Unveiling a movie download addition to the Apple iTunes service, chief executive Steve Jobs has announced a forthcoming product currently called iTV which will display video on television. He described it as ‘the missing piece’.

Apple says that iTV is an internal code name and will not be the final product brand. Scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2007, it will feature an Ethernet or Wi-Fi wireless input and HDMI as well as analogue component video outputs. The expected price will be $299.

The iTunes stores is now offering over 75 movies from Walt Disney and Disney-owned studios Pixar, Touchstone and Miramax. Users will be able to purchase and download the videos to watch on their computers and iPods as well on their television with the forthcoming player device.

Movies will be available on the day of DVD release, with new titles priced from $12.99 and library material at $9.99.

“In less than one year we’ve grown from offering just five TV shows to offering over 220 TV shows, and we hope to do the same with movies,” said Steve Jobs. “iTunes is selling over one million videos a week, and we hope to match this with movies in less than a year.”

Walt Disney, of which Steve Jobs is incidentally a director, is the first and so far only studio to sign a distribution deal with Apple.

“ABC and Disney Channel were the first networks to offer television programming on iTunes, and we’re once again breaking new ground as The Walt Disney Studios becomes the first to debut feature films on the iTunes platform,” said Disney president and chief executive Robert Iger.

The announcement came after Amazon launched its movie download service Unbox, offering “thousands” of films and television shows from many major studios, the most notable omission being those controlled by Disney.

With iTunes 7, all videos will be in what Apple describes as “near-DVD quality” at a resolution of up to 640×480, depending on aspect ratio, and will feature Dolby surround sound.

“If you have modern broadband, with 5 or 6 Mbps, you can download these movies in about 30 minutes,” said Steve Jobs, “and you can start watching the movie, as it is downloading, in less than a minute.

However, it will not be possible to burn movies to DVD. Protected by the Apple FairPlay digital rights management, it is likely that downloaded videos will only be viewable on compatible products.

Television shows and feature films are currently available only to users in the United States. Steve Jobs said “We hope to take this international in 2007”.

Although a number of devices, from media centres to media extenders and games consoles, have been introduced to connect to television displays, Apple hopes that it will be able to repeat its phenomenal success with the iPod to do for video what it has achieved in the field of music.

Significantly, Dr Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, recently joined the Apple board of directors. “Apple is one of the companies in the world that I most admire,” he said on his appointment. “I’m really looking forward to working with Steve and Appleā€™s board to help with all of the amazing things Apple is doing.”