iTunes Movie Rentals Launch, Apple TV Gets HD Content

Dave Zatz —  January 15, 2008 — 29 Comments

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As rumored and speculated, Apple has pulled the trigger on iTunes movie rentals for Macs/PCs, iPods, iPhones, and Apple TV (see second paragraph). 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros, Disney, Paramount, Universal, and Sony are the larger studios in their stable. Typical digital rental terms: Begin watching within 30 days of download, 24 hours to complete once started. (I think most of us would prefer 30-36 hours to cover consecutive evenings.) Streaming playback begins within 30 seconds, meaning these won’t be high definition. New movies run $3.99 a pop, while “library” titles will be $2.99/ea.

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Apple TV will now support direct ordering and movie rentals with TWO download options. DVD quality OR HD with 5.1 audio – for $1 more per rental. Additionally, Apple TV will sport a refreshed interface and has dropped in price to just $229.

(via Engadget’s Macworld live blogging)

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29 responses to iTunes Movie Rentals Launch, Apple TV Gets HD Content

  1. Vudu’s probably done…

  2. Vudu never got started ;)

    While the feature set is cool, I can’t help but think…how is this different than my cable box? I can already order movies for $3.99 and have to watch them over 24 hours.

    I guess an Apple TV makes sense if you do not have cable or staellite. Get an ASTC tuner and an ATV and you can watch most primetime shows and movies.

  3. Apple TV is more than movies… also podcasts, Flickr, and all your iTunes. But as far as STB movie rentals, yah – the bulk of the competition will be coming from the embedded cable-cos. And Comcast announced they’re going to quadruple their VOD titles during the course of the year. If only Amazon Unbox on TiVo went HD…

  4. I am still waiting for Slingcatcher. I think this makes AppleTv much more viable but I’ll wait to see what NetFlix does.

  5. Here’s hoping Amazon, at TiVo’s urging, gets some HD content up on Unbox now.

    @Kevin: The box is still really meant to compliment a computer in the background. The 40GB model is too small to hold much, and the 160GB will run out of room relatively quickly. That means folks will still want a Mac or PC in the background dishing out media over the network.

    In the end it’s a great step forward and I’m more inclined to look at it as a serious product in its own right as opposed to a glorified iPod. But, now that I’m looking at replacing the Series2 TiVo in my bedroom, am I going to consider the Apple TV over a TiVo HD? No, not really – I would just like HD downloads from Amazon (and that’s not a deal-killer for me).

  6. i think one huge announcement is the ability to have itunes/ipod formatted videos stored on DVD’s that you buy, thus fixing the ‘buy the dvd’ vs ‘buy the itunes movie’ conundrum

  7. Jon, I didn’t see much new to add to December’s coverage. But I am interested to see if other studios hop onboard and how they’ll market it.

    UPDATE: On further reflection, this does deserve to be emphasized (again). Good call. If I have time, I’ll expand this post or add another.

  8. Michael Portuesi January 15, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    I have to say the new Apple TV exceeded my expectations – downloads are available in HD, and the selection of studios is very good, including Sony of all things. They have easily surpassed Amazon’s offerings over TiVo.

    But it does have to be cheaper. Netflix is still a better deal in terms of money spent per content watched. Better than half my Netflix rentals are in HD and the ratio is getting better as more titles make it to Blu-ray and HD DVD. Plus, there’s no restrictions on how long we have to watch rented content.

    But Apple TV *is* better than Cable PPV – which means that I’ll never have to have a Comcast set-top box in our home.

  9. I might just buy one. I’ll have to wait for a few days and see if I’m still hot for it to avoid the distortion field.

    Mainly for a better music and photos front-end than the Tivo is ever going to give me, but also for the TV Shows & Movie Rentals. Not sure how often I’ll use it given that movies will be at my local store for 30 days before they hit the Apple TV, so I’ll probably rent anything I really want to see before it hits Apple TV. And as we all know there are issues with their TV content these days… but the HD support is nice and I maybe want to play with it. Video podcast support too will probably work better & be easier to use than the new Tivo stuff, but we’ll see.

