iTunes/Apple TV Take 2

iTunes/Apple TV Take 2

Can Apple succeed in the online-movie-rental business like it did with the iTunes Music Store?

 

THE FACTS

 

Apple has injected digital growth hormone into its entertainment product line. One product (iTunes) was already thriving, but an awesome new feature—movie rentals—makes this strong service even stronger. The other product (Apple TV) seemed to be on life support. But in a move that’s counterintuitive to everything we know about life support from TV and movies, Apple has cut the lifeline between Apple TV and its computer hosts, and in doing so has given the ailing set-top box a fighting chance for survival.

 

Let’s first examine the second coming of Apple TV. The device no longer requires a computer connection for content downloads and general operation. The new version connects directly to the Internet over your home network (via Ethernet or Wi-Fi), and you can browse your way through content directly on your TV. In addition to movie rentals, a new user interface provides easy access to podcasts, YouTube videos, and Flickr and .Mac photos—again, no computer connection is required for this decidedly Web 2.0-ish material. Apple TV also costs $70 less than before, at $229 for the 40GB version and $329 for the 160GB version.

 

None of this would matter jack-diddly, of course, if not for the new iTunes movie rental scheme. The iTunes Store has been a depository for movies since September 2006, but you always had to buy them, and at prices ranging from $9.99 to $14.99, you might well have resigned yourself to purchasing shrink-wrapped DVDs instead, what with their superior picture quality and extra content. But now iTunes movie rentals change everything, giving film fanatics a compelling reason to ditch Netflix (both the hard copy and Windows-only download options), cable and satellite pay-per-view movies, and all the other newfangled services that deliver movies directly from some remote server to a screen in your home.

 

If you’re renting iTunes movies from your Mac or PC, you’ll pay $2.99 for older titles, and $3.99 for new releases. These 640-by-480-pixel “near DVD-quality” flicks will be shackled by DRM, but can be transferred from your computer to an iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV. If you’re renting movies directly from the Apple TV for playback on your widescreen TV, you’ll pay those same prices for what Apple is calling standard-definition, 720-by-480-pixel, “DVD-quality” movies. High-definition, 1280-by-720-pixel (720p) titles with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound will only be available via Apple TV, and will cost $4.99 for new releases and $3.99 for back-catalog pap. Apple TV rentals cannot be played back on other devices, and all the movies you rent, on either your computer or through the Apple TV, have just a 30-day lifespan before disappearing (and once you begin watching a flick, you have 24 hours to enjoy it ad nauseam before it goes poof).

 

We are uninspired by the design of the Apple TV chassis. Please, Apple, give us a widescreen HD television with Apple TV built right in.

 

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