Apple last night quietly released iTunes software version 4.8 as a free download from its Web site.

The release is described as: "iTunes 4.8 includes new Music Store features and support for transferring contacts and calendars from your computer to your iPod (requires Mac OS X 10.4 on your computer)."

iTunes store for video debuts

iTunes-watchers are most excited by one specific new feature in the application: the capacity to play movies within it. Apple has also quietly added some short promotional music videos to the service, supplementing the music videos and movie trailers hosted through iTunes.

These short promo clips are available to download in the .mp4 format and will play on both PCs and Macs. As a proof of concept the new news shows how Apple could easily offer full-length video through its store.

How it works now

Presumably as a test of the service and as a marketing tool for the acts concerned, Apple has made such videos available initially on purchase of albums or tracks from the Dave Matthews Band, Gorillaz, Morcheeba and The Shins.

Fans buying the new Dave Matthews Band album Stand Up, for example, can download a digital booklet containing the album artwork, and a five minute 28-second video (a 55MB download) of the making of the album, with interview clips and so on. This video clip can only be played in iTunes, which is also capable of playing video dragged to the application. Users can also opt to watch video in full-screen mode using iTunes.

Calendars and contacts

The new software also manages contact and calendar information for iPod owners. A preference in the software now offers Contacts and Calendars tabs, in addition to the existing Music tab. This offers users the choice of synchronising all or some of the contacts in Apple's Address Book, as well as all or some of their iCal calendars.

In addition, iTunes 4.8 improves its validation checks of MPEG4 files to prevent some security vulnerabilities.

iTunes 4.8 requires Mac OS X 10.2.8 or later, a G3 processor running at 400MHz or faster, QuickTime 6.2 or later (6.5.2 required for some features) and 256MB RAM.