Shortly after Tuesday’s Macworld 2008 Keynote, Apple released iTunes 7.6, the latest version of their digital media management application. As with most recent versions of iTunes, this version has been released primarily to provide support for a single major new feature or product, in this case the new movie rental feature that was announced at the Keynote. In addition to this, however, iTunes 7.6 also offers a few additional unrelated features that may be of interest to our readers.
Downloading the Update
To update iTunes, either download the new version directly from Apple’s web site at http://www.apple.com/itunes/download, or choose the “Check for Updates” option in your existing version of iTunes, which will trigger the Apple Software Update application and scan for new Apple software.
The download itself is approximately 56 MB for Windows users, and includes iTunes 7.6 and QuickTime 7.4 in a single update package. For Mac users, iTunes 7.6 and QuickTime 7.4 are separate downloads, totaling approximately 103 MB combined.
As with some previous versions, when you first start iTunes 7.6, it’s going to take a few minutes to upgrade your iTunes library database. This process can take anywhere from 30 seconds on a small iTunes library up to five minutes on a large iTunes library on a slower computer.
Manual Mode for iPhone
Probably one of the most-requested features that Apple has finally provided in this version of iTunes is manual management of content on the iPhone. This is a function of iTunes 7.6, rather than the iPhone firmware itself, meaning that manual mode can still be used even if you haven’t updated your iPhone yet for whatever reason (we have specifically tested this on v1.1.2 and v1.1.3, although we suspect that it is supported in previous versions, at least back to v1.1.1 since this was when the iPod touch was released).
Setting your iPhone to manual mode is handled in the same way that it is for any other iPod—simply connect your iPhone to your computer, and then in iTunes, select the iPhone from the source list on the left and select Manually manage music and videos:
This will place the iPhone in a manual mode similar to that of other iPods—content can be dragged and dropped from your iTunes library onto your iPhone, you can expand the iPhone content list and edit track info, create playlists, and remove tracks directly on the iPhone itself, via iTunes.
As with manual management of iPod devices in general, only music and video content is manually managed. All other content such as contacts, calendars, bookmarks, mail accounts, photos and podcasts will be synchronized automatically regardless of this setting. Therefore, while this will allow you to manage your iPhone media content manually, and from multiple computers, you must still sync your other data to a single “home” computer.
iTunes Movie Rentals
Among the announcements at Macworld was that Apple will now be providing movie rentals in addition to the ability to purchase movies. As a result, the catalog of movies available through the iTunes Store has been dramatically increased, with the majority of new titles now only being available for rental as opposed to purchase.
Renting a movie is handled in much the same way as buying any content from the iTunes Store, and in fact all movies are presented in a single library, regardless of whether they are available for rental, purchase, or both. Simply select the title that you wish to rent or purchase, and iTunes will show you the appropriate options:
If the title is only available for rental, only a “Rent Movie” option will be provided:
Movies that are available for both rental and purchase will show both options on the same page:
Note that as with movie sales, movie rentals are presently only available in the U.S. iTunes Store.
The first time you rent a movie from the iTunes Store, you will be prompted with a new set of iTunes Store Terms and Conditions which you must accept before proceeding with your transaction:
After indicating your agreement to these new terms and conditions by checking the box and selecting “Continue” you are rather oddly advised to retry your purchase, rather than simply continuing with the transaction in progress:
After clicking “Done” you will be returned to the initial store page, and can retry your purchase again from there.
When renting a movie, the movie will download as per normal, but will be placed in a new category in iTunes under “Rented Movies.” This category will only appear in iTunes when you have rented movie content in your library.
The listing of rented movies appears slightly differently from normal purchased or imported movie listings. Instead of a traditional track listing, rented movies are shown in a grouping-style view, with the cover artwork, title, and description information:
Properties for rented movies can be viewed and even modified in much the same way as any other type of track—Simply select the movie track in the rentals listing, and choose the Get Info option from the File menu. The standard track properties dialog box will be displayed:
From the “Summary” tab, it is interesting to note that the Fairplay DRM now shows version 3, and rented movies include a standard FBI Anti-Piracy warning. Additionally, rented movie content now takes advantage of anamorphic encoding supported by the iPod and iTunes in order to provide a higher vertical resolution at the standard 640×480 maximum (the video file shown above has an actual resolution of 640×356, but is using anamorphic encoding to provide a proper widescreen presentation).
