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Analyst Missing Secret Ingredient in iTunes/iPod Video Service: No DVD Involved

Published September 25th, 2006

DVD to iPod Software Booming

Rob Pegoraro does a great job balancing coverage of the Mac with that of Windows in his Washington Post tech column. However, I think he missed a key selling point in the iTunes video store launch when he wrote in a recent column that Apple’s new offering was “worth skipping.” Pegoraro gave two main reasons why the iTunes video store is uncompelling at the moment:

  1. There aren’t enough titles (though he concedes the titles that Apple’s rounded up are top-notch), and
  2. You can’t burn your purchased movies to DVD.

Pegoraro’s right about the iTunes store’s movie selection, although I had no trouble finding several I’d like to buy. But his second criticism about DVD’s is way off the mark. That’s because I believe the iPod will eventually make DVD’s obsolete in the same way that it’s making audio CD’s obsolete today.

Since getting my “iPod with video” late last year, I’ve thoroughly enjoy the convenience of syncing TV shows to my iPod and popping the iPod into my TV set. On our very large HDTV set, “Desperate Housewives” looks great, and so do “Office,” “Lost,” and the rest. I bought my first movie from iTunes last week—Shakespeare in Love—and my wife and I both thought the new higher-resolution picture quality was excellent. But more important, we loved the convenience of not having to deal with DVD’s.

I’m sure we aren’t the only consumers who are fed up with the DVD format. In fact, judging from the burgeoning retail market for software that converts DVDs to the iPod, I’d say the movement to chuck DVD’s is well on its way.

In the beginning, DVDs were cool. They had those nifty menus that were… nifty… and it was nice that designers got to be creative in a new way. But DVD menus have gotten way out of hand. Like a bad website designer, DVD makers seem to think it’s OK to foist a brand new user interface on consumers with each new release. They also seem to think that the more complicated the user interface is, the more impressed consumers will be.

Wrong! I’m no longer impressed by nifty navigation menus on my DVD’s… I just wanna watch the damn movie!

But wait… nifty menus weren’t enough for Hollywood. It wasn’t long before they started to use DVD technology to make captive consumers watch ads and previews they didn’t want to see. At first, you could skip through the garbage, but lately, I’ve had more than my fill of DVD’s that put the fast forward button to sleep until they’re good and ready to show you what you paid to see.

By now, the movie companies have made DVD’s so difficult and painful to use that I think consumers will rush toward a decent iPod-capable solution with open arms. Who needs a piece of plastic with obtuse, difficult-to-navigate menus and introductory content that you can’t even skip through—every time you watch the movie!—when you can get the movie itself on your iPod and plug it right in?

The big increase in resolution with the latest iPods is crucial to this, of course. I checked the resolution of a DVD copy of “Clockwork Orange” that I bought some time ago, and its native resolution is only 720×480. This means that an iTunes version at 640×480 is indeed “almost DVD quality.” I’m sure more recent DVD’s are higher resolution than that… but the point is, the $30 DVD has picture quality no better than what I can download from iTunes for $10.

The use of iPods for portable video is still pretty rare, but I think it’s a mistake to judge the iTunes service by how well it interfaces with a DVD player. That’s just not how people are going to use the service. Why burn a DVD when you can just carry the iPod to the TV and plug it in?

Now, Apple just needs to convince the movie companies to fork over more titles, and tell Walmart to stop acting like a baby. If they don’t—mark my words—the word “torrent” is going to be as familiar in the next couple of years as “napster” was in the late 1990’s. And everybody with a computer and a fast internet connection will become a criminal in very short order.

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