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Apple prepping iTunes Replay on-demand video service

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Prince McLean, AppleInsider

Apple is believed to be wrapping up a new feature in iTunes 8 that will allow users to stream their iTunes video purchases directly from the company’s servers for playback anywhere, anytime without eating up local storage.

Apple prepping iTunes Replay on-demand video service
.Dubbed iTunes Replay, the service would allow iTunes shoppers to build out their digital video collection without worrying about the space needed to store the often hefty media files. It’s unclear whether Apple plans to charge for the service, which is said to support both iTunes Movie and TV show purchases.

One of the main complaints users have with video purchases on iTunes is that they are forced to either throw away their files after watching them, or find a place to store the large files either on their hard drive or by burning them to DVDs. By storing their video content for them and allowing users to stream it for viewing as often as they want, Apple would essentially be offering a media center alternative.

iTunes Reply on other devices

The iTunes Replay service could also improve the experience of the company’s Apple TV set top box, allowing users to stream purchased media directly from Apple’s servers without ever syncing or copying files between Apple TV and a computer running iTunes, and without filling up the devices’ limited hard drive space, which currently tops out at 160 GB.

The ability to stream purchased content directly would also benefit users of mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPod touch, which have an even greater limit on local storage capacity but already have the ability to stream QuickTime content directly over the air.

Amazon’s Video on Demand (formerly known as UnBox) and the Instant Watch service from Netflix already provide video streaming, but both involve DRM hurdles erected by the studios that complicate the experience, as they are typically viewed through a web browser (although Amazon has an appliance partner deal with Tivo, and Netflix has partnered with Roku and the Xbox 360).

Apple’s mobile devices, iTunes and Apple TV already accommodate the DRM protection the studios demand for playback of their content, meaning that no new layers of complication are necessary. Additionally, Apple has a wider selection of video content to choose from in iTunes.

The disadvantage to streaming video content rather than playing it from a downloaded file is that users will need to maintain high quality Internet bandwidth throughout playback, or face interruption as the stream is buffered. Streaming playback of HD content also typically requires better than DSL (1.5 Mbps) service.

If Apple continues to offer both downloads as well as streaming video on demand, it will remain differentiated from streaming-only services like Netflix Watch Instantly in that users on a slower Internet connection will be able to download HD titles in advance and watch them via local playback, or even unplug their Apple TV and bring it and their downloaded content to a location without Internet service for viewing.

Apple gearing up for new streaming traffic

iTunes Replay would arrive on the heels of last month’s report that Apple has shifted its online content delivery strategy to include a provider in Limelight Networks, joining longtime Apple partner Akamai Technologies. Having two different providers could help greatly optimize the delivery of streaming content to the millions of customers who use iTunes.

Frost & Sullivan analyst Dan Rayburn connected the change to Apple’s booming digital download business, which he said is growing at a “crazy” rate.

“We already know that no CDN [content delivery network] has unlimited capacity and can only handle so much traffic at any given time,” Rayburn said. “If you are Apple, using more than one CDN is just smart business.”

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  • John E

    This would be a nice feature, to store your iTunes video/movie purchases in the “cloud” and then play them anywhere. but – what about music? why doesn’t iTunes already enable you to stream your iTunes library music on one Mac to your iPhone/Touch or another Mac via the web? it’s not a technically issue – Simplify Media’s free cross-platform software works fine doing this with no-DRM iTunes (and Winamp) music now. So why is Apple so darn stubborn and mean to its consumers by refusing to add this feature to iTunes? just to sell more iPods? being able to play all your music anyplace would be a really big deal. Bad Apple.

  • http://home.comcast.net/~daguy daGUY

    @John E: When iTunes v4 came out, you were actually able to type in an IP address of a remote computer, and then stream its library to your own computer. The labels made them take that out due to “piracy fears” or whatever.

    Does anyone remember the old MP3.com? They used to have a free service (I forget what it was called) that would let you stream music to any PC. You downloaded a little app and put in a store-bought CD to prove that you owned it (it didn’t work with burned CDs). It would scan the CD, figure out what it was, and then grant you access to streaming versions of the tracks online. Then, from any computer, you could log into your account and stream any of the music you owned. The labels shot that down too, of course.

  • http://www.transchristians.org Ephilei

    This also means Apple could create a lower model ATV without a hdd and drop the entry price $40.

    @John
    I always thought it was to give users incentive to buy larger storage ipods. Apple makes crazy margins on the higher storage.

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  • John E

    i can dig the music industry probably stopped Apple from doing this. well, instead i am paying them all the extra 30 cents a song now to update my music to iTunes Plus so i can use Simplify to stream it … gonna cost me about $100 eventually. only consolation is the 256K sound quality is a little bit better too – just enough to notice on a good sound system. and i can burn lots of copies of a gift custom playlist CD to give as presents. so i shouldn’t complain too much. but it could be simpler.

    now if they would just let me use the equalizer with music videos …