Last March, Apple began selling HD versions of movies in the iTunes Store. Previously, such films were available from iTunes only via Apple TV. This change led me to take a fresh look at purchasing movies, standard and HD, from the iTunes Store. My conclusion: Given the current pricing, the benefits of buying from Apple are minimal at best.
To see why, let's look at one example: Quantum of Solace.
DVD and Blu-ray. You can purchase the standard definition 2-Disc Special Edition of this latest James Bond movie for $19.99 from Amazon.com. The second of the two discs is stuffed with extras, such as the usual "Making of..." features, that have been favorably reviewed overall (as noted here and here).
Don't care for the extras? A single-disc version is available for half the price, just $9.99.
Do you demand high definition quality? No problem. You can purchase the Blu-ray version of the movie for the same price as the two-disc standard version: $19.99. The Blu-ray disc appears to include all the extras you get with the 2-disc edition (as noted here).
iTunes. So how does this disc pricing compare to purchasing the movie from the iTunes Store? Downloading the standard definition version will set you back $14.99. For the high definition version, you pay $19.99.
Bear in mind that films purchased from iTunes do not come with any of the extras you get with a typical disc purchase. Also, the iTunes' high-definition version has a 1280x720 resolution, as compared to the higher 1920x1080 resolution of Blu-ray.
Comparison shopping. Consider this low end price comparison: You can buy just the movie (with no almost no extras and no high definition) for $10 from Amazon. Or you can get pretty much the same thing from Apple for $15. As a bonus for going with the disc version, you can use any DVD player to watch the film on your television. With the iTunes version, watching the movie on TV pretty much requires either an Apple TV or a direct connection from your computer to your TV.
Other comparisons work out the same way: Buying the disc version saves you money or gives you more features or both.
Why buy from iTunes? Given all of this, is there any reason to buy a movie from iTunes? Perhaps. Depending upon what you intend to do with the movie, the iTunes version can be the simpler and more convenient choice.
The iTunes version lives on your hard drive, where it can be copied and backed up. If you have a laptop, you can easily play the movie wherever you go, without needing to take the disc with you and without requiring the extra drain on the laptop's battery to play a disc. Assuming you don't mind the smaller size, you can even play the movie on an iPhone or iPod (typically after converting the movie via a command from iTunes' Advanced menu).
True, with the relevant software (such as MacTheRipper and HandBrake), you can similarly convert a DVD movie to a digital version that is stored on your Mac's hard drive. It too can be converted to play on an iPhone/iPod. But this takes more time and effort than many users will want to spend.
One final benefit of iTunes: If you don't yet own a Blu-ray player, iTunes offers a great alternative for viewing films in high definition.
Still, I believe that the pricing of movies in the iTunes Store will cause most people, at least cost-conscious ones, to look elsewhere for their movie purchases. Apple may have its hands tied here. The pricing appears largely dictated by the movie studios, despite Apple's clout in setting iTunes Store pricing for other media. Regardless, before downloading of movies from iTunes becomes a popular choice, its prices will have to drop.
[Note: The iTunes Store is more competitive as a source for renting movies. But that's a topic for another column.]