video game consoles like Microsoft's Xbox One, Sony's PlayStation 4 and Nintendo's Wii U. The market is already large and growing, with more than half of US households reporting they own a video game machine, according to the Entertainment Software Association, an industry lobby. Forty-two percent of Americans polled said they play games for three hours or more per week.

Among the new games Apple is planning for its reimagined streaming-media device Apple TV are Disney Infinity (previously only available on consoles) and puzzle game Shadowmatic. Activision will be bringing the Guitar Hero franchise to Apple TV in the form of Guitar Hero Live, as well as offering Skylanders SuperChargers, and Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved.

Developer Hipster Whale also showed off Crossy Road. It's Frogger for the modern age: use the touchpad to control your critter, and try to cross the road. The Apple TV gets an exclusive multiplayer mode, so a friend with an iPhone can rade alongside you.

We also caught a glimpse of Beat Sports. It's developed by Harmonix -- the creator of Rock Band -- and is a collection of rhythm games that use the Apple TV Remote's accelerometer and touch surface to thwack opponents with balls.

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Beat Sports, by Rock Band developer Harmonix. Apple

Apple isn't the first company to use push gaming in a streaming-media box though earlier results have been mixed.

Amazon touted games as a key feature of its Fire TV box and even acquired game studio Double Helix Games, which made titles like the fighting game Killer Instinct. However, the gaming initiative failed to impress users and Amazon has shifted its focus to Fire's media capabilities instead.

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Roku has promoted gaming with the Roku 3 , and Nvidia's Shield Android TV offers a number of high-profile efforts like Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel , and 4K video playback. But the industry and consumers haven't rallied around a winner so far. That said, Nvidia's effort offers a proper, dual-thumbstick controller that'll be familiar to folks who've played games on a console. With iOS 7 Apple introduced support for Bluetooth MFi gaming controllers -- many of which are already available for iOS devices.

Apple has also confirmed that the Apple TV will in fact offer support for MFi-based controllers, so the peripherals you've bought can come along for the ride. There's even a wrist strap for the Apple TV Remote, just in case you like a bit for of a Nintendo Wii experience.

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You can waggle it like a Wii controller, or use the touchpad. Apple

The new Apple TV will available in late October, starting at $149 for a 32GB model, and reaching $199 for the 64GB model. International pricing hasn't been announced just yet, but that works out to £97/AU$212 for the 32GB model, and £130/AU$283 for the 64GB model.

See all of today's Apple news.