    No it won’t replace my Tivo, though it might complement it. I wish Tivo could deliver an interface like this for Music and Photos, but I’m not holding my breath.

    Dave, in some ways this is competition for the Sling Catcher, and you should be looking at it closely.

  10. Re. the iTunes movie on DVD thing. I’m still not clear on this. Obviously it avoids the download. But do you own the iTunes version? Do you have to pay for it when you try and watch it? Does it expire?

  11. “Dave, in some ways this is competition for the Sling Catcher, and you should be looking at it closely.”

    We’re video geeks and we obviously operate in the digital media space. So, I don’t think there’s any question we’ll be checking out the new functionality as soon as it lands.

    “But do you own the iTunes version?”

    Same as when we discussed it last month – it’s my belief that you will also own a digital copy/license.

  12. If Comcast’s On Demand were available via TiVo, I probably wouldn’t be all that interested in this, but as it is, I like it. I don’t want to keep the (incredibly annoying) Comcast box around just for On Demand. I don’t really like Unbox because the video quality is bad. Vudu is expensive. The Netflix streaming stuff isn’t interesting to me because I don’t watch movies on my computer (and it doesn’t support Mac anyway). So for me the AppleTV, at least for the time being, does fill a gap.

    Who knows how long that will last, though. Adding HD to Unbox, making Vudu significantly cheaper, On Demand via TiVo, or a well-executed Netflix STB could all make the AppleTV a lot less interesting to me…

  13. If SlingCatcher supports SD, that’ll be my choice.

    I started looking at HDTV’s when he was demoing AppleTVt2, but then I said, “Wait, my 2407 might support it”, but then I said, “Wait, I already have a mini that does all that stuff.”

  14. Big John, We should have everyone covered: 4:3/480i up to 16:9/1080i. I’m currently running 1080i in the living room, but as soon as I clean up around here I plan to move it to the bedroom set which is 720p. Also in the next 48 hours, I’ll take some pics of my Catcher in action now that I can be a little more public about it. :)

  15. I really don’t see the appeal of the Apple movie rentals unless you’re *really* an instant gratification type. First you have to buy a $230 box, then pay $4 per movie (for new releases). And if you start watching and fall asleep or can’t finish it for some other reason, you have to cough up the rental fee again, since you’re viewing period expires in 24 hours.

    Seems like Netflix or even RedBox/DVDPlay are better options.

  16. I can’t believe Jobs couldn’t talk the studios out of the 24 hour limit — it is just so absurd and annoying.

    The appletv interface is so much better than Tivo for pictures/videos/music that it is a great supplement to a tivo. If you are cost conscious I agree tivo can meet most of your home media extender needs.

    Can’t wait to see what HD content is available and how often it is refreshed and updated.

  17. I’m no as much cost conscious as “too much crap in my entertainment center” or “too much complexity” conscious. I’d pay a significant premium to have it all in one device, but I’m willing to pay a decent amount for a standalone device if it is great. In my mind, $230 for this kind of a device is not much, so it probably doesn’t quite have to reach the level of “great,” but it has to be better than what I have now.

    I personally don’t care much about the 24 hour limit (I can’t remember the last time I didn’t finish a movie in one sitting), but I can see why it’s annoying to people, and I’m of course in favor of reducing restrictions wherever possible.

    For me, the big remaining question marks are:
    * Real world video quality
    * Real world download speed
    * Selection of HD content

    If the AppleTV is adequate in all of those areas, I’ll almost surely buy one, even if it’s just tiding me over until something better is available.

  18. Looks great – and to think all you haters were all “Apple TV is useless!”. I am buying one now that it supports YouTube and podcasts…Oh that’s HD podcasts by the way.
    :)

  19. I emailed Amazon urging them to add HD downloads. I can’t imagine the studios haven’t agreed to it– didn’t they learn their lessons from the record labels? You don’t want Apple to become too powerful.

    Everyone, please tell Amazon you want HD. And a 7-day viewing window, not just 24 hours.

  20. The fact that it is HD with 5.1 sound is a big deal to me.

    I like Unbox/Tivo. Plenty of nights when you’re feeling lazy or your b*tches won’t pick up a movie. Netflix involves planning ahead. But the sound is really bad. If they could offer SD with 5.1 I would be delighted.

