For the past year my Apple TV has been a great tool for watching and listening to the plethora of podcasts that keep me entertained. And it has been fun to occasionally play some music on it from my sizable and fully legal iTunes library, watch a few dumb YouTube videos on it, and even download some videos from the internet and convert them for playback on the Apple TV. But I was never, ever, tempted to buy a movie from Apple. Recently all Apple TVs were upgraded with the capability to rent, not buy, regular and high-definition movies. And that feature has finally made the Apple TV a device the masses should enjoy.
I took advantage of a day off from work, due to an ice storm, to rent Ratatouille as a $5 high-def movie on my Apple TV. Selecting, downloading, and playing the movie was simple and rewarding. The movie downloaded fairly quickly, was sharp and clear, and showed only minor compression artifacts. It was a far better experience than struggling to hook up my laptop computer to the television for the Netflix Watch Instantly service, which has lousy picture quality and often streams poorly. It was also simpler to access than the Amazon Unbox service on my Tivo, with better picture quality.
The downside to this sort of rental is that you only have 30 days after downloading a movie to start watching it and only 24 hours to finish watching it after you start. So I still greatly prefer an actual DVD disc from Netflix since I can take as long as I want to view it, plus the disc often has fun extra features like commentaries. In fact, I’ve kept the Ratatouille disc in my Netflix queue because I now want to hear a commentary and see some extra features.
But sometimes I want a quick, fun movie that hasn’t shown up in the mailbox from my 5-disc-at-a-time Netflix queue. Whenever that occurs, my preferred alternatives are now:
- rent it in high-def on the Apple TV
- rent it in reg-def on the Apple TV
- rent it from Amazon Unbox on my Tivo
- rent it as a DVD disc from my local Hastings video store
- watch it using Netflix Watch Instantly
Overall, Netflix is still indispensable with its fantastic selection of feature-laden DVDs and user-friendly policies. But it lacks the near-instant gratification of Apple TV movie rentals, and Netflix’s Watch Instantly service simply is not competitive. If Apple TV eventually offers enough high-def rental choices, I may very well reduce my Netflix disc plan back to 3-discs-at-a-time.
I think my next experiment will be to rent a regular-definition Apple TV movie for playback with a fun Rifftrax. All of this sure beats cable TV!