Watching Rented Content on your Computer
Apple’s move into the movie rental space is a significant shift from the way that content has traditionally been made available through the iTunes Store, and as such there are some new restrictions on how rented content is handled by iTunes and the iPod.
The restrictions on rented content are that you may keep it in your library for 30 days, until you start watching it. Once you’ve started watching any portion of the video, you are given 24 hours to finish watching it. After the 24 hour period expires, the content will be automatically removed from your iTunes library or your portable device.
When you first start watching a rented movie in iTunes, you will be provided with a confirmation prompt to ensure that you actually want to start watching the selected movie, and advising you of this time limit:
iTunes provides a subtle indication that you have content that is going to expire within 24 hours with a red icon beside the “Rented Movies” category in the iTunes source list:
Content that you have started watching is also similarly highlighted with a red expiry notice in the rental listing itself:
Further, iTunes will offer periodic reminders when you have movie content in your library that is due to expire:
Future warnings can be suppressed simply by checking the Do Not Warn Me About Expiring Rentals checkbox.
Watching Rented Content on your iPod or iPhone
Although you can transfer your rented content to your iPod or iPhone, you will need to be running the latest firmware on these devices to support this: v1.1.3 for the iPhone or iPod touch, and v1.1 for the iPod classic and iPod nano. Note that older iPod models such as the fifth-generation iPod with video do not support movie rentals.
Once your iPod has been upgraded to the latest firmware, you will see a new option in your “Movies” tab in iTunes to manage transfer of your rented movies to and from your iPod or iPhone:
From this panel, you can move your rentals between your iTunes library and your iPod or iPhone. Note that unlike purchased content, rented movies must be moved between your iTunes library and your iPod or iPhone—you can only have them stored on a single device at a time, so if you want to take a rented movie with you, you must move it to your iPod, and if you later want to watch it on your computer, you must then move it back again to your iTunes library. This is a process that moves the actual file between devices, so moving a rented movie to your iPod will remove all traces of it from your iTunes library and your computer.
Also note that you must be connected to the Internet in order to move rented movies between devices. This is presumably necessary to confirm iTunes Store account authorization information before initiating the transfer, since the move process also transfers the authorization keys in addition to the file itself.
To move a rented movie onto your iPod, simply highlight the movie in question, and click the “Move” button:
The movie will immediately appear on the right-hand side of the window, indicating that it is queued to be moved to your iPod. Note that this does not actually initiate the move process—like other iPod synchronization settings, you must still click the “Apply” button for this to take effect.
Once you click “Apply” the iPod will initiate a sync, and the movie will be transferred to the iPod in much the same way as any other video content:
A movie can also be moved back from the iPod to your iTunes library in much the same way. Simply select the movie from the right-hand side, click the “Move” button, and then click the “Apply” button to save the setting and initiate a sync:
The movie will be transferred back from the iPod to the iTunes library, and will once again appear under the “Rented Movies” listing.
You will also notice that movies on the iPod have a “Delete” button which appears beside them. This will remove all traces of the rented movie from your iPod without transferring it back to your iTunes library. In other words, the rented movie will be permanently lost, as you would be deleting the only version which exists—the one the iPod. As with the process of moving movies between devices, however, clicking the “Delete” button does not take effect until you apply the changes, so if you accidentally queue a movie for deletion from your iPod, you can simply hit the “Cancel” button instead.
On the iPod itself, rented movies are now shown under the Videos menu, in a Rentals section:
Within this section, each rented movie is listed, with the time remaining until the content expires, based again on whether you have started watching it or not. As in iTunes, content that is due to expire in less than 24 hours will be indicated with the expiry information in red:
Selecting a movie from the rentals section on the iPod will show a screen providing the option to either play the content or delete it:
This is the only confirmation that you will receive when playing a rented movie on your iPod. Once you select the “Play” button, the movie will begin playing and the 24-hour limit to finish watching it will begin.
Note that as with deleting content from the iPod via iTunes, deleting a rented movie from the iPod will essentially result in it being permanently lost, since rented content on the iPod has been removed from the iTunes library, so this option should only be used after you’ve finished watching a rented movie and want to free up space on your iPod.
