Updated Apple TVs were announced this week by Steve Jobs at Macworld San Francisco. Jobs prefaced the announcement by admitting that the original Apple TV failed to completely meet Apple’s goal of connecting Macs (and the content stored on them), the iTunes Store, and flat panel TVs.

The biggest news is that you no longer need a computer to download music, videos, podcasts, and photos to your Apple TV. Content can now be streamed and downloaded from the internet or the iTunes Store directly to the Apple TV, ready to be watched on your widescreen flat panel television.

Apple is dramatically expanding the number of movies available in the iTunes store and is now offering movie rentals (more on this below.) You can browse and rent DVD and HD-quality movies with 5.1 Dolby audio directly from your couch. Music, movies, and TV shows purchased from the iTunes Store on the Apple TV will sync back to a paired home computer.

Other features:

  • Apple TV has an updated interface.
  • You can start watching downloaded movies almost immediately after purchasing them. As little as 1% of a movie has to downloaded before it is viewable.
  • It’s now possible to view photos directly from Flickr or a .Mac Web Gallery on the Apple TV. In addition, photos can be displayed as slideshows or screensavers.
  • The original Apple TV allowed you to watch thousands of YouTube videos. The updated Apple TV allows you to watch the entire YouTube catalog (over 40 million videos) directly on Apple TV. It’s also possible to say save searches and view YouTube subscriptions.
  • The updated Apple TV has AirTunes functionality. Apple TV can control playback of iTunes audio including pause, skip forward, and skip backward.
  • You can browse over 125,000 audio and video podcasts in the iTunes Store podcast directory and stream content immediately to Apple TV.
  • The Apple TV ships with an Apple Remote.
  • Current Apple TV owners can get most of the new Apple TV features — including movie rentals, a built-in music store, and big-screen access to Flickr photostreams and .Mac Web Galleries — as a free software upgrade (coming soon, date not announced by Apple.)

Apple TV automatically checks for new software every week. But if you’d like to upgrade your Apple TV manually, go to the Settings menu and select Update Software.

An Apple TV with a 40GB drive (which holds about 50 hours of video) will cost $229.

An Apple TV with a 160Gb drive (which holds about 200 hours of video) will cost $329.

The updated Apple TVs are expected to ship within two weeks.

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