The Apple TV, the company's "hobby" (according to Steve Jobs) media playback device, added to its appeal last week with a pair of movie-related announcements.
First, it's now possible to purchase movies directly from the Apple TV; before, they could be bought only from the iTunes Store on a computer. Movies for sale are available only in standard-definition resolution, not HD, even when an HD rental is available for the same title.
This feature appeared briefly several weeks ago, inconveniently the day I submitted the final version of my latest book, "The Apple TV Pocket Guide, Second Edition," to Peachpit Press. I wasn't able to successfully purchase anything on my Apple TV at the time, however, and Apple didn't get back to me with an answer before the capability disappeared.
The other news from last week goes beyond the Apple TV. A collection of movie studios announced that movies would be available for the Apple TV and other on-demand services on the same date that DVDs are released. Previously, Apple's position was that movies would be available for rent or purchase 30 days after the DVD release date (no doubt a limitation imposed by the studios at the time). The participating studios include 20th Century Fox, The Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Lionsgate, Image Entertainment, and First Look Studios.
The new policy has been slowly adopted for weeks. The Oscar-nominated film "Michael Clayton" appeared for rent at the iTunes Store and on the Apple TV when the DVD was made available, but the timing also coincided with the Academy Awards. I'm guessing the success of that movie on iTunes (where it remained the top rental for several weeks) helped convince other studios that the 30-day limitation was silly.
Could this be the start of a clue among the movie studios? I'm not holding my breath. But it does show that they're finally realizing that although the main content may be the same - the movie - a DVD and a digital download are different offerings. People who purchase DVDs want higher video quality, something they can grab off the shelf that doesn't require an Internet connection, and the multitude of extras available on some DVDs. People who rent or purchase movies from direct services like the Apple TV are looking for near-instant gratification (depending on the capacity of one's Internet connection) and, most of all, convenience.