Apple TV Movie Rental

The Apple TV isn’t just for streaming content you have stored in iTunes, you can also rent TV shows and movies directly on the device. The pricing structure is similar to other á la carte streaming services online:

Apple TV Rental Pricing
Content Price Days to Start Time to Watch Once Started
TV Show $0.99 30 48 hours
Movie $3.99 - $4.99 30 24 hours

To rent a new movie release it’s a one time fee of either $3.99 or $4.99. You have 30 days to start the movie and 24 hours to watch it once you’ve started. That’s expensive compared to Red Box or, well piracy, but the idea is that you get new releases and you get them legally.

There’s no ability to purchase movies on the Apple TV, you’ll need to do that on your Mac/PC and stream it over to the ATV. This box is rental-only.

The fee structure works but if you rent a lot you’ll quickly rack up more charges than you would with a service like Netflix or Blockbuster. The former is good for older titles, while the latter can get you the same things the iTunes store can - you just have to wait for a DVD to come in the mail. As far as an instant service goes, Apple is relatively competitive. The pricing and movie availability is comparable although I did notice that Iron Man 2 was available to rent via Amazon’s Video on Demand service, but not on the Apple TV. Other new releases like Get Him to the Greek were on all competing streaming platforms.

The image quality of the rentals is determined mostly by bitrate. Thankfully with H.264 you can get pretty decent quality out of low bitrate video. I rented Robin Hood in HD and based on the rate of streaming and the estimated time to completion I calculated the total file size for the 155 minute film at somewhere between 4 - 5GB. If we do the math that works out to be 3.5 - 4.4Mbps. That’s significantly higher than a standard definition rental through Amazon’s Video on Demand or even through iTunes (1.3Mbps and 1.5Mbps respectively). As a result, the Apple TV movie rentals actually look reasonably good. I picked out some macroblocking so it’s not going to be perfect. Note that Blu-ray discs can offer an order of magnitude higher bitrate so the Apple TV may be good, but it’s no Blu-ray replacement. Even most illegal content you can find online is encoded to higher specs.

Preparing to stream, the actual process took far less than 158 minutes

You can start watching your movie once the Apple TV has downloaded at least 5% of it based on my experience. That translates to around 256MB in the worst case scenario, not too bad assuming your internet and Apple’s servers are both behaving properly.

The Apple TV store is technically separate from anything you do on your Mac/PC. If you rent something in iTunes on your Mac/PC it doesn’t appear as rented on your Apple TV. There’s no concept of moving your movies to the Apple TV, despite the device having 8GB of storage. The NAND is strictly used as a cache for movies you rent on the Apple TV. Instead you have to stream any iTunes rented content over or rent again on the Apple TV.

The Obvious Limitations The Apple TV as a Cable TV Replacement


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  • Osamede - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    Apple has no interest in explicitly supporting pirated content either"?

    Wow, have you look at the reported statisics on how many songs the average ipod owner buys, versus how many they have in their Itunes library? I assure you the difference is not entirely made up of music ripped from their own CD's!

    So spare us the sanctimony please. Apple wants to get in the game of selling video content at a very healthy markup, otherwise this device would have better support for playing whatever files people have. That would make it a real media player.

    As it is it is obviously designed to be a new age cable box ie a box that delivers content sold to you from within a walled garden. Or put differently, it is a very stylishly paved-over cowpath.
  • bernstein - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    well my guess is, that apple is proceeding as with the iphone: introduce the device, see if it catches on and then beef it up and open it up for apps...

    app support actually is both very simple and very hard :

    * because of resolution similarities, basically all ipad / iphone4 ready apps will look good with only minor tweaking.
    * however all apps assume a touch based input, yet without standing in front of a touchscreen tv, user interaction with the appletv is quite different than on any other iOS device. this completely negates the app store advantage... which i believe is a HUGE reason apple forgo making the appletv app capable - just yet

    as the appletv at this point is nearly useless without itunes and an ios device apple should go the extra mile and leverage it's iOS devices in the following ways :

    * enabling any iOS device simply to stream it's screen content in realtime over airplay, while still using the device as input device (essentially using the tv as a cloned wireless display). this would allow you to use all apps while others could easily follow you on the big screen! and it would even allow you to use the tv as screen for all motion & touch based inputs excluding all touches not applicable to the whole screen. (well buttons in corners would work as well, but how about selecting a word in a text... nope.)

    obviously especially for games latency would be an issue, but given that both devices out of practicability need to be in close proximity to one another, a direct wifi link might suffice...

    however even worse is the fact that none of the iOS devices have a 16:9 display, so all display cloning will invoke black bars. which ultimately is not up to apple's quality level. *ugh* didn't see this one coming apple?

