More timely analysis from Cringely -- this week's essay is mostly about Neokast.
Steve Jobs said that 2005 would be the "year of HD," but I think it is much more likely to be 2007 and the Apple TV will be the spoiler of many a Blu-ray or HD DVD sale because Apple TV is cheaper and easier, has no expensive consumable media, and HD movies will probably cost a little less to buy through iTunes than at Target.
The chance to grab market leadership happens when hardware standards are in transition, so in a sense Apple couldn't have introduced the Apple TV any earlier than now, when HD video players are finally reaching the market in real numbers.
But if you think Neokast will steal Apple's thunder, probably not. I can't imagine Neokast will remain independent for more than another six months. And if Apple has a lick of sense, they'll be the ones to buy it.