In case you missed it, Apple just recently started selling movies via iTunes in HD. I’m not sure why it took so long for this to happen, but I would bet money that it had more to do with Hollywood than Apple. When you look at the severely limited number of HD titles for sale, we can only look to Hollywood and their relentless need to control everything to blame for this. Nonetheless, HD movies are now available not only for Rental (which Apple has been doing for over a year), but also for purchase. Like most things on iTunes, the number of titles will ramp up quickly. So this now leads me to my question:
iTunes HD or Blu-ray?
Let me remind you that I no longer just buy movies just because. One day I noticed I had a few movies in my collection that were still in the shrinkwrap. It hit me that I just rarely have the time or desire to watch movies that I’ve already seen. So whereas before I was buying just about every movie that I liked, today I would have to really really really really really like a movie to actually buy it. I have to weigh the cost of the movie vs. the number of times I’m likely to watch it again. Even if I want to watch a movie again, I have to ask: is it cheaper just to rent it again than to buy it?
Any recent movies I’ve purchased (and it’s only been a few) have been in Blu-ray format. I figure that if it’s good enough to buy, then I want it in the best possible format. Owning a movie in Blu-ray though does present a couple of challenges. For one, it can only be played in a Blu-ray player. So that limits me to watching the movie at home and not on the road on my laptop. That also limits the number of friends I could loan the movie too. A few of the movies I’ve purchased came with Digital Copies. So that at least takes care of the “take it on the road” problem, but due to copy protection/DRM I still can’t loan the movie out to friends.
I had a chance over the weekend to buy my first HD movie via iTunes and the process was as simple as buying any other item on iTunes. I was pleasantly surprised/reminded that when you buy HD content on iTunes, they automatically include a smaller standard def version for your portable devices (iPhones/iPods) and to take on the road with you. While this does make the download bigger (you’re downloading two movies instead of one) and take up more hard drive space, I welcome this. I purchased Transporter 3 (not because it’s all that great of a movie, it was just that the number of available titles in HD for purchase right now is severly limited). The iTunes HD version is $19.99. The Blu-ray price is $25.99 and does include a Digital Copy.
The iTunes HD version weighs in at 3GBs of drive space plus 1.1GBs for the standard def version that’s included.
Which is better?
That’s the real question isn’t it? That’s also probably why you’re reading this. Unfortunately “better” depends on what you want. So let me give you the pros and cons and you decide for yourself:
Full HD quality 1080p, extra content (outakes, bloopers, commentary, etc.), BD Live – access to online content from within the movie including games, online communities, extra scenes, etc. Can share with friends/family who have Blu-ray players.
Costs more per movie, requires a Blu-ray player, most laptops don’t have Blu-ray drives for watching on the go and not all titles include a Digital Copy. Takes up physical shelf space to store the discs. You have to either go out and purchase or order online and wait for the disc to arrive. Discs can become scratched and unplayable.
iTunes HD Movies
Costs less than movies on Blu-ray, can purchase and download right in your own home, comes with a copy for your other devices (iPod or iPhone).
Not the highest quality HD (only 720p), takes up hard drive space to store the movies (3GB for the HD version, 1.xGB for the standard def version), not sharable with others outside of your home due to DRM copy protection (when will Hollywood learn the same lessons that the music industy learned and do away with DRM?). Not burnable to optical media a video DVD/Blu-ray disc (again because of DRM protection).
The Bottom Line
Things just keep getting better as iTunes, TiVo, Netflix, Cable/Satellite companies continue to compete for our business. Having the ability to buy and download an HD movie right from my TV with Apple TV or from my computer is pretty sweet. Although iTunes HD movies are not full 1080p, I love the fact that they don’t take up any physical shelf space in my home. This also means that they are instantly available to all of my TV’s (via Apple TV streaming) because they are stored on a central media server (an iMac). Also keep in mind that 720p is still better than standard DVD quaility. So on those rare occassions when I think a movie good enough to actually own, I’ll probably look first to buying it via iTunes in HD format before going to Blu-ray now. If it’s a movie with the ultimate in visual effects and would really pop in all of its 1080p glory then I might consider owning it on Blu-ray. For right now my plan is to continue with Netflix and renting on Blu-ray for most of the movies I watch and renting on iTunes for those spontaneous moments when I just want to watch a movie that’s not physically sitting in my house/library. If iTunes ever offered a subscription rental service for movies my love for Netflix would be in serious jeopardy. I’ve recently cut my plan back to have less movies at home because they sometimes just sit here for weeks at a time when I’m too busy to watch them. This is one good thing about the pay as you go iTunes Rental model. You only pay for a rental when you’re ready to watch it!
I’m just glad to be living in a time where we have so many options for in home entertainment. I can see the day coming in the not too distant future that my DVD racks become a fond memory. I’ll either have all of my favorite movies streaming from my media server or available for instant renting/viewing over the internet. Hard drive space is cheap! I’m almost there today, building my home media center with Netflix/TiVo HD and Apple TV. Life is good!