New Apple TV heads for the cloud

As has become tradition, Apple guru Steve Jobs had one more thing to announce at today's iPod event. This time, it was a new version of Apple TV that has its head decidedly in the clouds. The new home-theater accessory lacks local storage and is clearly optimized for streaming content. TV shows will be available to rent for 99 cents each in either standard- or high-definition formats, and HD movies will cost $5 a pop for new releases and $4 each for "library titles." SD movie rentals will run a dollar less than their HD counterparts, although I don't imagine too many people will opt for the standard-def rentals given that the Apple TV's only video output is an HDMI port.

Before you get too excited about the prospect of streaming HD content, Engadget has confirmed that the device can only handle video at 720p resolution. It looks like that limitation applies not only to content streaming from the Internet, but also media accessed via a local network.

Although the new Apple TV has a USB port, the system's spec sheet says the port is for "service and support." Odds are you won't be able to plug in a USB storage device to loaded with content. The Apple TV does, however, have a 10/100 Ethernet jack and built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi. Apple throws in a simple remote, too.

The new Apple TV is tiny, of course, and it's quite a bit cheaper than the original at just $99. Units are expected to start shipping in four weeks, and you can already place your order online.

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