Apple is expected to announce today that it has signed an important deal with major movie studios to sell their movies on its popular online iTunes store.

In news that will have DVD (and Blu-ray) disc manufacturers and retailers quaking, Apple will make films available on the very same day the discs become available.

DVD retailers have lobbied hard to keep their edge by being available earlier than digital downloads, but the new deal – signed by Fox, Disney, Paramount, Universal, Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, Lionsgate and New Line – means this will no longer be possible. That could have a serious impact on disc sales.

In January, Apple announced it had signed all of the studios to a movie rental system, with consumers in the U.S. paying $3-$4 for access to a movie for 30 days. Full film purchases, however, could cost as much as $15.

This news follows Wednesday's disclosure by Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes, that Warner Bros. will experiment with video-on-demand releases day-and-date with DVD.

Could these developments be the beginning of the end for optical discs? Will we all be buying movies as digital downloads in just a few years? Let us know what you think.

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