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Apple Liberates HD Movies From Apple TV

Yesterday, Apple slightly opened up the market for high-definition movies on its iTunes Store. It will now sell, not just rent, these titles, and it will allow customers to watch them on a Mac or PC, not just on an Apple TV media receiver.

This does not constitute an entirely new chapter in the larger story of online movie availability -- it doesn't fix such longstanding issues such as Apple's restrictive "digital rights minimization management" or its thin inventory of movies. (My copy of iTunes lists a whopping 11 -- yes, eleven -- HD titles ready for purchase, with three more available for pre-order.)


Apple's announcement does, however, deprive the Apple TV of one of its major reasons to live by ending its monopoly on iTunes HD movies.

True, the Apple TV is a cheap little thing, selling for $229 for a model with an inadequate 40 gigabyte hard drive and $329 for a unit with a more reasonable 160 GB drive. But numerous "small form factor" computers such as Apple's just-updated Mac mini don't need that much extra room under a TV and don't cost that much more either.

A "real" computer can provide the same kind of couch-friendly interface as an Apple TV, thanks to software such as Apple's Front Row and Microsoft's Windows Media Center, but it can also do far more. Since almost all include optical drives that read and write CDs and DVDs, it can take the place of a DVD player and a DVD recorder. You can plug in a TV tuner and turn it into a high-definition digital video recorder. Or you can catch up on old shows at sites such as Hulu (an option now unviewable on Apple TVs, thanks to the self-defeating foolishness of some networks). And, of course, you can break out a wireless keyboard and use the computer as you would any other desktop or laptop.

I've been following the issue of how to connect TVs to all the digital media in our homes and online for quite a few years now. At the start, I thought that some kind of simple, low-cost wireless media receiver would be the ideal solution. But the more I see arbitrary limits imposed on the utility of these things, even as regular computers keep getting cheaper and TVs start adding their own Web connectivity, the more I wonder if time isn't passing that concept by. What do you think? Vote in the poll, then explain your choice in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  March 20, 2009; 11:04 AM ET
Categories:  Mac , Video  
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In the poll, I voted for plugging a computer into my TV, which I did a couple of years ago. But I also use the computer in my bedroom as a TV.

Posted by: Ghak | March 20, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Other. I will eventually get one of those Blu-Ray players that can stream Netflix. (Maybe that fits the first option, but I didn't consider a Blu-Ray player a "simple media receiver.")

Posted by: Janine1 | March 20, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

The comment from Janine1 about Netflix reminded me that I also have an XBox 360 connected to my TV. And I have downloaded movies and TV shows to that to watch. I have not yet taken the steps needed to link it to Netflix, but I can use the computer for that already.

Posted by: Ghak | March 20, 2009 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Since Apple's "Take2" update to the Apple TV software last year, the size of the hard drive is much less important. It now shows a unified display of all media on the internal drive and what's on the iTunes computer it is sync'ing with. iTunes by default will copy new items to the Apple TV so they are local, but it will also stream any other items over the network. This was big improvement over the v1 interface. This makes the 40GB version sufficient for nearly everyone.

Posted by: eliotw | March 20, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

AppleTV will evolve... into a MacMini with Blueray, full OS and DVR, and games with tablet-like controls.

Posted by: gmail | March 20, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Just bought the new Mac Mini for this purpose! I thought I would need to keep my DVD player for the region free playback and upconversion, but looking on-line today it appears that there are work arounds for the region free playback and that the upconversion is actually quite good (I'll test it out tonight).

Posted by: ShawnDC | March 20, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

If you have a dedicated home theatre room, then certainly a multimedia computer can and should be hooked up with the rest of your separate components to a georgeous 100" plasma display. However, only a small portion of the population devotes so much time and effort to film viewing in their homes.

Thus, Apple TV has a place. Out of tradition, many families prefer to keep computer clutter out of their living rooms, which also acts as the home theatre room, guest bedroom, kids playroom, and catch-all room. And it's difficult enough to pick speakers that are aesthetically pleasing enough to win spousal approval, who wants more controllers/remotes/keyboards/mice on the coffee table? Instead of having wireless keyboards or long cables strung around the living room, Apple TV allows one to cleanly keep the movie service neatly tucked away into the corner.

Also, many of the people who say that their TV is their television don't own a living room. People who live in dormitories or small apartments are forced to huddle in front of their small computers out of necessity, not out of preference.

Posted by: roule | March 20, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Apple HD is a joke; fraud actually is the more appropriate word. It should be against the law to call 4mbps HD. The worst DVDs have better specs than that... VCDs have better bit rates than that!

Posted by: stikyfingas | March 21, 2009 12:46 AM | Report abuse

i planned on purchasing an apple tv unit but when i called for detail i was told i would be unable to playback my quicktime format dvd's. this was my main reason for getting this unit , i guess if you cant import it in itunes you cant play it on apple tv?? am i correct???? let me know tekkis!