    As far as I can tell, AppleTV has the same limitation. However, with hacks it can played Xvid content, so it makes it easier when you are downloading illicit copies of Top Gear….

  21. Wow, another Top Gear fan. Apparently one of the more torrented shows on the internets, just after Heroes. Plus it’ll look freeking gorgeous in HD (yeah, I know its just SD/PAL, but hey, the guys who shoot the video for that show know what they’re freaking doing).

    Assume you saw the stuff about NBC doing a US version of the show. Kinda not getting my hopes up on that one, since there’s no mention of them using the same hosts…

  22. Top Gear’s polar special was in HD. I couldn’t really tell the difference — the downloaded video quality blows me away. Is that the PAL? I also watch Spooks, and the video quality isn’t that good.

    The NBC version will suck. Even if they could clone the hosts, NBC won’t spent the money for the cameramen, and as you said that is a large part of the appeal. Plus no Stig.

    I just realized why Apple can offer HD downloads — H.264 — a Tivo unbox MPEG2 HD download is going to be at least two to three times larger file size and the bandwidth costs for Unbox would be too high. Sigh.

  23. @Charlie: The TiVo can do H.264. I subscribe to both the Diggnation and Tekzilla podcasts in H.264 and view them on my Series3.

    I assume WMP can do H.264, too (sorry, I’m a Mac guy so I know little about WMP), so that shouldn’t be a stumbling block for Amazon with Unbox.

  24. Amazon encodes as WMV, so it’s not a huge leap to see them offer HD and native playback on the S3/HD (which may take some engineering if TiVo needs to implement MS DRM). They currently transcode (I believe) into MPEG2 for TiVo playback and I believe that’s where the quality issues are introduced. Though, I haven’t watched an Unbox download in awhile – some of the slow pans were just too painful, combined with strange resolutions (letter- and pillar-boxes?). For comparison, Vudu and Xbox 360 do SD well.

  25. That explains a bit. I’m not a huge fan of the oddities in Unbox video, either.

    BTW, Dave: Nice to see you on DL.TV, but who screwed up your last name (Dave Satz?)?

  26. Charlie–is it the PAL? Obviously the thing originates as 525i PAL (25Hz). It gets posted, generally as an Xvid at 800MB or so for the hour long posts. At least for the popular versions. Thats essentially 1.7Mbps or so for an MPEG-4 encoded file. Then THAT gets transcoded AGAIN to MPEG-2 to watch on the Tivo, though in this case tweaked to 6Mbps or so. And it still looks great! I can only imagine that the original looks even better. Because people are taking some care with bit rates, the result looks good. Is part of it the PAL resolution? It always helps to have a good copy as input to your encoder. But that’s going through at least one more encode step here, so I’m gonna say a lot of it is the art direction/camera work. The guys simply know what they’re doing.

  27. Are the Apple TV rentals any different than what Xbox 360 has had for awhile now? I’m not sure why this is “big news”. Or is it just because Apple is now trying it?

  28. Apple has all the major studios onboard, Microsot/Xbox does not. Hopefully Apple also offers a better interface. I love my 360, but the UI isn’t really prepared to handle thousands of titles. Microsoft also needs to do a better job advertising their content downloads. Actually, I’m thinking they need to get out of that business and add a Netflix blade. Would be good for both companies. Having said, that I’m happy with the Xbox content downloads, though I don’t care for “Microsoft Points” – lets just dollars, OK?

  29. Aside from what Dave said, another thing that hurts the XBox for me is what I’d call “hardware value.” That’s not strictly price, it’s what I’m getting for my money. And in the XBox, I feel like I’m paying a lot for a major feature I will never use (gaming).

    I actually just wrote a blog post (click my name below) last night talking about how each of the current offerings fall short for me. Obviously everyone has their own criteria for these things, but for me we just aren’t there yet.

    There are still some question marks for the Apple TV (including how good the “HD quality” really is), and I don’t think it’ll totally make me happy. But the price is so low that I’ll probably end up getting one anyway…

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