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Apple takes over the world, phase 3: Apple TV

In his continuing effort to get at least one piece of Apple hardware in every home in the world, Steve Jobs brings us Apple TV: an exciting way to watch TV on your TV

Apple TV (formerly iTV) was announced some considerable time ago. And yes, if we're honest, it was overshadowed by the whole iPhone thing. But finally Apple has let us know what to expect when the product launches in the coming months.

Having a sniff around the back of Apple TV shows us that it's got everything you need to connect it to your TV. Video out is provided by component RCA sockets and HDMI. To get video on to Apple TV you can either use the built-in Ethernet or 802.11n Wi-Fi -- which can operate at speeds of up to 540Mbps (in theory). A USB socket is provided -- which is likely to offer a way to extend the abilities of the device.

From the little we've seen so far, the interface looks very slick, reminding us of a slightly more advanced version of Front Row. The good news is that Apple TV can output video at 720p, so content will look fantastic on your HD Ready TV. The only problem we can see is that most UK ISPs aren't especially generous with the amount of data you can download each month. We can see some major problems with people grabbing 720p movies over the Net from iTunes. Especially if they end up being charged for the data they use over their allocation. Apple TV also supports MPEG-4 at 640x480-pixel resolution, so it may be possible to import videos into iTunes and send them to the hard drive of the unit.

The other problem we can see is that iTunes, as yet, has absolutely no video content available outside the US. Will this change with Apple TV? Let's hope so, otherwise it's just a really expensive way to watch QuickTime trailers on your telly. We're also a little disappointed that there isn't a TV tuner. That said, the USB socket could possibly play host to an external tuner, if Lord Jobs sees fit to allow such a thing.

Apple TV is being launched at an interesting time: Sling Media recently announced its SlingCatcher, which does essentially the same job, but will cost a substantial amount less. It's not clear if the SlingCatcher supports hi-def material at this stage -- if it doesn't, then it may not be too popular with people who've just bought an HD Ready TV.

According to the Apple Web site, Apple TV will cost £199 when it's released in the UK. The SlingCatcher, on the other hand, will cost just $200 (a little over £100) when it's launched, which could place it in a stronger position. Obviously Apple's strength will be its ability to provide a complete solution, which will start with customers buying content on iTunes and end with them watching it on their TV.

So, as Apple's world domination continues, it only remains for us to ask: how long before we are all wearing roll-neck sweaters and looking smug at Apple product launches? -IM