This is probably old news if you’re Stateside (or Europe-side, for that matter), but recently Apple launched iTunes Store movie rentals over here in Australia. I thought I’d give it a spin.
Now, generally I don’t touch DRM-encumbered content – if I buy something, I should be able to do what I like with it, right? – but I figured that movie rentals are a different ball game. Obviously, without some sort of DRM, the concept of renting a movie online wouldn’t work. So, fair enough I guess. And the movies on the iTunes Store are only AUD $3.99 to rent, which ain’t too bad.
However, the range of movies available is tiny, weighing in at around 700 movies last time I checked. There’s also a lot of crap on there; I can’t see myself renting Uptown Girls or Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine any time soon. (Are the movie choices as bad in other iTunes Store countries?)
We decided to rent Groundhog Day, which is one of the better movies available. The process of renting the movie was pretty much as straightforward as buying an album, though it did ask me to authorize my Mac twice. The download weighed in at 1.2GB, which took a couple of hours to download over my ADSL line.
The big problem in Australia is download limits. Pretty much all ISPs here limit the amount of GB you can download per month, which is a bit pesky. My ISP gives me 10GB during peak hours and 15GB during off-peak, so I set the movie to download during the off-peak time.
Once you’ve downloaded the movie, you have 30 days to watch it (there’s a little counter next to the movie in iTunes so you know just how much time you have left). The moment you start watching it, you then have 48 hours until the movie expires. You can watch it as many times as you like during those 48 hours. This is a decent enough timespan; if you fall asleep, or your kid wakes up bawling, halfway through the movie, you can watch the rest the next night. When the movie expires, iTunes automatically deletes it from your hard drive.
Generally speaking the whole experience wasn’t too bad. One niggle was that we couldn’t watch the movie through Front Row; we had to use iTunes (presumably so it can pop up the dialog asking if you want to start watching and kick off your 48-hour time limit).
A slightly more serious problem was that the sound was pretty muffled so it was hard to hear speech in the movie. No problem, I thought, as I fired up iTunes’s equalizer to boost the speech. But no – the equalizer had no effect whatsoever. Not sure if this is because it was a movie, or because it was a rental. Either way, I was unimpressed. So we ended up watching the movie at maximum, almost deafening volume just so we could hear what the actors were saying.
So it’s not perfect, but there’s something quite futuristic about being able to rent a movie and watch it, all without leaving your armchair. (Assuming you don’t mind sitting in your armchair for 2 hours while it downloads.) I’d like to see the sound quality improved though, and Apple really should expand the pitifully small range of movies available.