Why You Shouldn't Buy iTunes Shows or Movies
Following my exhaustive post on why you should buy iTunes Shows and Movies, I will now give you some very good reasons for not buying those videos. This isn’t a ploy to confuse you, but to inform you. To make you aware of the issues that surround digital media.
You can’t loan them to your friends.
Thanks to DRM (Apple’s brand is called FairPlay), these videos are only playable on the computer you bought it from, and up to 4 other computers that you’ve authorized for playback. So, to share these videos with a friend, you’d have to loan them one of those computers too. Or they could watch it over your shoulder perhaps.
iTunes shows fortunately have no extra ads, but they also have no extra features that you might be accustomed to when buying a DVD. So that includes: additional language tracks, choice of subtitles, mini-documentaries, commentary tracks, fancy menus, DVD games (but those are always weak anyway), DVD-ROM extra material (in some cases, wallpapers for your computer, etc.), theatrical trailers and more. I’m not saying all DVDs carry all these things, but most have an assortment of these extras that you just don’t get with the iTunes TV shows and movies.
Quality is good, but not DVD good.
The movie I bought to sample the quality looks good— no ugly compression artifacts that I’ve noticed. The resolution of this widescreen movie is 640 pixels wide by 352 pixels high (225,280 pixels). Compare with the typical NTSC widescreen DVD resolution of 720 pixels wide and 576 pixels tall (414,720 pixels). There’s a lot of missing pixels in the iTunes movies. This won’t matter to most people, especially when viewed on a laptop or 20” computer monitor, but it starts to show on high-def screens (the kind that Apple’s “iTV” product will be running on).
And of course, as HD-DVD enters the market, the differences are even more striking.
I replaced a scratched-up DVD of Toy Story with one from the iTunes store. The 1 hour, 20 minute movie weighs in at 921 megabytes. That’s not too bad for a video, but if you buy a few of these, you’re going to definitely notice it. In my mind, this is one of Apple’s biggest problems with selling video: the consumer’s capacity for storing it.
iTunes isn’t terribly good at managing media across multiple volumes— it still stores everything you put into it in one big monolithic volume. So, if you’ve bought one of those iMacs with 160 GB of storage, you can probably expect to store about 100 movies and still reasonable room left for the operating system, applications and other data.
The problem is exacerbated by iTunes TV shows. These have a 640 x 480 resolution that is on par with the movies. So, the freebie Lost episode “Live Together, Die Alone” that is 1 hour, 25 minutes long is 920 megabytes in size. Most Lost episodes (45 minutes or so) will be perhaps half that. So a typical season will eat over 11 gigabytes of your hard drive. If you plan to buy a few seasons worth of video, you’d better check your free space first.
To supplement my second point, one other thing you don’t get with these digital movies is physical media. So, if you want a hard copy of your videos, you’ll have to do it yourself.
iTunes does provide a easy way to create backups of your downloads, but the disc is not playable in a DVD player. You can replay them on the computer(s) authorized to play them back, but that’s it.
And unfortunately, Apple does not provide a feature to redownload movies or music you’ve already purchased from the music store. So it is your responsibility to backup your media. If you lose it, it’s gone. (If you don’t have a DVD burner, you should probably invest in one.)
It’s not easy to play them on your TV.
Sure, if you have a computer that you can connect to your TV, there’s no problem. Especially if your TV is basically a big LCD screen. But for many, the TV is still an analog device. You’d need to use an S-Video connector to connect your computer to your TV (available on some computers, but not a standard) or some device that converts the digital video signal to an analog one. Apple’s pre-announced “iTV” product promises to fill that gap, but it will set you back $299. You can also load them onto an iPod and play them on your TV from there, but that will also cost you at least $249. Ideally, you should be able to create DVDs of the video and play them in any DVD player.
They only play for Mac and Windows
This is heads above Windows Media DRM that only plays on Windows. But what about other OSes? No love for Linux or Solaris or any other operating systems.
So there you have it. The “cons” of buying these videos. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve bought several already. But the more I buy, the more I wonder— is this a good investment? Are all those bits I’m buying here actually worth anything if I decide to switch to Linux or something? It gives me pause.
Update: Edited reason 5 from much feedback pointing out the glaringly obvious “Burn Disc” option in iTunes (slaps forehead).