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AppleTV could extend iPod dominance: analysts

Rex Crum
MarketWatch (MCT)

SAN FRANCISCO - With Apple Inc. expected to roll out its AppleTV home media device this month after a slight delay, Wall Street analysts have begun to project what role the new gadget will play in consumers' living rooms - and in Apple's financial results.

Apple shares rose $1.52, or almost 2 percent, to close at $91.19 Monday after two analysts issued upbeat notes on the upcoming product.

The company originally said it would begin shipping AppleTV in February, but later set its release for March and has since remained tight-lipped. The product will allow users to transfer to their televisions the digital movies and music they've stored on their PCs using Apple's iTunes software.

Apple has sold more than 90 million iPod portable media players and has about 110 million active users of its iTunes online store, according to Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster. That customer base should "give Apple a significant early lead in the digital living room" over Microsoft Corp.'s Media Center PCs that run the Windows operating system, Munster wrote in a research note.

Because the iTunes customer base is nearly 10 times larger than the estimated 12 million active users of Media Center PCs, the AppleTV could be "a Trojan horse" that Apple can use to extend its dominance from portable digital players into the market for home media centers.

Comparing iTunes and AppleTV to the Microsoft (MSFT) offering "is not apples-to-apples," Munster acknowledged, because the Media Center's television link goes through Microsoft's Xbox game console, whereas the AppleTV will stream digital content directly to a TV using a wireless link.

Munster expects Apple to sell 2 million AppleTVs in 2007. He projected that every 500,000 units sold above that target will add 2 cents a share to his calendar-year earnings estimate of $3.11 a share.

Munster currently holds an outperform rating and a $124 price target on Apple's stock.

Munster's comments echoed those of ThinkEquity Partners analyst Jonathan Hoopes, who said Monday that even though the upcoming iPhone has claimed much of the Apple spotlight, "the potential is huge for this small (AppleTV) device."

The product will come with 40 gigabytes of storage, capable of holding up to 50 hours of movies and TV shows, and will carry a $299 price tag. The device measures about eight-by-eight inches and is one-inch thick.

Hoopes said that in addition to being able to wirelessly stream content stored on iTunes, the AppleTV potentially offers the ability to provide services traditionally offered by cable TV companies - including digital-video recording, video-on-demand content, gaming and advertising.

Hoopes kept his buy rating and $120 price target on Apple's stock unchanged.

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