On Acquiring Movies to Watch on Apple Devices

| Dr. Mac's Rants and Raves


Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #151


Technology is supposed to make things easier, but it makes buying movies more complicated. Long ago, when brick and mortar video stores ruled the earth, I had far fewer options. Today, rather than a trip to Blockbuster Video, I face myriad technical considerations:

  • Do I buy a copy on a physical Blu-ray or DVD disc?
  • Do I buy a digital copy from the iTunes Store, Roku Store, or Amazon.com (to name a few)?


  • Do I want to watch it on my Mac and iDevices, or only on a TV?

Therein lies the rub. See, almost all movies are copy protected. That means that if I buy a movie on a disc, I can’t easily watch it on my Mac, Apple TV, or iDevices. Of course I can create a backup copy with Handbrake or NoteBurner M4V Converter Plus and import it to iTunes. But that’s a lot of work; takes a lot of time; and doesn’t always work, much less provide a watchable copy. And even when it does, you end up with a slightly lower fidelity version that may or may not be legal under laws protecting intellectual property.

I only care to watch most movies once. So for as long as I can remember, I’ve mostly rented movies — first on VHS, DVD, or Blu-ray; more recently on demand from the iTunes Store or Time Warner Cable. At five bucks a pop, renting is a bargain and convenient to boot (assuming you have reliable high-speed Internet access and/or pay for cable). As a bonus, if I rent from the iTunes Store, I can start watching on one device (Apple TV or Mac) and finish on another (a different Apple TV or Mac, or even my iPhone or iPad).

The big challenge has always been that handful of movies I expect to watch multiple times. Since my Mac doesn’t have a Blu-ray player, ripping it myself is out of the question. Even if it weren’t, ripping a Blu-ray disc is more complicated than ripping a DVD. Until recently my solution was to buy a Blu-ray disc and only watch it in the den, where our only Blu-ray player lives.

But last week I discovered a better solution whilst shopping at my local Costco. I picked up a Blu-ray copy of Jurassic World and was shocked to see the words, “also includes iTunes” on the box.

I had never seen a sticker like this before.

The package included both Blu-ray and DVD discs, plus a code for an “Ultraviolet Digital HD copy.” That part scared me. Ultraviolet is a copy protection initiative deployed by a consortium of 85 companies (movie studios, cable TV operators, ISPs, and more). When I tried Ultraviolet in 2012, the experience was miserable — it had issues with Mac OS X, didn’t support iTunes, and I was never able to watch my digital copy.

It failed many more times than the three shown here.

But that iTunes thing on the box convinced me I should give Ultraviolet another try and I’m glad I did; after a brief visit to the Ultraviolet web site to register and type in the code, I clicked the iTunes button and the movie appeared in my iTunes Library, where I can sync it to my iDevices or stream it to my Apple TV.

Three Versions of Jurassic World

Three versions for $17.99—that’s my kind of deal.

There is one last thing... I pre-ordered the Blu-Ray of Roger Waters The Wall a couple of months ago; when it arrived yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it includes an Ultraviolet/iTunes copy.  So thanks, Ultraviolet, for (finally) getting it right. Putting Blu-Ray, DVD, and iTunes versions of Jurassic World in a single box for just $17.99 rocks! And getting the Ultraviolet/iTunes version for free with my $14.99 Blu-Ray of The Wall rocks even harder.

Note to the studios: Keep ‘em coming!

And that’s all he wrote...

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That’s cool. I had tried it some years ago and also pitched it right away.

But tire’s no way that I’m buying DRM stuff without an actual disc that I can play in widely-available machines (i.e. CD and DVD). Maybe from iTunes - maybe. But too many others have gone bell-e-up for me to be so trusting. Walmart - I’m looking at you. And “Plays For Sure” is now “Plays for Sh**”

Eric Weber

The iTunes portion is actually not part of UltraViolet.  They may use the same code but it is the studio that decides to include iTunes or not.  Disney and Universal Studios are the best and almost always includes iTunes.  Fox, Paramount and LionsGate will often include iTunes but not always.  Sony/Columbia and WB/NewLine never include iTunes anymore.

Nicole Soung

I’ve consistently found iTunes movies to be higher quality picture and audio quality. The sound coming from my Apple TV may be Dolby Digital but the bass is deeper and the surrounds are more active. Even though UV offers 7.1 and Dolby Digital+, but audio tracks sound weak, the bass is lacking and even though its 7.1 the rears are practically inactive. 
Neither of the services beat Blu-ray. But you have to need an external Blu-ray drive and Macgo Mac Blu-ray player for Blu-ray player on Mac.
I love iTunes because you know you’re getting Apple’s level of quality along with it.  Never any buffering on HD movies, never a dip in quality, speedy downloads to my iPad, etc.

Brandon Edling

Buy a Blu-Ray drive from Other World Computing, rip the disc using MakeMKV and transcode using Handbrake.


Interesting. But I have to have a DVD player setup for all the movies I already have so it doesn’t save me much hassle to get an iTunes code. I find my Apple TV harder to use than my DVD player. (Not ATV’s fault, it’s the unreliability of the Netgear Powerline adapter I’m using to get internet into my basement but it causes the ATV to completely hang for a few minutes every time I turn it on.)

BTW, I do not consider $5 per movie for a rental to be a bargain at all. It is $1 (or so) at Redbox. You can get DVDs for $5-10 usually, except new releases and Disney/StudioGhibli stuff.

I give no extra value to hidef / Bluray / etc. My TV is 32” so I probably won’t notice any improvement and I have no need for it. So I compare cost to DVDs not to BluRay.

Now, if Apple did a movie-matching thing similar to its music matching, and it would work by just putting a DVD in my Mac’s drive without having to rip it into my library, and this worked on 90%+ of my existing library, then it let me stream those matched movies to my Apple TV ... that would potentially be quite useful.

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