After the rumors, patents and supposition, Apple's just updated its lineup of computers and included a surprise: a 27-inch TV monster. Okay, it's actually an iMac, but it's quite definitely a move in the televisual direction.
Today's news included tweaks to the Mac Mini, plastic MacBooks, the newbie Mac Mini Server and a multi-touch MagicMouse, but the iMacs bore the brunt of the update load. The latest design modifications move them further away from their boxy/curvy CRT beginnings. The iMacs are now LED back-lit, and come in just two sizes--a 21.5-inch and a 27-inch machine.
Now while 27-inches isn't quite up there with the 30-inch Cinema Display Apple also sells, and definitely a good chunk more petite than the 37-inch and 50-inch HDTVs we're all installing in our homes, it's the biggest iMac display yet. The move to include a 16:9 aspect ratio is also significant--it's the first time Apple's done this for the iMac, and it means that it's the same shape as an HDTV, meaning HD content in the iTunes store will fill all the available pixels with no black banding.
In other words, it's more or less designed to be a TV. A TV with a 2560 by 1440 pixel LED-backlit display (yes, that's about four times as many pixels as a 720p HDTV) a 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo Intel CPU at entry level, an ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics card, 1TB harddrive built-in SD card slot and 4GB of RAM. That's a lot of processing power for a TV, when you compare it to a Web-enabled number from someone like Samsung, but stick a thumbdrive-sized TV adapter from a maker like Elgato into one of its USB slots, replace its metal leg with a VESA mount and screw it to your wall and you've got your very own Apple Television nonetheless--with digital audio out, FrontRow, and iTunes for full home theater performance. Sadly, there's no Blu-ray, as some rumors had speculated.
Of course you can spec it up with bigger memory, a 2.66GHz Core i5 Intel CPU, and 4GB of RAM, but that'll cost you $2,000. Which is a lot for a TV, and a small one at that. In fact, it's probably more sensible to buy one of the updated Mac Minis, and a decent LED projector and build yourself a 70-inch projected HDTV experience. Having said that, we have to ask: What's Apple up to with all this pseudo TV business? Only the folks at Cupertino know...but maybe, just maybe, this is the first maneuver towards a 40-inch iMac that really is a TV.