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Apple Enters Portable Media Player Market

Apple added video and photo playback to two new iPods and video downloading to its iTunes Music Store in a move that could expand the fledgling market for portable media players (PMPs).

The video iPods, due next week in Apple stores and authorized retailers, feature 2.5-inch 260K color screen and come in 30GB and 60GB versions at a suggested $299 and $399, respectively, in black or white. The screens display album artwork, photos and videos transferred from a PC, including music videos, prime time TV shows, video podcasts and other video content available for authorized downloading from Apple’s Web site.

Apple struck content deals to include more than 2,000 music videos; six short films from Pixar Animation Studios; and five television shows from ABC and Disney Channel, including the series “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Night Stalker,” “That’s So Raven” and “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.” Apple promises more TV show downloads. The TV shows will be available for download a day after they air on network TV, and it will take about 20 minutes over a fast Internet connection to download an hour-long episode, Apple estimated. Video downloads will cost $1.99.

“For the first time ever, hit prime time shows can be purchased online the day after they air on TV,” said Disney’s CEO Robert Iger.

The amount of downloadable video content, nonetheless, is limited compared to the 2 million songs available for downloading from Apple, so the iPods also play movies downloaded from other download services as well as home movies stored on PCs. Video and photos can be displayed on connected TVs for viewing through an optional docking station, which also connects the iPods to stereo systems.

Although the devices will play video on connected TVs, they incorporate some video-copying restrictions that don’t apply to music. For example, the devices won’t play video ripped from commercial DVDs and videotapes, although they will play music ripped from a CD. In addition, users won’t be able to copy videos downloaded from the Apple site to a blank DVD in the way that they can burn an unlimited number of CDs with Apple-downloaded songs. As with downloaded music, however, consumers will be able to share their downloaded videos on up to five networked PCs in a house.

The new models are 30 percent thinner and offer 50 percent more storage capacity than the music-only models they will replace, but they will be available at the same prices, said CEO Steve Jobs.

The new models also view photos in the JPEG, BMP, GIF, TIFF, Mac-only PSD and PNG formats. Video can be stored in H.264 up to 768kbps at 30fps in 320×240-pixel resolution, or in MPEG-4 up to 2.5Mbps at 30 fps in 480 by 480 resolution.

The 30GB model features up to 14 hours of battery life for music playback, and the 60GB model features up to 20 hours of battery life for music playback.