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Apple intros couch potato iMac and video iPod

XP Media Center? We've heard of it

Apple revamped its iMac range with home theatre features today, and as widely expected, at last added video playback capabilities to its iPod range.

The iMac gains a new UI designed for sofa operation, similar to the on screen controls Microsoft developed for Windows XP Media Center Edition.

FrontRow allows users to navigate iMovie, iTunes, iPhoto and the DVD player from a distance. Apple will bundle an Infra Red (not Bluetooth) remote control with the new Macs. Apple Remote looks just like an iPod Shuffle, only with an extra button.

(And before you write in, Salling Software's amazing Clicker software - revamped yesterday with added Wi-Fi and Windows support - allows you to do all this using your Bluetooth mobile phone).

The new iMacs also feature a built-in camera, for use with iChat AV. More importantly, the iMac gets a boost under the hood with a PCI-Express graphics bus and ATI Radeon X600 graphics with 128MB of video memory on all models.

The 17" (1440x900) 1.9Ghz iMac offers a 160GB hard drive and the X600 Pro card for $1,299. The 20" (1680x1050) 2.1Ghz model offers a 250GB hard drive and X600 XT card for $1,699. Both start with 512MB of RAM, while the 8x Superdrive, 802.11g, and Bluetooth 2 are built-in as standard on all models. UK prices including VAT are £899 and £1,191.01 - don't forget that penny.

Today's dollar to sterling exchange rate is 1.76:1.

But Microsoft's Media Center isn't the only product Apple is aping today. It's also giving us its take on the Portable Media Center.

Apple has long been expected to build video playback into its iPod, and so it has. But the gimmick is the least significant part of today's news, which again sees Apple shave weight and bulk off the iPod. The new models in 30GB and 60GB sizes cut 10pc off the current range, sport a better color display, and are less than 1.5cm thick. The models cost $299 and $399 respectively, and are available in both white and "self-engraving" black models. UK prices including VAT are £219 and £299.

Apple has snagged a deal with Disney for the sale and playback of TV episodes on the new model. The DRM-protected files will be formatted for the half-VGA screen (320x240) and available for download from $1.99 per episode. Music videos will also be available at the same price.

So now you can pay to watch advertisements. It's twenty years since the first wristwatch TV appeared, and video on the move looks just as unappealing now as it was then. Microsoft's much vaunted Portable Media Center was demonstrated two and half years ago at CES, and devices began appearing a year ago from OEMs including Samsung and Creative.

Just try finding one of these clunkers now. ®

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