It should also be noted that performing a “Restore” on your iPod will result in any rented content that was stored on the iPod being permanently lost as well, since no backups of this information will normally exist anywhere else, and in fact even if the file has been backed up, the authorization to play the movie has been transferred to the iPod itself.
UPDATE: iTunes Digital Copies
iTunes 7.6 now also provides support for digital iTunes and iPod-ready copies of movies that are being included on certain select DVDs. This feature allows for an iPod-ready digital copy of a purchased DVD movie, which is normally included on an additional disc within the packaging of a purchased DVD:
Due to copyright restrictions, importing the digital copy is slightly more involved than simply copying a file from the disc itself into your iTunes library. Instead, iTunes provides a simplified process to transfer the digital copy into your iTunes library, during which it also “authorizes” the digital copy against your particular iTunes Store account based on a serial number printed on a card contained within the DVD packaging.
To import the digital copy into your iTunes library, simply insert the digital copy disc into your DVD drive on your computer. iTunes will detect the disc in a similar way to how a CD is shown within the iTunes source list. Selecting the disc from the source list will show an information page for the movie in question, and a field in which to enter the serial number found on the card inside the DVD package:
To proceed with the transfer, simply enter your serial number and click the “Redeem” button. A confirmation screen will appear and iTunes will begin transferring the digital copy from the DVD to your iTunes library in much the same way that content is downloaded from the iTunes Store.
In fact the transfer will even appear in the “Downloads” section in iTunes, although the performance will be much faster as the “download” is coming from the DVD rather than across the Internet:
Once the download has completed, the movie is placed in your iTunes “Movies” section in the same way as any purchased movie. The properties of the digital copy track can be viewed using the Get Info menu option as with any other track, and the “Summary” screen will show the same general properties as any movie purchased from the iTunes Store would:
A digital copy is treated in the same way as a movie purchased from the iTunes Store—the same iTunes DRM restrictions apply in that a digital copy may be viewed on and transferred between up to five authorized computers and to an unlimited number of iPods and iPhones.
The digital copy process works by using the serial number to verify the digital copy against a given iTunes Store account. Once verified, the digital copy (and serial number) becomes associated with that particular iTunes Store account in the same way that a purchased movie is. In fact, the purchase history in your iTunes Store account will even show the digital copy transfer as a “Free” purchase:
Note also that the digital copy can be retransferred from the original DVD to any computer as long as you are using the same iTunes Store account on that computer. Simply insert the DVD and re-enter the original serial number. If the user is logged into the same iTunes Store account, the movie will simply be re-downloaded (from the DVD). This is useful in that the original digital copy DVD serves as an original source of the content, so it is not necessary to back these movies up separately.
Using a different iTunes Store account with the same serial number will result in an error message that the code has already been used and may only be used once.
Audio Languages and Subtitles
The Playback preferences panel now shows new settings for “Audio Language” and “Subtitle Language” presumably to support the much wider variety of video content that is now going to be available for rental.
Further, an “Audio & Subtitles” menu option now appears on the “View” menu:
Note that the video content in question has to support multiple languages and/or subtitles for the preference settings to have any effect or the Audio & Subtitles menu to be available.
As with most new software releases, Apple lists iTunes 7.6 as also including “bug fixes to improve stability and performance.” Other than those changes noted above, no significant bug fixes were noted in iTunes 7.6, however our testing platforms have not traditionally had any performance problems with either the Mac or Windows versions of iTunes. If any readers have noticed that iTunes 7.6 has fixed any other problems with iTunes 7.5, we would certainly like to hear from you, either in our comments section below, or in our iTunes Discussion Forum.
Update or wait?
For iPod users outside of the U.S., or users who are not particularly interested in movie rentals or digital copies, iTunes 7.6 is nothing of particular significance. The most significant change is of course the movie rentals and digital copy support, and many iPhone users will want to upgrade simply for the addition of manual management of their iPhone content—a feature that many iPhone users have been anticipating for some time.
For most other users, however, this is an incremental upgrade that offers little in the way of significant new features. On the other hand, the good news is that from our testing thus far, iTunes 7.6 doesn’t appear to have broken anything significantly compared to previous versions. Although each user’s mileage may vary, this seems to be a relatively safe and minor upgrade, with little reason to recommend for or against it for the average iTunes user.