Daniel Eran Dilger in San Francisco
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Apple rivals DVD with new iTunes Extras for movies and albums

WallE iTunes Extra

Prince McLean, AppleInsider

The new iTunes 9 offers special “iTunes Extras” as free downloads with the purchase of “iTunes LP” albums or movies. The new free bonus content is delivered as a self-contained website of bonus materials, making it easy to author.

Apple rivals DVD with new iTunes Extras for movies and albums
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Apple’s new move into bonus materials helps to enrich its media downloads, making iTunes digital albums more attractive to purchase as a complete set and positioning its movies better against the bonus features available on DVDs. Apple has offered simple PDF digital booklets with certain albums in the past, a step the new Extras builds upon. The DVD Forum has attempted to deliver DVD-A its own specification for value-added music albums, and Blu-Ray has similarly floated an audio version of the format, but along with SA-CD and other attempts to improve upon the CD, these efforts have all fizzled.

Previously referred to under the Cocktail codename, Apple’s new initiative delivers a single .ite file along with standard purchased album tracks or the movie file. The iTunes Extra file is actually a bundle, which is directory of files masquerading as a single file. Inside the bundle are navigation pages built using web-standards including HTML pages, Javascript code and CSS presentation, along with content folders containing regular PNG graphics, AAC audio and H.264 video files. The package is essentially a self-contained website, although its FairPlay content requires iTunes 9 to view.

The ease of building this Extras content should help popularize the new bonus materials, and a quick review of the iTunes Store shows a variety of artists’ albums and movie titles sporting the new bonus materials. Unlike earlier attempts to create a super CD format, iTunes doesn’t require anything more than a software update to the free version 9 in order to play the new Extras content.

The newly unveiled Cocktail initiative may help explain why Apple hasn’t thrown much effort behind developing its DVD authoring tools recently, and why it has pointedly ignored the Blu-Ray authoring market. DVD authoring requires participating in a licensing program that includes a book of authoring specifications.

Apple Shuns DVD and Blu-Ray Authoring

Apple entered the DVD authoring business when it bought Astarte in 2000, resulting in DVD Studio Pro and the consumer-oriented iDVD title. It then bought Spruce Technologies and released that company’s authoring tools as DVD Studio Pro 2.0. Since the 4.x release in early 2006, Apple has done little to update the program, which still ships as part of Final Cut Studio. The iDVD portion of iLife has similarly only received the barest of attention over the last few years.

While Apple updated its DVD authoring tools to support changes required to create HD-DVD discs, it never threw its support being the format, which has since collapsed after a protracted battle against the rival Blu-Ray specification. Similarly, despite being a member of the Blu-Ray Disk Association, Apple hasn’t released authoring tools for that format either. Apple recently added raw Blu-Ray disc burning support to Final Cut Studio, but this lacks any capacity to actually author navigation; the resulting Blu-Ray disc just contains plain video. This is commonly used to distribute edited work for review. Third party tools are required to author a fancy user interface for finished Blu-Ray discs targeted at consumers.

The Blu-Ray specification uses navigation and content presentation tools based upon Sun’s Java, called BD-J, to both frame the video and any interactive bonus content on the disc. It is also designed to enable accessing the Internet to find additional content published after the disc was shipped. Different Blu-ray players support different minimal versions of the BD-J, and the BD-J runtime results in significant hardware requirements (similar to a low end PC) which have priced Blu-Ray players out of the mainstream of the market.

Apple’s Competitive Cocktail

By offering easy to create, standards-based bonus content that does not require complex and convoluted authoring tools, Apple appears to be hoping to convert more users from DVD disc buyers to iTunes download customers. While downloaded videos can’t match the quality of Blu-Ray movies, the mass market has still not embraced the Blu-ray format, leaving Apple with a large market to address.

Presenting iTunes Extras on Apple TV, and potentially on mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPod touch, may also follow as Apple builds out its efforts to popularize albums and movies with the bonus materials.

For both movies and albums, iTunes Extras also differentiate Apple’s own offerings in iTunes from identical content sold by other content distributors, such as Amazon.

16 comments

1 calamod { 09.09.09 at 9:02 pm }

Daniel,

I love your stuff, and I agree that this move makes Apple competitive with DVDs in a way that it was not before. And I know that lots of people still buy DVDs but I think it is a little disingenuous to say that Blu-Ray hasn’t really caught on and to imply that Apple should really be focusing on DVDs when HD is clearly where they’d like to be.

The truth is a whole host of movies have been released on Blu-Ray that will probably never see the light of day in the iTS for another year at least–Ratatouille, Cars, Monsters, Inc., and Disney’s Earth are just a few particularly painful reminders of what a tight grip the studios have on HD content (even at a reduced 720p).

The SD market is coming along nicely on iTunes, it’s true, but the HD offerings (for purchase) are just plain paltry. I’m sure plenty of people will buy the iTunes extras packages, and good for them, but this is analogous to the AT&T mess–what Apple wants to provide is dictated in large part by what the content providers want, and they want no part of Apple in the HD market when they can collect ridiculous margins on BR hardware and plastic discs instead.

The glacial pace at which things move in this market makes it difficult to be excited about minor improvements like these when it’s so obvious what Apple is capable and how they’re being held back by their business partners.

