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iTunes 8 brings recommendations, HD TV shows

As my colleagues at TUAW tirelessly liveblogged, Apple had some big super-huge iPod event today. But this is Download Squad, hardware is for the birds. For this site, the big news is iTunes 8. And before everyone tells me how much iTunes sucks, please keep in mind that I published a whole article on iTunes Alternatives last year. iTunes still has its utility, especially if you are a Mac user.

Two of the biggest new features in iTunes 8, which is available now for Windows and Mac, are:
  • Song recommendations
  • HD TV shows

Song recommendations, via the new "Genius Playlists" and "Genius Sidebar," work to help you find new music or rediscover existing tracks that might go along with your current mood or musical selections. Similar to the algorithm that services like Pandora, Rhapsody and use to find similar music, iTunes now has that feature built-in. For Genius Playlists, select a song and press the "Genius" button and iTunes compiles a playlist that is similar in tone and artist genre from your existing library. The Genius Sidebar shows recommendations of other artists in the iTunes store that are similar to what you are currently playing.

I haven't had a chance to really go in-depth with either Genius mode, but from my initial test (we're talking 5 minutes), it did figure out that Postal Service, Death Cab for Cutie and Sufjan Stevens were all apropos for a Genius playlist. Apparently, the algorithm is also focussed on highlighting songs you haven't played in a long time. I just reimported my entire iTunes library, so I wasn't really able to test that feature.

The other big news is HD TV shows. iTunes has offered HD Content via the Apple TV since January, but this is the first time that iTunes, the player, has been able to deliver that content to non-Apple TV systems.

Last year, NBC made waves when it pulled its television content from iTunes and launched the Hulu service in conjunction with 20th Century Fox. Hulu is pretty fantastic (assuming you live in the US or are using a proxy service that says that you do), and pretty popular, so it is VERY interesting to note that NBC is back on iTunes. Shows like Battlestar Galactica, The Office and others will be available in Season Passes or individually in both HD and non-HD variants. Standard definition prices remaint he same, $1.99 an episode. HD episodes are $2.99 a piece, but you also get an iPod-friendly copy at a lower resolution and smaller file size.

Again, I haven't had a chance to buy HD television content yet, but I will be doing so tonight - with the added bonus of also seeing how it looks hooked up to the projector we have in our living room. Still, HD content that is not restricted to Apple TV users is a welcome new feature.

You can see all the iTunes 8 features, including new visualizations and a new grid interface, here. You can download iTunes 8 directly from Apple or through Software Update.

Tags: itunes, itunes-8