iTunes UK – TV Content at last

I think it’s around two years since TV shows were first available on iTunes in the USA. Finally some content was made available to purchase in the UK this week. First thing you notice is how little there is – it’s all American and there’s not much off it. There’s rumours of BBC and Channel 4 content to come later but there’s nothing at the moment.

Then you notice the price. It’s high. £1.89 per episode. That would be £43.47 for Lost series 3 which sounds a lot but the whole series can be bought on iTunes for a reduced price of £32.99. Currently the box set is available on Amazon for £44.98 so there are savings to be made however it’s almost double the American price, like most things here in the UK. While I’m saying there are savings to be made on DVD’s, that’s for latest box sets only. Earlier box sets are available for much less than the iTunes price, and would you really want to pay more for lesser quality?

I’ve just spent £1.89 to test just how good the iTunes TV shows look.

I’ve bought Lost Season 1 premier which is sized at 489Mb and didn’t take too long to download. Playing on the iMac first impressions are good but sizing the playback window to a reasonable size showed, not so much pixelation, but a softness. However there was no visible colour banding so not too bad.

Lost on the Mac via iTunesLost – iTunes Store

I then compared it to the original DVD and also a DVD rip I made using Handbrake. Handbrake took around 20 minutes to rip the first episode from the DVD and the resulting video although slightly smaller in size to the iTunes download (466Mb) looked more detailed when viewed in iTunes. There was none of the softness seen in the iTunes store version.

Lost on the Mac via HandbrakeLost – Handbrake DVD rip

Watching the DVD on the Mac showed, not surprisingly, the best quality of them all. Slightly increased detail and sharpness made quite a difference. However the whole point of iTunes and tools like Handbrake is to make you physical media portable. So were there any major differences on the iPod or viewing on a 32″ LCD?

Lost on the Mac via DVDLost – DVD

Viewing Lost on the iPod whether it was the iTunes or Handbrake version was surprisingly good. Clear, crisp and very watchable. However the screen is tiny and while it works for some TV shows you really need something approaching iPhone size (at the very least) and widescreen for watching TV or movies on the move. I used the Xbox 360 to compare the DVD disk and the two electronic formats streaming from the Mac and viewing on my LCD. The iTunes download was notably poorer than Handbrake with the DVD looking superior to both of them. Popping the DVD into my Denon was even more impressive as the upscaling is superior to the 360’s.

For ease of use and getting content on your Mac, iPod, media player(Apple TV for example) then the iTunes Store is a convenient if expensive way of getting video content that you want to watch again and again. However I wouldn’t be willing to spend money on a format that is a lower quality than DVD. I know for some the convenience of the iTunes Store will win them over but not for me. Maybe if they offered HD versions of the shows I would be interested. Maybe if they actually sold content before it was broadcast in the UK I’d be interested but not after…not at that quality for that price. I’d be even more interested if they sold material in UK & US at the same time. Sky have done well in broadcasting their big imports just a few days after broadcast in America. Why haven’t others?

I guess the other question is piracy and how much is one episode worth? NBC and Apple have parted ways with rumours of NBC wanting to double the cost per episode and Apple not budging. How many people see TV content as ‘free’? Are people downloading TV shows due to cost, scheduling or quality? I’ve not downloaded TV shows for just over 18 months now but that’s due to Sky HD. Before Sky I downloaded via newsgroups and torrents as it was an easy way to get content, it was the only way to watch it without waiting six months and I didn’t fancy paying Sky the cash. I also loved that the adverts were removed, the DOG’s were blurred out pretty well and I could get HD content without actually buying an HD player.

There’s the rub. I can get something better for free than I can get from the iTunes Store for money. Yes it takes a bit of effort but it’s not really that hard to do. In fact more and more people (including non geeks) are turning to torrents and newsgroups as their way of getting TV. Sky removing their channels from Virgin certainly spurred a couple of my neighbours onto the downloading route (no hints from me – honest).

Nope, TV shows on the Apple Store are a waste of time for me and I would hazard a guess, for most other people too. HD movies on the other hand would be appealing. Not having to choose between the increasingly messy Blu-Ray and HD-DVD format war and moving to an HD digital distribution network is something I’m really interested in. The 360 has an HD movie service in America with rumours that it will launch in the UK before year end. Shame it’s such a noisy player. Sony have already hinted at an HD movie service for the PS3… and Apple? Nothing yet (I think) although the Apple TV can play HD content, just nothing in HD on the iTunes store yet.

Or has piracy killed any hope of a realistically priced pay for market ever being established? Time will tell.

2 Comments

  1. Great post Ian. Broadcast media is probably going through more change now than in its entire history. Telly content is getting pulled in so many different directions (mobile, DVD, interactive, streaming, download, on-demand, cable, HD etc etc.) you kind of feel sorry for any execs trying to navigate this minefield. It would be pretty easy to devise one solution, only to see people migrate to the latest must-have device or service – just as yours completes its long development period. Doh! Clearly £1.89 a show is going to impress no-one, but its a start. I think the US site has improved its resolutions since it launched, so fingers crossed. Why are we getting charged double the US rate? Is it because they can?

  2. I’ve read a few posts about why the rate is set as it is. DVD boxset’s have set a rate that lot’s of people have deemed affordable and hence that’s been transferred to digital downloads. Don’t know if that’s true or not but it’s a valid point. However many that want digital downloads have been doing it for years for free. How many will gladly pay to stay legal when in many ways it’s now easier to download for free than ever before?

    How many will pay to download when more and more people are downloading for free? A couple of years ago I know some people who had ‘The FEAR’ about downloading and getting prosecuted. Those fears seem to be disappearing fast.

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