iTunes Movie Rentals – Take 1

Last week Apple, Inc announced US consumers could now rent movies from the iTunes Store. Although Steve Jobs primarily focused on the AppleTV method of renting movies, one can also rent movies through iTunes and view on a computer or iPod.

There are a load of Cans and Cannots–which Engadget has concisely charted1. For instance, one cannot rent HD movies via iTunes.

Not having an HDTV, that’s not much of an issue to me. Overall my experience was fair and while I will likely rent movies from it again, there is much room for improvement.

(To start, I had to update both iTunes and QuickTime.)

The first step is finding a movie to rent. The iTunes Store interface has become more and more cluttered as their selection has expanded. The content boxes consist of New Releases, Just For You, Quick Link, Top Songs, Top Albums, What’s Hot, iTunes STORE, Top Rentals, Top TV Episodes, Top Music Videos, Staff Favorites, Top Ringtones, Today’s Top Podcasts, Top Audiobooks, Free On iTunes, Indies and several untitled sections. Through all the images labeled with “Free,” “Pre-order”… I see one dab of color which reads “New”. Next to it are Movies.

I click and the whole design of the store changes. Dozens of titles listed, and even more categories. One of the first is “Top Movies” and Shooter is one of them. I had wanted to see that movie before and figured it would be worth a try so I click on the movie name.

The page for Shooter shows an option to Buy Movie, but none for rent. Suddenly I realize not all movies are available to rent. After surfing back to the main movies page I see the “Top Rentals” section and review the list. There’s nothing I want to see so I start looking for a way to list all rentals.

Here I’ll stop with the play-by-play as the rest drags on like the above. The short is that there isn’t a Rentals section. The closest thing I could find was switching to the Browse interface and sorting by price. Still, I can’t find a movie I really want to watch. The iTunes selection is limited at this time, Jobs promises it will keep expanding.

We settle on The Simpsons Movie and purchase it. After agreeing to a new iTunes agreement, I click buy. But wait, nothing happens. So I go through the process again and the movie still doesn’t download. So I check my order history to make sure it hasn’t been purchased. Nothing recent is there so I try again. Finally the movie begins to download.

I double-click on the movie to play it and am notified that once I click OK I’ll only have 24hrs to watch it. After clicking ok, the movie begins.

The interface is basic with a play indicator, play/pause button, forward and reverse and a full screen button. There is also a chapter selection feature that works well.

After hitting full-screen button, the movie will not go full screen. Instead, the movie only fills about 60% of the screen.

I fiddle around with it for about 10 minutes, checking my preferences and so on. Nothing changes it. The I accidentally skip forward a couple chapters and notice the movie is full size. Apparently the intro chapter and the credits are not full screen. I’m not sure if this is the way the movie is, or if the iTunes version was resized to save bandwidth–or so I assume.

The movie plays and looks fine. Although there was one pause mid-movie, the rest of it played fine.

Once the movie selection grows, and possibly not until the process for finding a rental move is less clumsy, we will likely rent again. They charge the same price as Hollywood Video and I don’t have to worry about late fees. We will keep our Netflix subscription until iTunes has a comparable selection. If Netflix has managed to fix their DRM problems by that time, we’ll reassess. Otherwise we will likely cancel our Netflix subscription and go with iTunes for future movie rentals.

  1. iTunes and Apple TV rentals and purchases: what you can (and can’t) do []

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