SAN FRANCISCO: Apple Computer has made its much-anticipated foray into online movie downloads that can be viewed on its iconic iPod players, at the same time launching a new gadget to wirelessly send the purchased videos to a television set.

Initially the movies available via the iTunes music store are restricted to those produced by the Walt Disney Company empire of which Apple ceo Steve Jobs is a board member. But the company eventually hopes to extend the offering via deals with other studios.

The launch follows last week's pre-emptive strike by online retail giant Amazon which is offering consumers thousands of digital video downloads to be played on PCs and portable devices [WARC News: 08-Sep-06].

Apple's new hardware, currently dubbed iTV, debuts early next year. The box, the size of three stacked CD cases, will retail at $299 (€235; £159) and is regarded by some as a key conduit to acceptance by consumers of large scale online distribution.

However, Jobs himself admits the switch from the DVD home video format will not happen overnight and will take "years of investment". But he is confident that consumers will embrace the technology in much the same way as they have accepted music downloads.

Comments analyst Josh Bernoff at Forrester Research: "With Apple's superior design of integrating hardware and software Apple will still be the one to watch. But I think you'll see this market develop in a more fragmented way than the way Apple came to dominate the music market."

Data sourced from BBC Online; additional content by WARC staff