Watching Rented Movies on Multiple Devices

Q: I have two Apple TVs in my home, one in my bedroom and one in the family room. If I rent a movie on either of my Apple TVs, it shows up on both and I seem to be able to start or continue watching it from either. I’m wondering, however, if there is a way to access a rented movie on my iPad or iPhone? A friend of mine seems to think this is possible, or at least was with the original Apple TV, but I can’t seem to figure out a way to do it. Any suggestions?

– Erik

A: With the second- and third-generation Apple TV models, any movies you rent can only be accessed directly from the Apple TV, although as you’ve noted they are shared between multiple Apple TV devices using the same iTunes Store account.

These movies are actually streamed directly from Apple’s servers and only temporarily cached on the Apple TV during viewing; for whatever reason Apple has not chosen to make these rented items available to other devices.

If you know before you actually rent a movie that you may want to watch it on different devices, however, you can choose to instead rent it directly through iTunes on your Mac or PC. Movies rented in this manner can be streamed from your computer to any Apple TV on the same home network, or can be transferred to an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. For the Apple TV, rented movies will simply appear alongside your purchased movies under “Movies” in your “Computers” section; if you have video playlists enabled in your Apple TV settings, a “Rentals” virtual playlist will also appear if there are any rented items in your iTunes library.

For viewing an iTunes-rented movie on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, you must move the rental to a specific device using the iTunes sync process; once moved, it can be viewed only on that specific device until it is moved back. All of the same rental time restrictions apply and will transfer along with the movie rental.

You can also rent movies directly from the iTunes app on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, however you will only be able to watch these directly on those devices, or streamed to an Apple TV via AirPlay; movies rented on an iOS device cannot be transferred back to iTunes. Note that this restriction only applies to 2010 and later iOS devices, namely the iPad, iPhone 4/4S/5 and fourth- and fifth-generation iPod touch.