Written by Media, Technology

Something to Watch on iTunes

If you were a UK resident and rushed out and bought an Apple TV device after they were announced in autumn 2006, you’d have been sorely disappointed when you got home and plugged it in. Certainly you could listen to you iTunes library through your TV, as well as any video podcasts you subscribed to. But actual films or TV programmes were in short supply.
Over the past few months, that situation has improved, and you can buy episodes of Ashes to Ashes or Gavin and Stacey (ahead of a DVD release) availble to buy, but films have been in short supply, with some Pixar shorts being the main offerings.
ITV has been less forthcoming with its iTunes offering, with the feeling that they’re holding back programming until after the launch of Kangaroo or SeeSaw or whatever the joint BBC Worldwide/ITV/Channel 4 venture ends up being called.
But back to films. Today, Apple’s finally gotten around to making films available, and entertainingly, for the UK market, they’re promoted on the iTunes store front page as being “films” even if they end up appearing in your iTunes library as “movies”.
I’m not sure that I’m going to bother though. OK – so I don’t have an Apple TV, iPhone, iPod Touch or even an iPod Classic, so aside from watching on my laptop screen, there’s not a great deal of value me buying. Yet even if I did have one of the devices, the prices don’t really do it for me.
First off there are rentals priced at £2.49 or £3.49 for catalogue and new releases respectively. So The Matrix will cost be £2.49 to rent. Yet the price of the DVD at Amazon to buy is only £2.98. Certainly there’s a postage charge to come, but I’ve got Amazon Prime so it’d be here tomorrow for no extra cost!
Let’s choose another film at random (Honestly – I am looking at random. I’m not just looking for examples to prove my point): School of Rock. Well, for some reason, that’s not available to rent. But I can buy it for £6.99 as it’s a catalogue title. At Amazon it’s £4.97. Team America: World Police? Well it’s on C4 this Saturday but again only available to buy at £6.99. £4.98 at Amazon.
A Mighty Heart? Well that doesn’t count as a catalogue title because it’s priced at £10.99. It’s £6.98 on Amazon for the DVD.
I drew all these titles at random from the carousel on iTunes films homepage. I’m sure that there are films I can rent cheaper than I can buy them at Amazon, but then I could probably rent those at Blockbuster or Love Film or whatever too.
Maybe the situation’s better for newer titles, since £10.99 compares well with new DVD’s typically priced around fifteen quid on the high street in their week of release. National Treasure 2, brand new on DVD, is priced at £10.99 on iTunes. What about Amazon? 99p more expensive at £11.98. iTunes wins!
Of course you don’t get the extras with iTunes, and the 1.4GB download might into your bandwidth capacity if you’ve got a cap. It’s also more than likely to take you a while download. The size isn’t suprising since the resolution is 640 by 480. Mind you PAL DVDs are 720 by 576, so iTune’s resolution is inferior.
Then there’s the sound – iTunes offers Dolby surround. Most DVDs offer Dolby Digital 5.1 sound – again vastly superior, especially if you have a home cinema set-up.
If buying movie downloads is to become as “successful” as it has been with music, then the price has to be more attractive. DVD prices are undoubtedly on a downward spiral (I use quotes because the growth in download revenues does not make up for the loss of CD revenues), with new released reaching the 3 for £20 price point ever faster, and even the movie companies realise that sales may well have peaked overall. But if they want to pick up some of the slack, then the pricing needs to be competitive. I don’t think that it currently is. I could also go into a great rant about DRM, but I’ll leave that for others. Needless to say, that alone is reason enough for me not to buy.
So in summary, iTunes movies are more restrictive than DVDs (you can’t lend them to friends or sell them on eBay), are worse quality than DVDs, have fewer features than DVDs (no extras or commentaries), and as often than not more expensive than their DVD equivalents.
This won’t matter to some people who’ll be glad to find something that they can easily and legally put on their brand new 3G iPhones (coming soon we’re promised), but overall I’m not convinced. Buy the DVD – you can use it in lots of hardware, and grab a copy of Handbrake. Drop the file onto your iPod Touch, PSP, Asus EEE, Xbox 360 or whatever, and watch it how you like.