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Sunday, September 17, 2006

...But not on iPods

I like iPods, and I love Apple. But...movies on iPods? I don't even like movies on TVs. I don't even like movies on large-screen TVs. In fact, I don't even like movies on those pitiful, dinky multiplex theater screens. Give me a big, full-sized movie screen like the old Uptown in Washington, D.C. (Is it still there? It's been a while.) That's the way to watch movies. (I remember sitting at a sidewalk café near the Uptown one time when who should come shambling out of the theatre into the afternoon sunlight but Michael Moore. He stopped to talk to us for a while. We asked him what he was doing there but it turned out there was no special reason. "I just like movies," he said.)


Featured Comment by stevierose: I totally agree with you about the best places to view movies, and I spend most of my movie viewing bucks at the fully restored Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor—complete with huge screen and a guy who plays the pipe organ before movies.

However, methinks you miss the point. The video ipods are just a transitional smoke screen that will allow Apple to concentrate on developing and getting the licensing deals for the real killer app which is internet delivery of videos into your home. Apple (and a slew of others) hopes to put Blockbuster and its ilk out of business. The main message in Steve Jobs' announcement was not the newly tweaked ipods; it is iTV, which is a little box that they say will allow you to download high defintition movies and then display them on your own home TV, just as iTunes now allows you to download music (without the visit to the music store) and play it on your home stereo via the Airport Express (Airtunes). Apple knows that the sales of iPods cannot keep its stock price afloat forever. It is trying to leverage its success with music into success with video, which is a really big kahuna. You and I may like to watch movies on those big old screens, but most people are fine chilling out at home with a DVD. Attendance at real movie theaters continues to trend downwards and they are all really nervous. And who can blame the moviegoers? In my area an adult ticket to a movie is close to 10 bucks! The old teenage movie date thing is out the window. Do the math—2 tickets, gas, popcorn/candy, and a few burgers will cost some kid at least $50. Who has that kind of money? Better to rent a disk for 2 bucks (or get a Netflix subscription which is clearly a transitional business), pop your own corn, watch it at home on the LCD and hear the sound effects shake the floor from your surroundsound subwoofer! Sooooo...the next step would be? You got it, dial into iTV and download the flick. Why bother going to the video store?

The people who have so far really blown it on this one are Comcast and Tivo, both of whom should be able to pull this off with little trouble. But Apple knows how to make things "that work" and if this thing works I think that their stock price will do just fine thank you.


Blogger scotth said...

When you travel a lot, it can be nice to bring a movie along. That's one of the reasons I bought a Sony PSP. I can play games, listen to music, and surf the web too.

Of course there are compromises involved; and a small screen is one compromise. When the airline tells you that the pilot that was supposed to fly your plane has gone over his time limit for the day, and there won't be another pilot for an hour and a half, it can be nice to have something to do.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Yuda said...

Yes, the Uptown is still there.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Carl Weese said...

If you want to watch a movie on a really big screen, Mike, Get Thee to a Drive-in! You can search for the nearest ones here:

Screens 80 and even 100 feet are still found at the DI, and the sound is as good as your car speakers because it comes in by short-range FM broadcast.

8:38 AM  
Blogger Eric Hancock said...

I'm not sure who is watching full-length films on an iPod (or a phone -- that truly baffles me), but there are a few things that work in that format.

Comedy, for example, works well. Most comedy doesn't rely on much context and can be watched in bits and pieces in different sittings.

Video podcasts, too, are working well. Ricky Gervais has combined the two (comedy and podcasts) brilliantly.

But Pirates of the Caribbean? I doubt it.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought you could dump the ipod video to a TV.

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The big issue with the movies offered by Apple is the value per dollar. Just to see what it was all about, I bought a copy of Pirates of The Caribbean (first one). I then got the DVD version via NetFlix to compare.

The image quality is about half what you get from a DVD. Maybe a bit less. The resolution is reduced to fit within a 640px width, or about 25% less than the DVD. Then you have issues with posterizing and color shifting in the shadows, jaggies show up when scaling to full screen, blacks are more washed out, and finally, color is slightly cooler and less saturated than the DVD version.

To be fair to Apple, they are working within some limitations. First off, bandwidth use is going to be considerable and only about 16% of Americans have broadband limiting the size of the market. Pirates weighed in at 1.64GB as it is. Better compression and higher resolution would probably negate any profitability from the movie store. The second limitation is the movie industry itself which is very used to high profit margins from DVD sales (supposedly it costs about $2 to cover distribution and production of a DVD). Despite that, there is a certain expectations of value for what you get that have been defined by the DVD market.

The Apple movies 1) do not come with any DVD extras, 2) have DRM restrictions which tread on fair use rights, 3) have lower image quality and 4) can't be viewed on a TV. Yes, Apple previewed the cool iTV product which will let you stream the movies to your TV but why should I buy a $300 product to do what I can already do for free with a DVD?

On that note, the DVD version of Pirates at Amazon costs $13. Three dollars more than the iTunes Store version. So... wheres the value? "Older" movies sell for $10 and "more recent" movies cost $15. New releases will be $12 pre-order and for the first week of release then they will go u to $15. After examining what little I got for my $10 compared to what I get from a DVD, I would never buy another movie from iTunes for more than $5.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The trouble with movies these days is that the people making them are more interrested in surround sound than screenplays and cinematography. The last thing in the world I'm going to invest in is a surround system - YUCH!

1:18 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Stevierose said: "you and I might like to watch movies on those big old screens but most people are fine chilling out at home with a DVD".

Yep, and that just about sums up why the digital camera market is the way it is. Most people are fine with:

Digicams with tiny sensors with poor quality;
Lenses with significant distortion - no worries, just buy additional software to fix it;
Slow zooms;
Small dark optical viewfinders, or worse, no viewfinder at all; etc, etc.

The market may control what manufacturers produce but the market is largely made up of people with cameras, not photographers.

This has nothing to do with movie theatres I know, but I just found stevierose's post applicable to photography.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Eolake Stobblehouse said...

I much prefer a DVD to sitting in a cold or hot theatre for two hours, getting a numb butt and a stretched bladder, not being able to pause to get coffee.

I just posted a mini-review of iTunes Movies on my blog

5:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't been to the cinema in years although I would love to go. I currently live in Shanghai where people not only answer their mobile phones but make calls during the movie.


7:15 PM  
Blogger Dr. Spoke said...

I don't see that watching a movie on the iPod is much different than listening to your music on an iPod: A fine compromise for use while traveling. Maybe I am just getting old and crotchety but it seems to me everything these days is watered down, compressed, or in some way 'compacted'. Cameras with no viewfinders, MP3s instead of real music, and 'movies' on tiny little screens. I guess it is all more 'convenient' but why bother at some point?

9:27 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Dr. Spoke:
You are a Curmudgeon-in-Training after my own heart. Repeat after me: BAH!



(P.S. With apologies to Oren, who owns "bah" at least among the various purveyors of this blog.)

10:01 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I though the whole idea of the iPod Movie was to plug it into your TV?

3:00 AM  

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