Q: I have the new Apple TV (1080p), an iPhone 4S, and an iPad 3; also, I no longer have an iPod Classic. In other words, all of my devices are HD-capable, so I no longer need any of iTunes’ video content in SD. From a previous tip on iLounge, I already know how to remove the SD portion of “HD·SD” content from my iTunes library. So my question is, can I force iTunes to only download HD content from now on? Even more recent content on the iTunes Store, when purchased, will download both HD and SD versions – which is now a waste of bandwidth.
A: Unfortunately, there isn’t a setting that you can use to stop iTunes from starting to download both the HD and SD versions of a video when purchasing new content in iTunes. However, you can manually remove the SD versions from the “Downloads” section in iTunes to avoid downloading them.
You can do this simply by visiting the Downloads section when downloading new content, selecting the SD versions by clicking on them while holding down the CMD key (Mac) or CTRL key (Windows) to select multiple items, and then simply tap the DELETE key to stop the downloads of those items. A second press of the DELETE key will remove them from the queue entirely.
In the past iTunes would re-attempt downloads of removed SD versions the next time you downloaded anything else from the iTunes Store. However, as of early February 2012, Apple has quietly changed this behaviour so that SD items manually removed from the download queue no longer return automatically. Basically, iTunes performs a one-time download of the SD versions, but they’re not added to your queue on the iTunes servers, so if you remove them, they don’t come back. If the content you’ve purchased is available from iTunes in the Cloud in your particular country—Movies in the U.S., TV shows in most countries—you can of course manually download the SD version at any time from your purchase history.
The behaviour for automatically downloaded video content—pre-orders and TV show episodes from season passes—was also changed around the same time; now, only the HD version is automatically downloaded when it becomes available, rather than both the HD and SD versions. For this, you don’t need to do anything special—you’ll simply get whatever HD version is configured in your iTunes preferences.
It’s also worth mentioning that videos purchased directly on the Apple TV are not downloaded by iTunes at all, since on the Apple TV they are streamed directly from iTunes in the Cloud. In this case, you can choose to download the purchased content manually to your iTunes library or any of your iOS devices. When downloading content from iTunes in the Cloud, you will only receive the specific version you’ve asked for—an HD version according to your iTunes preferences or the SD version if you uncheck the box to download the HD versions.
This not only avoids downloading the SD version, but can also save space in your iTunes library if you primarily plan to watch these items on your Apple TV; keep in mind as well that you can still manually download any movies or TV shows you’ve purchased on your Apple TV directly to an iPhone or iPad for viewing on the go. Sadly, however, streaming is not available on these devices—you’ll need to download the entire item before you can begin viewing it.