iTunes movies: over-priced, over-hyped and over here?

Apple iTunes movies
New release movies are now available to rent or buy on iTunes UK - but should we bother?

Movie downloads have finally come to iTunes UK, so how does Apple's offering compare with its arch-rivals on choice, compatibility and price. Let's find out, shall we?


Launched on the Wednesday 4 June, iTunes' movie download service promises to finally made it easy and simple to rent or buy movies online.

This has the potential to free us all from hacking down to the video rental shop in the rain, or carrying out the slightly bothersome task of sticking watched DVDs in the post.

iTunes currently has over 700 titles from big Hollywood studios like 20th Century Fox, MGM, Sony Pictures, Walt Disney and others.

Providing the biggest draw are, of course, are recent box office hits like I Am Legend, Cloverfield and Ridley Scott mob flick American Gangster.

New movie titles are available to buy online for £10.99, with the back catalogue titles costing £6.99. New movie rentals costs £3.49, with old movies renting for £2.99.

What's immediately obvious is that not all titles available to buy are also available to rent - Cloverfield, for example, is only offered as a buy-to-own option at present at £10.99.

The other problem is what you can do with the titles once you've bought them.

All iTunes movies are wrapped in Apple's FairPlay digital rights management (DRM) scheme - which is absolutely fine for watching them on your Mac, PC or iPod using iTunes.

Unfortunately FairPlay stops you from playing them back either using Windows Media Player or on a portable video player that isn't Apple made. They may be a problem for you, or not.

Oddly you can't rip movies you paid for on to CD or DVD as a backup either, something you have been able to do so far with iTunes music purchases.

This is presumably a condition insisted on by Hollywood, but does seem unfair when you've actually paid to buy the movie in the first place.

Movie rentals are a little more generous. You have up to 30 days to watch a movie from when you download it, then you have a theoretical time limit of 48 hours to finish watching once you hit Play.

Having 700 movie titles available on launch sounds great, until you skim through the library for something to watch - there are a heck of a lot of very old titles on iTunes.

That's a problem because you can buy a physical DVD copy of many movies for a good deal less than £6.99 on the high street.In many cases you can even get them for less than the cost of iTunes movie rentals too.

There is certainly no shortage of user reviews on iTunes where pricing seems to be the chief complaint.

How fast a movie downloads, of course, is obviously dependent on your broadband speed. We rented a copy of American Gangster at £3.49, then had a long 4-hour wait while the 1.9GB file downloaded. Your mileage may vary.

Once thing you'll notice about iTunes movie downloads is that they're available only in standard definition (DVD-quality) guise for watching on your desktop or laptop PC.

To get hold of the high-def version, you'll have to stump up for an Apple TV, which costs £199 for the 40GB version and £269 for the 160GB.

High-def rentals and purchases also cost £1 more than in standard guise. That's significantly cheaper than buying a Blu-ray movie, of course, but it's certainly not without limitations.

The chief of these is that Apple TV can only handle video resolutions up to 720p, which means owners of 1080p sets won't be able to enjoy their movie downloads in all their HD glory.

Cinephiles will also be disappointed by the limited sound quality, where you're stuck with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. You won't find Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD uncompressed audio here.