Good picture quality
Can watch movie more than once in 24-hour viewing window
Lays groundwork for more robust, exciting offering
Poor selection at launch
The viewing windows are short
Downloads take 45-60 minutes even on a fast connection
HD rentals limited to Apple TV
Apple has once again pushed forward the digital entertainment marketplace with its iTunes Movie Rental service. Though it’s not perfect, after having used Apple’s iTunes Movie Rental service a couple of times in the week since it was unveiled, I’d say that this is the best offering of its kind to date and may point the way to how we’ll get our movies in the future.
Though some competitors, such as Netflix, offer streaming video rentals, none offer the first-run titles, wide compatibility (Netflix’s offering only works on PCs, for instance), or portability to devices like the iPod that iTunes Movie Rentals do. And, as you’d expect from a new entry into the iPod entertainment ecosystem, this one is easy to use.
Renting Movies from iTunes is Easy
The process of finding and renting movies from iTunes is as smooth as you’d expect any transaction at the iTunes Store to be these days with one exception: the initial agreement. Because this is a new service, you need to agree to new terms when you begin downloading movies. This step should continue as part of the rental process, but instead stops the process and causes you to have to start again. It’s not a big obstacle, and is never repeated, but it’s not the extreme easiness that we’ve come to expect from Apple.
Once you’ve selected and paid for your movie, things are fine. Downloads take reasonable amounts of time (a 1.4 GB movie took about 45 minutes and a 1.65 GB movie took less than an hour). That said, I’d like to see Apple find a way to speed up these downloads (though some of that is dependent on the user’s connection speed). When I want to watch a movie, I’d rather do it now. Though you can start watching during download to get that immediate gratification, it’s possible that you’d get interrupted if the movie caught up to the download.
This seems likely to be an even bigger problem for HD rentals, which are much larger files. HD rentals are limited to the Apple TV for now, which is another small mark against the service, but that’s bound to change eventually.
Frustrating Time Limits
With the movie successfully in iTunes, you’re ready to watch. But here, you have to make a calculation: do you want to watch now or later? That’s because once you start watching a movie, you have to finish it within 24 hours or it is deleted from your hard drive. While it’s reasonable to have some limitation on the rental, 48 or 72 hours seems fairer. After all, if you start watching one night and fall asleep, the movie will likely have expired before you get home from work and have a chance to watch it the next night. (You are, however, able to watch the movie more than once in your 24-hour window.)
Whenever you watch the movie you’ve rented, you’re going to be happy. The audio and visual quality is very good. Though one movie I rented exhibited some pixelation in particularly dark scenes or in dark gradients, it looked better than I expected and more than good enough.
The iTunes Movie Rental Selection
The biggest drawback to renting movies at iTunes right now is that the selection is fairly limited. We’ve been promised 1,000 titles soon, but even that isn’t much. One of the things that kept iTunes’ movie store from being a smash hit like the music section is its small selection. Hopefully Apple can remedy that when it comes to rentals and offer us 10,000 or even 20,000 movies to choose from sooner rather than later.
No Need to Wait
There’s a maxim among Apple users that it’s often best to wait out the first generation of new Apple products so the bugs can be worked out. Many people buy in at the second-generation, getting a better offering at a better price. Though that may be true sometimes, not so with the iTunes Movie Rental service. Despite some things that could be tweaked, Apple’s gotten this one much more right than wrong.
So, if you’re looking for a movie to watch this weekend, why not fire up iTunes and get a glimpse of how we may all be renting movies in the not-too-distant future.