Posted by: willemkraal | March 21, 2009 8:02 AM | Report abuse

How will you bring Web video to your TV?

Why would you want to?

Posted by: kcbrady | March 21, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

I'm not a big Apple fan. I was until they started rolling out product after product with bugs and crashes. Apple has become more like Microsloth everyday. Their customer service, once a legend, has been reduced to a cruel joke.

Hopefully there will be other hardware manufacturers out there who can compete with Apple. Perhaps Sony can get to together to provide quality components with reasonable customer service.

Posted by: GeorgeHayduke | March 21, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Insufficient voting options. I have no desire to make such a connection.

Posted by: DickWexelblat | March 21, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

My wife and I have been using an Xbox360 with netflix to stream movies directly to the T.V. Not a huge selection available yet, but it's convenient and reasonably priced (if you've already got an Xbox) ...

Posted by: wtdoor | March 21, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Connected to my TV - and I realize I am not normal:

I have a 42" LCD in a small apartment

Xbox360 - Those streaming movies are worth the subscription alone.
Gaming Computer

HD cable box and an HD reciever/decoder.

I really like the fact that if I want to play a video or stream content that isn't from Netflix, I can still do it with great picture and sound (my computer has a digital out on the sound-card). I also love the fact that whatever game I want to play (Xbox or PC) looks fantastic on my monitor. My only complaint is that cox sucks. Horribly. If only FiOS was available....

In short, the options above don't necessarily cover a lot of what people can AND WILL do with newer model tv's and monitors.

Posted by: xenocyclus1 | March 21, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

There's not a lot I want to watch on TV anyway. I get my news online, my music online, and now most of my TV online (

I don't have hours a week to watch TV so I have to be very selective. I'm not into reality TV just some good Space Opera or Sitcom will do to break me out of work mode.

Posted by: geomguy | March 21, 2009 5:44 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: katavo | March 21, 2009 6:41 PM | Report abuse

SageTV, baby, I already do all this and much more. It already plays TV, DVD, BluRay from your hard disk, youtube and some other online stuff.

Posted by: ivb1 | March 21, 2009 11:39 PM | Report abuse

eh, that's the SageTV HD200 extender, so no PC needed next to the TV.

Posted by: ivb1 | March 21, 2009 11:49 PM | Report abuse

i roll w/ Apple/Mac & i've had a 'puter connected to my 42" Sony HDTV for over a year. it's a 3 yr old 17" Intel iMac & it's optical audio is sent to my Sony AV receiver. got the iMac used, because the Mini @ the time i was buying had no support(RAM) capable of driving a 42"HDTV for HD streaming from the likes of ABC. also, when i'm watching programming i sometimes like to look up info about an actor, director, cinematographer, etc on IMDB, which i couldn't have done as the previous Mini's only had 1 video out.

i stream most of my content as i can no longer afford the pretty decent cable deal (every channel including HD package--over 42 in HD -i remember 4 years ago there were only about 7-9 channels & only 3 were the OTA networks- for $85.00/mo.) i had from BrightHouse Networks--times are tough. so now i use Hulu, a couple of Torrents, JOOST & the Networks own sites. one thing i've come to realize over the last 2-3 weeks is that the OTA networks have very weak programming if you don't want to watch "games shows as reality TV". i'm going to be getting Netflix for the streaming & will probably rent some titles from Apple's iTS as the HD catalog increases, since they'll be doing day & date on new releases. i rented a few of Apple's SD titles & dl'd some free HD content, when i had my killer cable deal & they were okay to watch, not stunning or awesome video but okay. to early to say if i'll continue this way-i really miss Showtime's original series in all their HD glory as well TNT's original series & HD Net.

the iMac is also my media server--i've ripped my favorite DVDs & all my CDs to synch to my iPods & to play over my Airport(n draft) network to my Macbook in my BR or on my porch.

Posted by: dkjazz3 | March 22, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

I bring YouTube to my TV via my VUDU Box. As for HD downloads, VUDU offers these too. Hopefully the selection increases, but we will see.

Posted by: stammy1 | March 23, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

I use a semi-retired iMac G5 as a TV and entertainment center. It works great with EyeTV and Frontrow. The trickiest thing was sending the video to a projector using decent resolution as the G5 is not set up to run two displays. I ended up using TVRow - more at:

Noew I can even control it using my iPhone and jfControl (from iTunes Store)

Posted by: mpainesyd | March 23, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

I have an analog 19" color TV with 1) a DTV converter box for local stations, and 2) a Roku box I use to stream Netflix selections.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | March 25, 2009 7:39 PM | Report abuse

I use Apple TV as my digital media source. So far, I've been satisfied with it. People who grumble about the alleged deficiencies of Apple TV usually don't own one.

Posted by: query0 | March 26, 2009 5:05 AM | Report abuse

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