DVD DiscUnless you’ve been living under a rock, you must’ve heard that Apple just launched a movie download service similar to their TV download service. This came as no surprise, as Steve Jobs has been trying to strike a licensing deal with major studios for awhile now. Apple’s service will probably be recognized as the beginning of legal movie downloads, despite the fact that several services, like Cinemanow, have been around for awhile. In fact, just last week, Amazon launched their own service, but there are already many issues with it. All of these download services have the same underlying problems that should (but probably won’t) prevent them from taking away from DVD sales:

Digital Rights Management (DRM)

DRM acts to control access and usage of media you own. This topic has been extremely controversial. On one hand, you want people to be able to do what they want with their media. However, on the other hand, you don’t want them distributing to everyone and their neighbor. If I can’t download a movie (legally), burn it to a DVD, and watch it in a DVD player, then I won’t be downloading movies.

Video and Audio Quality

A standard DVD has a resolution of 720×480 a bitrate around 5600 kbit/s plus an additional 448 kbit/s for an AC-3 audio track. Almost all DVDs have special features, multiple languages, and subtitles all built into the menu system. All this can (and typically does for movies in the past 2-3 years) add up to a maximum of 8.5 GB.

A movie from Amazon’s Unbox service is 2.4 GB, same resolution as a DVD, but with a bitrates around 2500 kbit/s. I don’t care how good their compression codec is, you can’t match DVD quality with a bitrate less than half its counterpart. Oh yeah, if you planned on watching it on anything besides a computer, think again.

A movie from Apple’s iTunes store has a resolution of 640×480, that’s a fullscreen (4:3) resolution. If you’re watching a widescreen movie or TV show, that resolution will be even less. No Dolby Digital, only Dolby Surround. I’ll presume that there aren’t multiple languages available, but I’ve never personally bought a TV show or movie from them.

Price

DVDs: Month old DVDs can be had 5 for $20 at Best Buy with different movies circulating every week. New releases have settled around $15, but can be found usually online.

Amazon Unbox: $14.99

Apple iTunes Movie: $12.99 pre/new release, $9.99 any other movie. Currently pretty limited selection.

When you buy a DVD, you can do whatever you want with it. If your ultimate destination is to watch the video on your iPod, this can be done relatively painlessly. However, when you buy a DVD, you aren’t locked down to a specific medium. You can take it wherever you want, watch on any DVD player, rent it from any library free of charge, etc. This is not the case with existing TV and movie download services available, and until the above mentioned problems are dealt with, I don’t see movie downloads taking off.

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