Apple on Tuesday introduces iTunes Movie Rentals, a new feature of the iTunes Store that enables users to download movies and watch them for a short time rather than having to buy them. They will be priced at $3.99 for new releases, $2.99 for "library titles."

Apple's managed to get the support of all the major movie studios, including Fox, WB, Disney, Paramount, Universal and Sony, along with Touchstone, Miramax, MGM, New Line and Lions Gate. Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that the new service will launch by the end of February with over 1,000 movies. Of particular focus to Apple is to make sure movies are available for rent through iTunes Movie Rentals within 30 days of their DVD release.

The technology is tied to the Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology used by Apple for other content purchased from the iTunes store. You can download movies and watch them from a Mac or PC, and transfer them to an iPod or iPhone. What's more, Jobs indicates that you can transfer the movie to another device while you're in the middle of watching it, and pick up where you left off.

Jobs told attendees of his keynote speech at Macworld Expo this week that you have 30 days from the time of your "rental" transaction to start watching the movie, and after you start, you have 24 hours to finish watching it. Users with modern Internet connections can count on starting movies within about 30 seconds of the download's initiation.

The new service is being offered as a free update for iTunes users in the United States beginning today. Jobs said that Apple is "dying" to get this feature spread to foreign countries where the iTunes Store is already working, and promised to introduce the service internationally in the year to come.

Apple and Twentieth Century Fox also announced a new scheme under which DVD films from that studio will also carry a version of the film that has been compressed for use with iTunes meaning DVD purchasers will be able to import that copy (dubbed an iTunes Digital Copy) of a film into the media software for playback on the computer, any video ready iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV.

The first DVD to make its debut with iTunes Digital Copy is the DVD premiere of the Family Guy Star Wars spoof, Blue Harvest, which is being released in the US today.

"One of the most requested features DVD buyers have been asking for is the ability to get the movies they bought into their iTunes library," said Jim Gianopulos, chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment. "We’re thrilled to offer such an incredibly simple way for our customers to get even more out of their DVD purchase, and we look forward to releasing many more DVDs this year with iTunes Digital Copy."