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Apple unveils new box for streaming movies, television

SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple Inc. is refining its plans to annex the living room into its entertainment empire.

On Wednesday, Apple unveiled a smaller, cheaper version of Apple TV, which connects to a high-definition television and can show rented movies and TV shows from Apple's own service, plus content from Netflix, photos on Flickr, YouTube clips and more.

The new $99 gadget marks a slight improvement over Apple's first television set-top box, which went on sale in 2007. The original Apple TV had to sync with a computer, a concept most consumers weren't ready for, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said at a media event Wednesday. It also didn't record live television shows the way TiVo and other digital recorders did, at a time when that was becoming a popular way to watch TV.

''We've sold a lot of them, but it's never been a huge hit,'' Jobs said of the existing Apple TV, which went for $229.

Also Wednesday, Apple unveiled social media features for its iTunes software, a new lineup of iPods including a touch-screen Nano and new software for its iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad devices.

Apple's new TV box, about four inches square, still doesn't record television, but it comes at a time when more people have gotten used to watching shows online.

The device lets people rent, not buy, content. Apple TV owners will pay $4.99 to rent first-run high-definition movies the day they come out on DVD. High-definition TV show rentals will be 99 cents.

Apple said the same movie studios that have allowed iTunes users to rent and buy movies have agreed to include their titles for streaming. Apple did not rent TV shows before, but now episodes will be available from News Corp.'s Fox, The Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, ABC Family and Disney Channel and BBC America. Jobs said he hoped other television companies would join once the service gains popularity.