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Certainly, the new Intel iMac looks identical to the previous model – Jobs stressed that it had “the same design, the same features and the same prices” as its PowerPC predecessor. Similarly, the new MacBook Pro looks almost indistinguishable from the PowerBook model it supplants.

Although the present seems to be about Macs being Macs, research analyst Gartenberg points out that the future may bring a change, given the similar strategic goals of Apple and Intel. “We know that Intel has designs on the digital home, the digital living room, and Intel has found a good partner in Apple,” he says. “It’s not about convergence anymore, but how to integrate TV with the other digital content that lives in a computer.”

For Apple, the future is about seamlessly marrying the two mediums. And now there’s more entertainment to share: Apple has led the way, making a much-publicized deal last fall with ABC and Disney to sell downloadable video content through its iTunes Music Store. Yahoo and Google, among others, have since made similar moves.

Even without a computer-to-computer network, Apple has a potentially killer front-end for content playback – something Intel has never managed to create. Apple has also debuted Front Row, which replaces the Mac OS X interface with a screen that can be viewed from across the room, and which serves to navigate and play movies, music, and other digital content. Indeed, Front Row, which ships with the new iMacs and MacBook Pros, includes a remote control. Some have looked at Apple’s ability to stream and sell videos, extensive and extending content partnerships, Front Row, and QuickTime standard – and seen a computer that can replace the need for a TiVo-like device.

Intel, for its part, is promoting its Viiv brand (tag line: “Change the way you enjoy entertainment at home”). A Viiv-based PC is supposed to meet minimum standards for remote control of applications, on-demand digital content, DVR, and other functionality. Currently, this requires Windows Media Center Edition; but given the new partnership with Apple, there’s no reason the same technology can’t go toward a media center Mac – especially with Intel designing and manufacturing Apple’s computer motherboards. (On the other hand, Apple may feel that Front Row makes this unnecessary.)

“The role of the PC is evolving,” said Gartenberg. “They’re not giving up their current role, but adding high-definition TV, music and more.”

It’s not clear that any one company could do this alone. But Intel has had billions of dollars waiting for a good idea – and Apple has nothing if not ideas.

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