Practical Technology

for practical people.

Apple TV 2.0


Renting movies, from all the major studios, will soon be a click away on the Apple TV.

We knew that Fox was going to co-operate with Apple to rent movies, what we didn’t know was that, despite all the yammer about how the studios hated Apple, was that all the rest of them–Warner Bros., Miramax, Paramount, Sony, and Universal, and their subsidiaries—would be offering movie rentals on iTunes and Apple TV as well. Walt Disney, of course, had always been on board.

Jobs said at his keynote speech in San Francisco that by the end of February, there will be 1,000 movies available for rent. Older titles will cost $2.99, while newer ones will cost you $3.99 or $4.99 for the HD versions. Once you download a movie, either to your computer or directly to the Apple TV, you’ll have 30-days to watch it, and 24 hours, once you’ve started watching it, to finish viewing your film. The newest of the new movies will be released 30-days after they make their appearance on DVD.

Yes, I did say directly to your Apple TV. Apple will be updating your Apple TV’s firmware, within the next two weeks, so that you rent or buy videos from the iTunes stores from your Apple TV with just your clicker. You’ll still be able to pull video down from your PC or Mac, which is where I keep the bulk of my movie and TV library, but now you won’t need to deal with a computer at all. You can do everything from your couch with a remote like a proper coach-potato should.

Talk about instant gratification, with this, as Jobs put it there will be “No more driving to the video store or waiting for DVDs to arrive in the mail,” you can just click and watch. Apple also claims that these videos will start up faster… that I’m not too sure of.

No matter what magic they do with video compression, if you have a slow Internet connection, I can’t see streaming a video in HD being anything but painful. After all, what I first found revolutionary about the Apple TV was that, by including its own hard drive, it didn’t try to stream movies. Streaming is all too subject to the ever-changing speed of not only your Internet connection but your home network as well.

The interface is also going to be changing a bit. You can look forward to viewing your video collection in an iPhone album flip-like mode.

You’ll also be able to view photos from Picasa, Google’s free photo management software, .Mac and Flickr Web Galleries on your TV. If there’s anyone out there left who’s still using a slide-projector to show family photos, the 21st century is officially calling you now.

The quality of these images and videos will also be upgraded. I’m not sure, however, at this point, how high this will go. We do know that the ordinary video will be brought up to DVD quality. Will the HD go above 720p? I just don’t know yet. It appears that 720p will still be the top.

What I do know though is that you will be able to listen to your movies in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. Yes, it’s official now. You’ll no longer be limited to stereo.

There’s also a new feature you’re going to find on at least some Fox DVDs. This is Digital Copy for iTunes. Here’s how it works. When you get the DVD, you also get an iTunes compatible copy of the film. You pop the DVD into your computer, enter the code, and then you can move that copy to your iTunes library, where you can view it just as if it were any other iTunes video.

The first DVD to include the feature will be ‘Family Guy Presents: Blue Harvest.’ This is a Family Guy take on Star Wars.

Of course, those of us with a bit of technical savvy could always do this anyway. Still, it’s nice that there’s a completely legal and easy way to make at least some of your DVDs available on Apple TV, your video iPod, iPhone or what have you.

Finally, and this kind of news is always good news, Apple is lowering it prices. You can now get the 40GB Apple TV for $229 and the 160GB model for $329. Me? I’m getting a 160GB model for the upstairs TV.

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