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.

  1. 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.

  2. No extras.

    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.

  3. 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.

  4. They’re big.

    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.

  5. Backup cost.

    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.)

  6. 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.

  7. 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).


TrackBack URL for this entry:


Marc said:

Regarding item 4:

iTunes 7 supposedly handles multiple libraries across multiple volumes.

Jonathan said:

Just to correct the misinformation in point 5 - to burn a backup disc of your films and TV programmes, you just create a playlist from them and then you can burn a data disc directly from iTunes.

Oliver said:

You don't need to copy the media back into your iTunes library to play it. Because the DRM is at the quicktime-level Quicktime can play the files just fine.

As far as the resolution goes, there is not real loss of quality. The different Standard-Definition resolutions equate to different types of televisions with either square or rectangular pixels.

I can tell you from experience that the vast majority of television programs are broadcast in 640x480 and up-resed to whatever they need to be.

Stuart said:

1, I'm mean and never lend DVDs

2, I never watch extras

3, I've still a normal old CRT TV, HD is bound to come. "You pays your money, you gets your choice"

4, 5, Large HDs aren't that much and seriously, backing up to DVD?

6, My computer screen is better than my Tv

7, *groan*

Still, I won't be buying any, they're not available in the UK : )

Jonathan said:

In addition to my last comment on point 5, iTunes 7 offers a Backup to Disc feature in the File menu. You don't even have to create a playlist.

Anonymous said:

You can't be all things to all people.

But what about other OSes? No love for Linux or Solaris or any other operating systems.

And I bet that Solaris crowd is beating down the doors to get their hands on iTunes. All two of them.

Brian Ford said:

A pretty good list that pretty much sums up why I will hold out on MOST of my purchases. (I will use iTunes for a select few movies that will not require DVD quality.)

Still, as someone else has already mentioned, you can back up an entire iTunes library, or just portions of it via the file menu.

The best part: The DVD it creates (or several DVDs) asks if you want to restore your library when you put it in. In other words, if you backup your entire library and "lose" your entire library afterwards it restores playlists, and all of your settings (ratings, notes, etc) automatically when you pop in the first DVD. (If your library comprises several, it will just keep asking for DVDs until the library is fully restored.

Alternatively, you can just say "don't restore library" and pick and choose individual songs/videos off the DVD.

Apple has delivered my most sought after feature in iTunes with this functionality.

I would also note that my feeling is that 9 times out of 10 -- extras are a complete waste of space.

jburka said:

Actually, #3 is unfair; you're comparing the resolution of a widescreen image to a 4:3 DVD resolution. A 16:9 DVD at 720px wide would be 405 pixels tall, for a total of ~291k pixels. While there's no question that the iTunes Store's video is at a lower resolution, it's not nearly as dramatic a difference as you suggest.

Kevin Purcell said:
iTunes isn’t terribly good at managing media across multiple volumes— it still stores everything you put into it in one big monolithic volume.

This isn't the full story. iTunes isn't great at managing content amongst multiple volumes but it does do that task. It doesn't have to story everyone on "one monolithic volume".

You can move your whole library to another volume. So you don't have to worry about free space on your boot volume.

Or, more importantly, you can point your library to another disk. This will leave current items in your library where there are and add new items in the new location. You can do this as many times as you want.

Or you can tell iTunes not to copy files into your library and leave them on any mounted volume on your system but have them indexed by iTunes.

iTunes is flexible enough for this not to be a problem.

I do agree with all your other points. Why buy expensive DRMed stuff that you can't share, is missing features and won't play on anything other than Apple hardware for the same cost as a DVD?

Brad Author Profile Page said:

Jonathan: Thanks for that-- I've edited the post in light of it.

Stuart: Extras are really the only reason to rewatch a DVD a few times. I rarely replay videos... commentary tracks are one of the few reasons to do so. This is in stark contrast to audio, which I replay all the time (mainly because it doesn't demand the attention video does).

Anonymous: #7 may not be of concern to you, but it is of utmost concern to those that choose something other than Windows/Mac.

Kevin: I've noticed the multiple library support in iTunes 7... I assume this was introduced to solve the problems I described, but in it's current form, it isn't terribly user friendly. And how do multiple libraries work with FrontRow?

Jose Nieto said:

iTunes isn’t terribly good at managing media across multiple volumes— it still stores everything you put into it in one big monolithic volume.

Actually, iTunes 7 does support multiple libraries -- just hold down the option key as you start the program and you'll get a dialogue box prompting you to select a library. Not the most elegant solution, but it does allow you to keep movies/tv shows in a separate volume.

Brad Author Profile Page said:

Jose: Let me clarify my point there... I want to have a single library that spans multiple volumes. I don't want multiple libraries.

Otherwise, you have to think... "Hmm... I don't see that video I bought last month. Oh yeah-- it's in my 'August 2006' library. Let me shut down iTunes and restart it with the option key so I can view that." Not the kind of user experience I expect for an Apple product.

Jesse Endahl said:

Apple has does allow people to redownload all purchased music, once. See these two posts for more:



patrick Author Profile Page said:

I think you need to re-read Kevin's comment, he doesn't mention the multiple library feature in iTunes, he talks about the ways you can do a single library than spans multiple volumes.

Presumably as long as the items are available (i.e. the volumes are either mounted, or can be), Front Row will be happy...

dave said:

I think both you (and commenter Brian) are wrong about DVD resolution regarding point #3.

NTSC DVDs are 720 x 480, PAL DVDs are 720 x 576.

And note that those DVD resolutions don't match 16:9, which means you need to use anamorphic techniques to stretch/squash the image to fit the screen ratio on the DVD and then squash/stretching it again to fit the widescreen TVs. And for movies wider than 16:9 your encoding black bands at the top and bottom of the screens, throwing away bits for nothing.

Also DVDs are (simplifying slightly) interlaced rather than progressive. This gives the iTunes downloads a 1.6 factor advantage in perceived vertical resolution. And they use an older compression method, MPEG2 vs H.264 (though generally at a higher bitrate).

The upshot of all this is that 4:3 TV shows on iTunes can theoretically be much better quality than the same show on DVD and that the raw numbers (like comparing processor speeds) are only a starting point and that most people, especially those used to working with PCs are surprised at how low resolution TV has always been (VGA).

As a final point it's worth noting that people watch TV from a far greater distance than they watch DVDs on laptops for example. The ability of the eye to discern detail makes HD-DVD pointless for many people at standard viewing distances on TVs sized below 37" (for PAL). Follow the link for more:


Regarding point 1 -- all you have to do to allow a friend to view your iTunes video (or hear your music) is use on of your computer authorizations with their .Mac account, and provide them with a copy of the media. My husband and I do this all the time.

Lauren said:

I have to agree with you. It's convinient sometimes to be able to buy movies off iTunes, but almost all the time is down right frustrating. You could buy the same movie, at Wal Mart for less than half the price of iTunes and be able to lend it, watch it wherever you want, do what you want with it. I buy them sometimes but it's so much easier having a real DVD. Thanks for your opinion! I'm glad I can submit mine :D

Montana Burr said:

Actually, you can decode the DRM with special software. That way you can burn them to a DVD and share it with their friends. Just don't give ur friends a copy, then you'll be stealing.


This article was published on September 28, 2006 9:35 AM.

The article previously posted was Why You Should Buy iTunes Shows and Movies.

The next article is Teasing your entries.

Many more can be found on the home page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by Movable Type