Apple reworks Apple TV appliance to support à la carte rentals

Last week Apple CEO Steve Jobs revealed a newly redesigned Apple TV appliance that costs $99 and could represent a major new threat to subscription television services. A compact box hooks to any TV set and uses the Internet to connect to wide range of al a carte entertainment options including first run movies, Netflix and 99-cent high-definition TV shows.

The new Apple TV will ship later this month.

All content will be commercial-free, although the range of TV choices will be limited at first. So far Fox, ABC, Disney Channel and BBC America have all signed up. Users can rent first-run HD movies for $4.99, while single episodes of TV shows in HD will be available for 99-cents. “We think the rest of the studios will see the light and get on board pretty fast,” Jobs said.

The new Apple TV is a streaming appliance with a built-in power supply, HDMI connector, optical digital audio, Ethernet and Wi-Fi capability. “You can hold it in the palm of your hand,” Jobs said. “This tiny, silent box lets users watch thousands of HD movies and TV shows, and makes all of their music, photos and videos effortlessly available on their home entertainment system.”

It will use apps that can be moved around to designate certain content, so users can essentially build their own series of channels. Network TV, movies and Internet channels can be mixed. Users will pay for only shows that have a specific cost and will have no monthly fees.

Jobs said the new Apple TV does away with concerns of storage, as it is based on a rental model rather than purchasing. Crucially, movies will be available on the same day as their DVD counterparts. Users will have 30 days after a rental to watch and 48 hours from when they start watching before the content disappears.

They can also stream content from an iOS device running version 4.2 or later. Jobs demonstrated streaming the movie “Up,” instantly from an iPad over Wi-Fi. Users can rent over 7000 movies with over 3400 available in HD, with most new releases available the same day they are released on DVD.

The new Apple TV also offers access to Netflix streaming, boosting the platform to allow subscribers to bypass the Apple store and watch any movies available on the service.

Apple TV users can also watch millions of YouTube videos, more than 200,000 podcasts, 4000 Internet radio stations and personal photos from MobileMe and Flickr with several new slideshow themes. Music, videos and photos can also be streamed from PCs and Macs, turning the HDTV into the hub of a home entertainment system.