Apple Intros New Apple TV And iTunes 10 With "Ping" and AirPlay

Apple has done it: a new, refreshed Apple TV. Steve Jobs has called the Apple TV a "hobby" for some time, but it sounds like that hobby may be something more now. With the introduction of iOS, it seems that the Apple TV has new life. For the longest time, the Apple TV truly was a sore thumb in the company's lineup, using a completely different UI and software build than any of their other devices. But now, the same UI you're used to on the iPhone and iPod touch will be coming to the revised Apple TV, and it will sell for a very seductive $99.

And that price point isn't the only price point worth mentioning. Somehow, Apple has managed to also get users a library of HD movies to rent, including first run movies for just $4.99, and the largest online selection of HD TV show episodes to rent from ABC, ABC Family, Fox, Disney Channel and BBC America for just 99 cents. And here's where it really gets good: Apple TV also streams content from Netflix, YouTube, Flickr and MobileMe, as well as music, photos and videos from PCs and Macs to your HD TV. We hate to say it, but Apple TV just made every other media player on the market look a little less shiny. This is pretty much the most fully-featured streamer out there, offering to pull media from more sources than any of the others thanks to iTunes Store integration.

It has a built-in HDMI port, Wi-Fi, Ethernet and a built-in power supply so there's no brick laying around. It's 80% smaller than the prior generation, but you'll need to take notice of the fine print: Apple TV users can now rent thousands of commercial free, HD TV episodes on iTunes for just 99 cents, with up to 30 days to start watching and then 48 hours to finish—or watch multiple times. Users can also rent over 7,000 movies with over 3,400 available in HD, with most new releases available the same day they are released on DVD. Not too strict we don't think, but worth noting the time frame. Pre-ordered are going live today, with shipments to begin later in the month.

On a related note, Apple has also introduced iTunes 10. This is a newly designed version of the company's music software, and the most interesting change is the removal of the "Disc" icon to signify that music is so much more than just CDs these days. It also features a new Ping music-oriented social network for following your favorite artists and friends to discover what music they’re talking about, listening to and downloading. The similarity to "Bing" is too hilarious to miss. iTunes Ping lets you post your thoughts and opinions, your favorite albums and songs, the music you’ve downloaded from iTunes, plus view concert listings and tell your friends which concerts you plan to attend. We'd say that Twitter handles this just fine, but what's most interesting here is that Apple could be using this as a way into social networking. What better way to create a Twitter rival behind the scenes than to start small with something like this and see how it goes?

Ping lets you follow your favorite artists to see what they’re up to, check out photos and videos they’ve posted, see their tour dates and read comments about other artists and albums they’re listening to. You can also create a profile on iTunes to let your friends know who you’re following, what you’re listening to and which concerts you’re going to. There's even new integration to purchase tickets from TicketMaster and LiveNation from iTunes, which is a huge boon for artists in our estimation.

And that's not all. iTunes 10 also features AirPlay wireless music playback to listen to your music on remote speakers using Apple’s AirPort Express® base station. In addition, AirPlay now works without AirPort Express, using speakers, receivers and stereo systems from companies including Bowers & Wilkins, JBL, Denon and iHome, so you can enjoy your entire iTunes music library wirelessly from any room in the house with no extra gear required. We love seamless, and this sounds pretty darn seamless. iTunes is available as a free download starting today.