August 22, 2012
Ever since Apple started selling movies and TV shows in its iTunes Store about five years ago, I have been intrigued about video gaining the easy-purchase capability that lured me into the iTunes/iPod ecosystem through digital audio.
Back when it first came out, these videos had huge importance. Sometimes I would forget to set my DVR to record "Lost," and the show wasn't available through any other medium. There was no Hulu yet, and the ABC website didn't post the video the next day for you to watch. So a couple of times I gave iTunes $1.99 and had the episode the day after it aired.
It has been a neat feature, but I haven't really believed in the ability of downloads to replace discs -- especially Blu-ray -- any time soon. But I may be changing my mind.
I have bought a couple of movies from iTunes, but just standard definition ones. One was a movie that was on sale for $9.99, another was one I hadn't seen in a while and was only $9.99 as well.
But this weekend, I decided to try out "The Hunger Games" in HD with iTunes Extras instead of buying the Blu-ray Disc version.
My main gripes about digital videos in the past have been for a few reasons: • They usually cost the same as the Blu-ray version without the extra features and same audio/video quality. • How am I supposed to play them on my television or someone else's television? • If the BD version contains a digital copy, that's good enough for me carrying the video around or playing it on my computer
Apple has done a good job at narrowing the gap on these features. First, the video quality gripe was because the movies were in 720p, compared to Blu-ray's 1080p. That's gone. Both are now at 1080p, although Blu-ray is still just the slightest bit sharper if you analyze it closely. BD still wins the audio battle if you have a sound system capable of playing DTS. But Dolby Digital isn't bad, and it's the best I can get with my home setup anyway.
I can play the videos on someone else's TV a number of ways. If the person has an Apple TV, I can use AirPlay to stream it from my iPhone or iPad to the Apple TV. Or if the person has an HDTV with an HDMI input, you just need an adapter for you iPad/iPhone and an HDMI cable. If you buy the video from the iTunes Store, you can also re-download it at any time over WiFi which allows you to have your entire purchased movie catalog in your pocket.
In the latter case, I have bought plenty of BDs with a digital copy. But as I ranted in this space last year, some studios have decided that the perfectly good version you could download via iTunes just wasn't good enough. So they created this nonsense system called UltraViolet. You have to sign up for two services and download yet another app, and I don't know what all. "The Hunger Games" BD package contained that kind of digital copy.
Thus, my motivation to try out a movie through iTunes was fully there.
I have told you of my perceived and actual drawbacks already, so let's look at the positives.
First, I didn't have to leave my durn house. I could've gone to one of the places holding a midnight sale, including one in the Cobb area where one of the actors from the movie was going to be. Or I could just click "buy" and let it download over the course of an hour or two. The entire package of files is 11.66GB (one HD video file, one SD video file, one file of iTunes Extras). But I was able to start watching the movie when about 200MB of the HD version was downloaded.
The cost was $19.99 for the HD version from iTunes and the Blu-ray version with two discs and an UltraViolet digital copy. So I technically saved money since iTunes doesn't charge tax, and iTunes Extras seems to include all of the special features that the Blu-ray version does except for Spanish audio.
I can't say that I'm ready to start buying every movie this way instead of on BD. But iTunes has definitely improved its offering to be pretty much on par with Blu-ray. The quality of the video and audio have been great on my 21.5" iMac, my 32" 720p HDTV and my 46" LED HDTV.
Do any of you purchase your videos mostly digitally now? I would love to hear some input to know about any possible problems I can expect. This may almost be worth it for me because now I literally can't lose my movie, and it's not something that will clutter up another shelf somewhere in my house.
Michael Buckelew is a contributing writer for the Gwinnett Daily Post.