CBS News science and technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg explained on The Early Show Friday that the hardware brings computers and TVs together by integrating your wireless network with your home entertainment center in high definition. That means you can take all the music, video, photos and other content stored on your computer and play it on your TV.
The new Apple TV box is touted as delivering entertainment to a TV screen with nearly the same quality as a DVD player.
With a 40GB hard drive, Sieberg pointed out, the box can store up to 50 hours of video, 9,000 songs or 25,000 photos, or a combination of the three formats. Up to six computers (both laptops and desktops) can connect to the Apple box, even if they're all Windows PCs, rather than Apple's Macintosh models.
The suggested retail price for the device is $299.
What It Can't Do: Sieberg noted that the Apple box won't be able to receive or record cable or satellite TV or play DVDs. So, it's not a replacement for your cable TV, satellite box, digital video recorder (such as TiVo), or DVD player. And it won't be able to stream and download content directly from the Internet, as of now.
It does have that capability built in, but it's initially being used only to retrieve feature film trailers, short preview clips of popular songs, and TV shows and movies sold on the iTunes store.
Not First: Apple TV isn't the first gadget of its kind, Sieberg said. Several other companies have made set-top boxes, or even TV sets and game consoles that can link the TV to the digital content that people have on their computers.
One of Apple TV's biggest rivals is the Xbox 360 gaming console from Microsoft which, in addition to playing games, can play content from Windows computers on TVs.
With Xbox, you can also purchase and download movies from the Internet, which Apple TV presently can't. But, the Xbox costs 50 percent more than Apple TV, and is much larger and stores half as much material.
Microsoft's Xbox 360: This isn't merely a gaming system, Sieberg said, but a full-fledged digital amplifier, capable of delivering unique digital entertainment experiences. Beyond playing games, the Xbox 360 can connect to the Internet directly to download high definition TV shows and movies.
You don't need a computer or a home network. However, it can also connect to any PC in your home to play back digital music, video, or photos you have stored. And an HD DVD accessory enables you to experience movies in high-def. MSRP: $399
Netgear Digital Entertainer HD (EVA8000): The Digital Entertainer HD is a media receiver that enables consumers to stream digital content (such as HD movies, TV shows, music files and personal photos) over their home networks to their high-definition home entertainment systems.
Using High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) technology, this device supports open standards for streaming digital content from Windows as well as Mac computers, network storage devices, USB media devices, and from popular Internet sites including YouTube and Flickr. It also enables music lovers to listen to their iTunes libraries and iPods on their home theater system.
The Digital Entertainer HD plays Internet radio directly and can access RSS news feeds and NOAA weather and maps. It connects to multiple computers on a home network. MSRP: $399; Available now through select e-commerce sites, such as amazon.com, and at select retail stores starting in April.