iTunes 8 offers collective Genius for playlists, HD TV, visual browser

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At its "Let's Rock" iPod event today, Apple announced iTunes 8.0, the first new reference release of the company's music and video player and media store in two years.

The primary new feature in iTunes 8 is its new Genius feature, which lets users automatically create playlists from their music library that "go great together—with just one click," according to Apple. Genius is intended to help music fans rediscover favorites in their existing music library and find related music in the iTunes Store they might want to buy.

iTunes 8 also features new icon-based views of music and video libraries, new 3D music visualizers, and adds high definition TV programing to the iTunes Store, including new HD content from NBC Universal networks. All NBC content has been missing for a year from iTunes following disputes over content merchandizing.

The new release also adds VoiceOver screen reader support in Mac OS X Leopard (and Window-Eyes for Windows XP and Windows Vista), making the purchase or download of content from the iTunes Store and iTunes U more accessible to blind users.

iTunes 8 also supports a new way to combine symphonies, concertos, operas, or oratorios to play properly together with Grouping, as well as a new feature that lets users properly categorize tracks imported from a CD as being of a specific media kind, such as an audiobook.

The simplicity of Genius

Apple says using the new Genius feature is easy: select any song, click the Genius button, and iTunes will instantly create a playlist of songs that go great together from the music library. Users can preview the playlist Genius creates, refresh the list to choose different songs, and save a Genius playlist as a permanent playlist collection.

The Genius sidebar in iTunes also recommends music from the iTunes Store, based on the songs a users selects. With the new iPod classic, iPod touch, iPod nano and iPhone, users can also now create Genius playlists on-the-go.

iTunes 8’s new Genius feature anonymously sends information about users' music libraries to the iTunes Store, where it is combined with the anonymously-gathered knowledge from millions of other iTunes users and processed through Apple-developed algorithms. The Genius results, specifically tailored to each user's personal music library, are then used to enable users to automatically create Genius playlists in iTunes and on an iPod, even when not connected to the Internet.

New visual browser

Apple said a new visual browsing interface in iTunes 8 displays music and video libraries using album and video covers and "provides a great way to navigate your movies, TV shows, iPhone apps, podcasts and audiobooks."

The new display arranges music by album covers (below top), podcasts by artwork with an indication badge for new episodes (below middle), and audio books by cover (below bottom).

iTunes 8 browser
iTunes 8 browser
iTunes 8 browser

iTunes media store increases its lead

The iTunes Store is the world’s most popular online TV store, with a selection of more than 30,000 TV episodes from ABC, CBS, The CW, FOX, NBC and over 70 cable networks including Bravo, Comedy Central, Disney Channel, ESPN, FX, HBO, MTV, Nickelodeon, Sci Fi, Showtime and USA.

With iTunes 8, TV fans can now watch their favorite shows from ABC, NBC and Showtime in HD for $2.99 per episode, viewable on both the Mac or a PC running iTunes, or on a widescreen TV with Apple TV.

The iTunes Store is also the world’s most popular online music and movie store with a catalog of 8.5 million songs and over 2,500 films, including 600 in HD, as well as 65 million account holders. Apple calls the iTunes Store is "the best way for Mac and PC users to legally discover, purchase and download music and video online."

iTunes 8 is available for download now, and requires QuickTime 7.5.5.