Analyst: Apple TV set, cloud-based iTV on the way

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Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster is on the Apple television bandwagon again today, telling clients that Apple could take advantage of a rumored cloud-based iTV (nee Apple TV) offering to float an $1,800 to $2,000 "all-in-one Apple television solution" that would replace the current amalgam of set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, PVRs, cables, game consoles and TVs in a typical home.

Munster reiterated a forecast he made in March, that the TV set would be a reality in the next two to four years, but has added that he thinks Apple will come out with a cloud-based iTV offering that will include "limited storage, a lower price, an app store, and a focus on accessing content over the Internet."

"Apple has recently developed a data center in Maiden, NC that we believe could serve as the hub of a cloud-based service for iTunes video," Munster wrote. "With Apple's growing family of connected devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV, and Macs) it only makes sense that Apple would deliver a cloud based media service to leverage its competitive advantage in the space: devices."

"We believe an all-in-one Apple Television solution would provide an ease-of-use that many consumers are looking for," he wrote. "Apple could also bring its software expertise to the television market and provide for themselves an immediate advantage against its competition (primarily hardware makers). As connected TVs gain traction, we believe software will be a critical selling point, and Apple could offer best-in-class software on an Apple Television."

In March, he said "Yes, TV hardware is a challenging, low-margin business if you don't change the rules of the game; but we see potential for Apple to offer best-in-class hardware, software and content and charge a premium." Munster said there are roughly 32.4 million HDTVs sold in the U.S. a year--it's a real market--and, with the increasing popularity of 3D TVs, it's a market that could be spurred on a bit.

"If history repeats itself, Apple would find a way to compete in a commoditized market with a premium priced product," he said.

All of that, of course, flies in the face of Apple COO Tim Cook's statement that Apple has "no interest in being in the TV market."

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