Citing “three people with knowledge of the plans,” Bloomberg is reporting that Apple on Wednesday will announce a $99 version of its AppleTV device that streams video from Netflix.
Other expectations are that Apple will present a new version of the iPod Touch with a forward-facing camera and perhaps a redesigned nano, its low-end iPod.
There’s also been talk of a “cloud” version of iTunes. Maybe it will update iTunes so it’s easier for users to manage and access their pool of rented and purchased material on different devices, including a TV.
The AppleTV device could then be more of an adapter than a standalone video storage and playback device — more of a connector for securely transmitting protected content.
The new AppleTV will join a huge crowd of devices in the same price range that connect televisions to online video stores and subscription services.
It also comes as TVs and Blu-ray disc players are increasingly connecting directly to those services through Wi-Fi or wired Internet connections. If you’re planning on buying a new TV, game console or disc player in the next three to 12 months, you might want to see if a device like AppleTV will duplicate the capabilities of what you’ll be buying.
Access to Netflix has become a nearly universal feature on set-top devices, similar to having HDMI connections on a TV or Wi-Fi on a computer.
Every current game console connects TVs to Netflix, as do TiVo boxes, Windows PCs with Media Center capabilities and various gadgets that add connectivity to current TVs. The latter includes the $69 Roku box and the $100 Western Digital TV Live devices.
What’s really intriguing, I think, is the rise of $200 to $300 Media Center computers the size of a box of frozen spinach, designed to hang on the back of a TV.
In addition to providing access to Netflix, iTunes and all the other Web video rental services, these tiny PCs also work as digital video recorders with slick channel guides. They also give viewers access to all the content and sites on the Web — taking TVs beyond the restricted pipeline created by applications designed for video rental and sales.
Apple will no doubt introduce a beautiful new piece of hardware, but the real advance would come if the device makes it easier for people to access the whole Web through their TV, and not just pre-screened applications and subscription video services.