Apple announced a new version of iTunes media playing and shopping software today, taking it up from version to version 8. Headlining the new release is a new sidebar Apple calls “Genius,” a software routine that’s also in the company’s latest music players that can automatically make a playlist by watching what songs you listen to most. It lets you pick a song, and then it builds a list of similar tunes. Its intelligence is enhanced if you choose to send data about your listening habits to Apple’s mother ship, where that’s compared to the preferences of scads of other users. What about your privacy? Steve Jobs says it’ll all be kept confidential.

Sounds great, but it’s not anything new. You can get a similar routine from free web-based music service Pandora Radio, with the main difference being that you don’t have to buy or steal any tunes to use it. The field of apps containing similar features might become less crowded, though, if Pandora is sunk by record company honchos and their accomplices.

Those of us addicted to HD video will like the fact that Apple has finally added HD capability to iTunes (just in time for NBC to add a slew of HD shows back into the iTunes store). So now you don’t have to have an Apple TV to buy, rent and watch HD content from Apple. Standard-def shows that are normally $1.99 will be $2.99 in HD. The iTunes 8.0 software will be available for free download today

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