Wednesday, February 11, 2009

In Love with iTunes Movie Rentals

I've been meaning to try it for a while, but for the first time, on Tuesday night, we rented a movie from iTunes. Yet again, it was another impressively easy-to-use product from Apple.

Living in Japan, we often don't get movies for months after they come out in the states. And when they do finally come out here, they usually either dubbed into Japanese or have subtitles added. Frankly, dubbing sucks in more ways than I care to list. The subtitles aren't so bad, but they do detract from the movie a little. The most important selling point to us, though, is that we don't have to get dressed and walk 30+ minutes to the video rental store (and another 30+ minutes to return it when we're done).

So Tuesday night we basked in the warm glow of my wife's 24-inch iMac and watched WALL-E. Yes, not a new release, but I had only seen it on the airplane and my wife hadn't seen it all yet. It took all of 30 seconds to rent through the iTunes Store and the download began immediately.

On the downside, it took 2 hours to download the movie. While we could have started watching it immediately (while it continued to download in the background), since the movie was only about an hour and 20 minutes long, we didn't want to risk playback catching up to the download and ruining our movie-watching experience with "buffering" breaks. So, we watched a couple of episodes of The Daily Show online to let the download get a little over an hour head start.

With an hour left to finish downloading the movie, we started watching WALL-E full screen on the computer. The image quality was fabulous; there were no visible encoding artifacts at all. The sound was similarly superb. Even with the download continuing in the background, the movie played smooth with no hiccups. It was exactly what I would have expected from renting a title on physical HD-DVD or Blu-ray media.

Overall, the 1 hour lead time before we could start watching the movie was a little disappointing. But being able to sit comfortably at home and not hoof it down to the video store more than made up for that little setback. Next time, we'll probably either download the movie a day or two ahead of time or my wife will start the download when I leave the office so it is ready to play when I get home. Other than that, we were extremely pleased with the convenience, the quality, and the ease-of-purchase.

Apple nailed the user experience aspect again; there wasn't a single moment where I felt like we had to sacrifice something in order to gain convenience by purchasing online. The rental fee was commensurate: $4 to rent a recent release. I seem to recall Blockbuster charging $4-$5 to rent recent releases. So for roughly the same price as an old-school movie rental, I gained convenience but lost nothing. Even without our unusual circumstances, that looks like a decent deal to me.

So Apple iTunes' movie rental feature gets 4 thumbs up. As expatriates, we'll throw in 4 big-toes too, for a total of 8 digits up.

In case you are curious, there are services vaguely similar to NetFlix here, but they all require a) a Japanese credit card and b) postal delivery. I'll save my rant regarding trying to get a credit card in Japan for another day, but suffice to say we don't have one and aren't likely to get one during the remainder of our stay here.

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