Could Apple TV 2.0 End the High-Def Format War?

Whenever Apple releases a new product, you can almost feel the wave of amnesia spread over the tech universe. Like the new Apple TV, which hooks directly up to the new iTunes video rental service. This isn't the first, or even the second, product to allow you to "rent" self-destructing downloadable movies—Movielink and Vudu tried before with dedicated set-top boxes—but now that Apple's done it, those services might as well cease to exist.

To be sure, the movie rental update is a welcome one. After all, there are only so many times you'll want to watch Wild Hogs. The real killer app, however, is the promise of no-CPU-necessary, high-definition downloading. Ever since Blu-ray and HD-DVD first began slugging it out (and even after combo players, test drives and the big Warner Bros. big HD-DVD dropout), the techocracy has been forecasting a future of over-the-air HD downloads as the silver bullet to put this wretched war to an end.

Apple's high-definition movie rentals could be just that: the final nail in the coffin in a format war few care about and nobody wants. Now that most major studios are on their side, Blu-ray may have "won" the last several rounds, but players are still expensive (the cheapest stand-alone one announced so far is still $350), and discs are both pricey and limited (if you aren't into the latest big-budget new releases, good luck.) At $229, the Apple TV is reasonably priced, and it pulls in new and old releases from every major studio. And because it's a lot easier (and a lot less risky) to throw a film on a server than to mass-market it in a brick-and-mortar store, we can expect the available library to dwarf anything available on Blu-ray.

And did we mention that Apple TV does a whole lot more than just let you rent movies? Because it does, from surfing the Web to streaming music and movies from your purchased-for-keeps iTunes library.

So Blu-ray, you may win the war over HD-DVD, but gloating time is over. Just like the iPod essentially knocked Sony's Walkman line out of the mobile music business, the updated Apple TV could be Blu-ray's worst nightmare. At Steve Jobs' MacWorld 2008 introduction of the new Apple TV, Fox bigwig Jim Gianopulos had some telling words: "People still want to buy hard media." That one word—"still—seemed to forebode doom for the plastic disc, as if to suggest that it won't be long until people don't, in fact, want to buy them at all. —Seth Porges

News source: Popular Mechanics

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