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iTunes Films and TV review

Michael Passingham
11 Sep 2015
Expert Reviews Recommended Logo
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
4.49
inc VAT for HD movie rental

A huge range of content and bonus features, along with 1080p video, make iTunes the best destination for dedicated film fans

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Specifications

Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Apple TV 

Content: Max 1080p quality including closed captions and 5.1 surround sound

iTunes is now an elder statesman in the world of TV and film rentals, having served up pay-per-view TV for almost a decade and films from the big studios for seven years. Apple dominates the online film rental market, with a huge library that it claims is 85,000-strong. Add to that a catalogue of 300,000 TV episodes, and you have more video content that you could possibly watch in a lifetime, all in one place.

Apple is relatively picky about which platforms you can use to watch its content. It begrudgingly lets you watch films and TV programmes on your Windows PC, but aside from that you won't find iTunes on your smart TV, games console set-top box or Android device. There isn't even a web-based player. However, the huge range, along with Full HD content, make iTunes a strong contender even if you have to buy some extra hardware to use it.

Find the best movie streaming service for you with our indepth guide

Content

iTunes has a huge range of films in its line-up, including newer titles from smaller studios that you won't find on all the other services we tested, and some classics; For example, Rain Man is only hosted by a handful of services, of which iTunes is one.

Apple has deals with all the major film studios, too, so it's unlikely you'll ever find a newly released film that isn't on iTunes. Film pricing is in line with the rest of the streaming services; you'll pay £4.49 for an HD film rental and £13.99 to buy it outright. TV is slightly more expensive: Game of Thrones season 5 will set you back £23.99, 50p more than it is on Google Play and £1 more than Amazon, Blinkbox and PlayStation Video. There are lots of TV 'box sets' available, which is a great way to get a big discount on a series if you know you're going to watch the lot.  For example, you can buy the complete set of Game of Thrones seasons 1-5 in HD for £89.99, which is £26 cheaper than buying each season separately. Not all series are available in box set format, however, so most programmes will have to be bought as individual seasons.

With many services, when you buy a single episode of a TV programme to try it out, buying the whole season means paying full price and buying all the episodes again, even if you already own the first one or two. iTunes does things differently. Its Complete My Season tool lets you buy the rest of a season for a discounted price. Buying two £2.49 episodes of a £19.99, 23-episode season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine netted us a handy £4.98 discount on the cost of the full season. What's more, Complete My Season acts in the same way as buying a full season, meaning you get all the bonus features that come with the series, such as interviews with the cast. 

Bonus features are also available when you buy films. These DVD extras-style features, which come under the iTunes Extras label, are only available if you buy a film outright in HD. This is a rare thing in the UK and elevates iTunes well above its rivals for film buffs who want all the behind-the-scenes footage they can find.

TV programmes and films are available in SD and HD, with 720p and 1080p options available, and it's up to you what quality you download on the PC and Mac versions of iTunes. If you download a rented film in 720p you can't then re-download in 1080p, so make sure you set up iTunes correctly (see below). Subtitles are available in multiple languages, and Dolby 5.1 surround sound is also present.

Video quality

In Full HD, iTunes gets fairly close to Blu-ray quality, although in our two blown-up comparison images below, the slight differences are quite clear. Contrast is slightly worse, with subtle shades on Benedict Cumberbatch's face and clothing appearing less obvious on the iTunes version. Colours look a little more saturated, but as a result look slightly less natural. 

Still, the fact that iTunes offers Full HD quality is a huge selling point, and for convenience you can't beat it. 

Click on either of the images below for a larger view.

Platforms

You'll find iTunes on iOS devices and on Windows and Apple TVs. The experience on each is very good, although it must be said that even after 14 years of availability, the Windows version still feels just a little bit clunky and resource-heavy, even on faster computers. We've also found that rented films can exhibit jerky panning on the Windows version of iTunes, depending on your hardware; pans on a Core i5-based Intel NUC were jerky in our testing, for example, but fine on a PC with a dedicated Nvidia GTX 760 graphics card.

Everything you need to buy and watch a video can be found within iTunes without the need for a web-based store or streaming service. Any video can be downloaded in 1080p, although you'll have to enable this in the Preferences -> Store, as by default all content is downloaded in 720p. This setting also affects how items are downloaded onto your iOS devices. It's a strange way of going about things, as changing your iTunes settings on your PC may not always be possible. This could be a pain if you want to download a film on the move and don't want to pull down a large 1080p file over a public Wi-Fi network. The Apple TV box doesn’t let you download films, so relies on a decent broadband connection; Apple recommends at least 2.5Mbit/s for SD, 6Mbit/s for 720p and 8Mbit/s for 1080p playback.

iTunes lets you know when enough of a film has been downloaded to watch smoothly; this means that those with fast internet connections will be able to start watching almost straight away, while those with slower connections are guaranteed interruption-free playback.

On iOS devices, the iTunes app is the place you'll buy content. Once you've bought an item, you'll have to open it in the Videos app to stream or download it. The Videos app is rather simplistic and doesn't feel like a great hub for all your digital video content, but it does a fine job playing videos. You can play videos in HD on 4th-generation iPod Touch, iPhone 4 and the first iPad and above. 1080p videos are also supported by third-generation (2012) Apple TVs, while first- and second-generation Apple TV boxes can handle 720p.

Apple iTunes is a superb service with more available bonus content than from any other provider. The addition of Complete My Season and Full HD video make it tremendously attractive, especially when you consider that, for the most part, content costs the same on iTunes as it does elsewhere. However, we'd avoid using iTunes on Windows due to the potential performance problems; if you want to use the iTunes service, you're best off spending £49 on an Apple TV. 

BEST FOR: Film buffs and iOS, Mac and Apple TV owners

Pricing
HD Film (rent/buy)£4.49/£13.99 
SD Film (rent/buy)£3.49/£9.99
HD TV series (buy only)£23.99
SD TV series (buy only)£17.99
Content
Rental period30 days
Time to finish watching48 hours
SubtitlesYes
5.1 surround soundYes
Platform details
Web/PC/MacApplication: Windows and Mac 1080p download
RokuNo
Amazon Fire TVNo
Amazon Kindle FireNo
Games consolesNo
Smart TV/box manufacturer supportNo
Smart TV/box qualityN/A
iOS4th gen iPod Touch and iPhone, original iPad and above: 1080p downloads
Apple TV/AirPlayYes (1080p)/Yes (1080p)
AndroidNo
Windows PhoneNo
ChromecastNo
UltraViolet supportNo
Detailsitunes.com/uk

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