When it comes to digital movie software, I’ve reviewed several of the major packages by now. Flixster, VUDU, CinemaNow (twice), and Amazon Unbox have all been examined (check the Tech Reviews category if interested in any of the reviews). But anybody who knows anything about digital content delivery knows that there’s another major player to look at: iTunes, produced by Apple, who virtually started the whole “digital content” marketplace with music.
For the purpose of this review, I will solely be looking at renting and playing movies through iTunes. Also, as usual, I am working with the Windows XP version of the software. This may be pertinent in this case.
Apple seems to prefer an insular approach to content providing. Everything about the movie rental process takes place within the iTunes app itself, including shopping for the movie. Rental prices are generally comparable to those of competing services ($2.99 for SD, $3.99 for HD). The rental periods are also comparable: Videos have a 30-day availability window once rented, and when you start playback, this begins a 24-hour viewing window. At the end of either window, the video expires. Conveniently, the next time you log into iTunes after expiration, the file will be deleted automatically after a notification.
Also convenient is that iTunes goes against the grain in accepting Paypal as a payment method; it’s the first service I’ve found which does so. What’s more, if my rental experience is consistent with the norm, merely selecting a movie for rental and downloading doesn’t trigger the charge — I was only charged once I actually started playback (which in this case happened a few days later, so it was easy to observe the difference.)
The file is downloaded to your computer to a location that you can determine in the program preferences. It’s in a proprietary format, as far as I observed; Apple, like Amazon, does not appear to be hopping aboard the UltraViolet compatibility train just yet.
Playback, like rental, occurs within the iTunes application. When playing a video, there are a couple conveniences. First is that the video comes with a chapter index, so you can skip around if you wish. And secondly, the video also has optional closed captioning. And, of course, it has the usual pause button, which isn’t so much a convenience as an essential.
Unfortunately, that is where the convenience ends. The player also features fast forward and rewind buttons, which would be convenient if not for the fact that they appear to be completely inert. I was unable to get them to function at any point during my viewing. That, however, would be a minor nuisance at worst.
What is not a minor thing is the video playback. Several times during playback, the video would freeze and the sound would loop; it would remain so until I used the Task Manager to terminate the window. These freezes would happen anywhere from 10 seconds to 15 minutes apart, and in all numbered somewhere north of two dozen for a 110 minute movie. For the record, iTunes was the only application I had running during this rental. Additionally, I have not experienced this situation with any other form of video software, whether movie rental or simple playback, including Apple’s own QuickTime. I did eventually make it through the film, but it was an aggravating ordeal.
This is where it might be relevant that I am running Windows XP. I am of course aware that XP is considered outmoded nowadays; it has, after all, been followed up by Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8. And considering that Windows as a whole is a competing platform to Apple’s own Mac OS, Apple would be entirely justified if they didn’t make software for Windows at all, let alone for older versions of Windows. If Apple had simply said “Sorry, no XP version available”, I would have shrugged and moved on. But when a company makes software for my system, I expect that software to work. iTunes does not.
This is particularly galling considering the company in question. Apple is not, by any means, a small fly-by-night operation. They’re the second-most powerful software company around, and as Microsoft does not (as far as I know) offer their own video rental service, that makes Apple the largest in this particular game. There’s no excuse for them not being able to do this right.
I have done some searching online, and it appears this is not an isolated issue (and it seems some of the sufferers have newer operating systems). Some of the Apple forums have suggested various fixes, but I feel this is largely academic from my standpoint (and not just because having various solutions implies that most solutions won’t work). The fix for this problem may be easy, difficult, or nonexistent. But even if the fix is easy, it is still far easier for me to simply use a competing service that already works properly. And that is what I will be doing with future rentals. I spend enough of my time fixing computers as it is; I am not going to hijack my entertainment time in order to do so when I can just give my money to someone else instead of Apple.
Ah man, that sounds awful. I’ve never rented from iTunes, but I have been giving it some thought because the company that owns the rights to the Shaw Brothers films is about to roll the catalog out on iTunes. I’m on Windows 7, so I may or may not have the same issues. I used iTunes on XP a lot in the past, though, and each update made it worse and worse, almost to the point of being unusable. I just stopped updating after a certain point. I agree completely, Apple needs to step up their Windows software game.
Yup. I understand that they may not think it’s as important as making sure things work on their own OS. But whether they want to acknowledge it or not, it’s still 90% Windows users to 10% Mac (and other). You either make your software work with the majority platform, or you pack up and go home as far as I’m concerned.
Hopefully Win7 doesn’t have the same issues; I know you like your Shaw Brothers films. On the plus side, if you do have problems, at least it would only take one rental to find out.
Even simply as a music player, iTunes has always seemed to be a crazy resource hog on anything I’ve run it on, other than the iMac I briefly had in ’01.
I loathe it for that reason, since my PC loves to overheat when the CPU’s really getting used… but it’s the “cleanest” (for want of a better word) mp3 player software I’ve encountered for a guy that likes to keep his libraries organized and easily searched and sorted.
I’m still very wary of any non-sub non-streaming video distribution systems. Renting something physical makes sense to me, but I really can’t get behind the idea of “renting” a file.
Great review though.
Yeah, iTunes is pretty heavy on resources for me as well. I’m also irritated by the constant updates and the request to reboot. My OS occasionally requests a reboot when it updates, but only occasionally. None of my other Windows software requests a reboot of the whole system on updates. iTunes requests it every time. Annoying.
I actually use Windows Media Player for my music files. I realize it’s almost gauche to just use the default software, but the darned thing works… never had a problem finding things. Only time I use another one is when I need to update some of the info on the file that WMP doesn’t make easily available (such as the year on an individual track instead of the album), in which case I fire up Media Monkey.
As far as renting a file, I agree, it’s a bit weird, but for somebody like me who has a slower internet connection (1.5 Mbps), it’s a lot nicer to download something than to stream it (since I’m limited to 480p on a good day when streaming). CinemaNow and Amazon work nicely for that. But if you can stream at a decent speed, a subscription streaming service is probably a better bargain overall.
Not entirely on purpose, I’ve become an Apple avoider. I don’t use iTunes, don’t have an iAnything and have no problems with any of them. Reading stuff like this makes me glad of my decision and while I will gladly continue to have my podcast available on iTunes, I won’t be using it any time soon and should probably uninstall it so it will stop popping up with a window suggesting I update iTunes and Quicktime even though I check the box that says “do not remind me of this again.”
Yeah, I understand that all right. Especially the update requests… how many updates should one piece of software need, anyway? I don’t think Windows Media Player has updated for me in years… still works fine.
To tell the truth, until this little test run of the video rentals, the only thing I used iTunes for was the rare occasion when they made a track I liked available as a freebie. Even then I always ported it over to WMP.
You know what? This whole incident has convinced me: I’m uninstalling the damned thing as well. I’m not going to be using iTunes for video, I don’t use it for music, and I can view any QuickTime files I want to watch (extremely rare as that is) in DivX player anyway. So it has no use for me, at least none that justifies putting up with something that’s as much of a pain in the neck as it is.
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