Gadgets: Apple TV, Bravia, Vudu
The new and improved Apple TV is different from the original in many respects. The price also has gone from $299 to $229 for a basic model with 40GB of storage. A 160GB hard drive version costs $100 more and is aimed at those who prefer to buy and store their movies. However, now consumers can rent as well: $3.99 for a new movie release, add $1 for the HD version. Apple TV also now lets the user move beyond iTunes, most notably permitting access to YouTube's 50 million-plus videos as well as access to sharing photos via Dotmac or Flickr.
Sony's Bravia line features 17 different flat-panel LCD HDTV sets, each equipped with a "digital media extender" docking station on the back in which a $300 Internet Video Link module can be plugged. The module provides access to a select suite of Internet videos, including CBS, Yahoo, AOL and fellow Sony properties such as Sony Pictures and Crackle. Full-length movies also are available from FearNet, a multiplatform horror channel in which Sony has a stake. The additional programming is added seamlessly to Bravia's programming guide.
Vudu offers 5,000 movies, 1,000 TV episodes and almost 100 HD movies on its $295 box. It requires a broadband high-speed Internet connection -- 2 megabit for instant playback of standard definition and 4 megabit for HD content -- which means that DSL might not be fast enough for an uninterrupted watching experience. Movies cost 99 cents-$3.99 for standard-def movies and $3.99-$5.99 for an HD movie. Another unique twist is that Vudu puts 30-60 seconds of each movie it distributes on each box, which translates to instant gratification when a user clicks to play a movie.