    * on the other hand, actually enabling the appletv to store and run apps while using any other iOS device as input controller (working similar to using an magic mouse / touchpad on osx (probably without the pointer) - thinking of it: those might work perfectly as controllers too!!) might be a more reliable and even simpler option.

    but ultimately apple could bundle a controller case for ipod/iphones (just adding the ergonomics and the buttons that come on a move/wii controller, maybe even something analog as on a playstation/xbox controller) Basically this would be nearly as cheap to manufacture as the current bundled remote but offer the input capabilites of a high end console... while maintaining the current price point.
  • hipnetic - Monday, October 4, 2010 - link

    Anand, excellent article. You seem to come at things from a similar perspective as I do. I do think that AirPlay has the potential to be a killer feature. You talk about playing games and needing a controller, but I suspect that Apple may be envisioning users using their iPhones as the controllers.

    I personally am not seeing much to get excited about with Google TV. The price is too high, there doesn't appear to be any streaming of your own content, and a keyboard-focused input/search method for the TV? I don't think so.

    One problem I'm having with my new Apple TV: I've got some HD movies I've downconverted to 720p using Handbrake. The movies play perfectly on my iPhone 4, but there are occasional stutters on the Apple TV. There are a few others (so far) reporting the same thing and one thing a couple of us think we've discovered is that it's more frequent after the movie has been fully loaded to the Apple TV's 8GB on-board storage buffer. That seems counterintuitive, but there you go. See this thread on Apple's support forums:

    I think it would be great if you did some more testing of video playback using Handbrake-encoded movies and looked super-close at the playback to spot similar issues. Because these videos seem to play fine on my iPhone 4, I'm cautiously optimistic that the problems are firmware related and can be fixed. Hopefully soon.
  • Fanfoot - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    Anand, perhaps you have some insight but I'm not expecting it to work the way you suggest. I think the video that was streaming to your iPhone/iPad might in fact go directly to your Apple TV rather than being relayed over your WiFi network twice. Even if it does go over the WiFi twice I'm not convinced the A4 has the horsepower to encode the stuff it has showing on its screen into an efficient form for transmission over the air. I think its FAR more likely that Apple is simply forwarding the incoming video stream to the Apple TV.

    If this is true all your speculation about projecting gameplay from your iOS device to an Apple TV will be for naught. In fact it may not even be possible to play back all video that you can display our your iOS device onto an Apple TV. Sure anything in h.264 or mp4 format that is wrapped in FairPlay DRM should work, but what about say the Sling Player app? Does it use h.264? I doubt it. As such I suspect it won't be possible to forward your Sling Player video to an Apple TV. Even something like ABC's app might not work if the DRM is being handled by the app, even if the video is actually in h.264 already.

    I suspect the potential for AirPlay is lower than you're thinking. I'm still excited by it, but I don't think its going to have all the potential something like WiDi would.
  • Shiitaki - Wednesday, October 6, 2010 - link

    I used an Apple TV for over a year to save on cable, and I saved enough to pay for it several times over. I only watch a handful of shows that happened to be available in Itunes. Not having to worry about missing a show live, recording, or enduring 20 minutes of commercials for a one hour program was very nice.

    It's really a great way to cut down on couch tatering, not spending hours rotating through 300 channels of nothing redeming is a plus.
  • bownse - Friday, April 15, 2011 - link

    It's so crippled with media constraints that it's nearly useless. Even though I own an iMac 27, an iPod Touch, and an iPhone, I'm not fanboi enough to get this. My WD Live TV Plus simply works and works simply out of the box; the list of supported media types is gargantuan compared to any of the others and the long-awaited Boxee Box seems like a candidate for the short bus given the list of tasks it can't do. Reply

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