Anyone who truly loves movies can see the enormous potential of the Apple TV and a robust HD lineup for purchase on iTunes–and no, this isn’t like an audiophile rant about bit rates being too low–especially for library titles. As it stands now, the only option for watching those titles in HD on an Apple TV requires resorting to downright illegal downloading and ripping. It’s so infuriating that there are customers waiting in line with money in hand who are not allowed a digital purchase option for HD content–even one that offers far better DRM than even the plastic discs the studios are so attached to. There is enormous growth potential in the HD market, and the less than total acceptance BR is experiencing, but only if Apple is allowed to compete in that market. Right now they’re being cut off at the knees.

2 Ephilei { 09.10.09 at 12:01 am }

Also notice Apple made 0 changes to its DVD player in Snow Leopard. It’s one of just a handful of apps that wasn’t converted to 64bit. I expect Apple is scheming how to remove optical drives from more macbook models.

I forgot FairPlay still existed. It’s sad they bother with it given they’re only protecting images and behind the scene videos that (based on torrent browsing) never get pirated anyway.

3 vudicarus { 09.10.09 at 12:11 am }

iTunes LP & iTunes Extras using webkit? Hmm. Me thinks it’s Apple saying, Here’s how you deliver rich media without Flash.

4 The Mad Hatter { 09.10.09 at 12:31 am }

Daniel,

The price of stand-alone Blu-Ray players is dropping fast, in part I suspect because no one is buying them, and the stores want to get rid of their stock. And of course, buying Blu-Ray discs can be an adventure, most stores aren’t stocking anywhere near as many Blu-Ray titles as they are DVD titles. Most TV shows for example don’t come in Blu-Ray.

I think that Blu-Ray probably will catch up at some point, but it may take another 5 years.

[Interestingly, in 2007 the BR Association was predicting that BR would take over DVDs in three years. I don't think it will in the next six months. BR is like laserdisc: popular among people who have giant TV screens, but irrelevant in the mainstream market, where up-sampling DVD players are now super cheap, and the economy is not exactly getting people excited about paying more for every movie. Sony won the HD disc war but hasn't yet sold enough PS3s (the best/cheapest BR player available) to make it something everyone is clamoring for.

It's not a slam dunk for Apple to sell iTunes movies and make significant progress into the DVD business, but its looking a lot like Mac OS X vs Vista at this point, with Apple getting the attention BR needed. Additionally, its using the same tech on albums as it uses for its "digital-download-DVDs," offering an LP+ that isn't available elsewhere. - Dan ]

5 Berend Schotanus { 09.10.09 at 9:27 am }

Thanks for explaining!

An interactive user experience based upon open web standards, that’s real great! It reminds me of an other experience I recently had: a Philips TV set supporting CE-HTML based web pages. A DVD-like experience but again: fully open standards.
It appears to me that under the hood the Philips devices and the Apple devices are doing exactly the same thing: converting HTML-based content to a rich customer experience.

6 ChuckO { 09.10.09 at 9:35 am }

Blu-ray doesn’t HAVE 5 years to catch on. That’s a lifetime in tech these days. By then iTunes will long ago started delivering 1080p and so will your cable company and Amazon, etc. Blu-Ray is DOA. Investing in Blu-Ray machines and discs is a fools errand that only a compulsive upgrader would get involved in.

7 daGUY { 09.10.09 at 10:25 am }

Really cool that they’re doing this with standard HTML5/CSS/Javascript (same goes for iTunes LP too, right?) – it should be very easy for content producers to build these extra features, which will help the idea catch on.

Anyone know what the pricing is like for these things? I don’t think Apple said anything about prices at the event. How much more is an iTunes LP album vs. just the audio tracks, for example?

8 ChuckO { 09.10.09 at 11:16 am }

daGuy, That’s what I thought too and then I read this CultOfMac story that said Apple should make it EASIER for Artists to make iTunes LP’s!!!! How could it be easier?

http://www.cultofmac.com/itunes-lp-the-first-digital-album-good-enough-to-criticize/16132

9 stefn { 09.10.09 at 12:03 pm }

LPs? New wine in old wineskins? Or old wine in new wineskins? Apple has done well by doing good, supporting app developers. Why not music and film?

10 Berend Schotanus { 09.10.09 at 12:59 pm }

Unfortunately iTunes LP and iTunes Extras are not available outside the US. Can anyone inform me about the following issues:

- How does iTunes LP/Extras behave on Apple TV? Does it sync? Can you command it with the remote?
- How does it behave on iPhone/iPod Touch, can you command it with (multi)touch?
- Are the Extras accessible on Front Row?

[It currently requires iTunes 9, so no. It's a separate file from the actual media, so it doesn't impact other players, it just isn't used by them yet - Dan ]

11 Dorotea { 09.10.09 at 9:24 pm }

I have to admit I love my blu-ray player. I can see a real difference between good BR and good up converted DVD on 720p 32″ HD TV. However, I have to admit I will go to my AppleTV many many times to watch my videos.

Apple does need more content though

12 jltnol { 09.12.09 at 11:14 am }

Apple appears to be hoping to convert more users from DVD disc buyers to iTunes download customers.

Hmmmmm sorry… not for me. I like the quality that Blu-Ray presents, and iTunes rentals don’t.

While I realize that it’s not all Apple’s fault, as we have the worst internet infrastructure in the civilized world, not until I can download a flick that looks nearly as good as Blu-Ray will I be a iTunes download customer.

AND… it seems your main page was hijacked fora bit… if so, glad your back!

[Yes GoDaddy changed my DNS and killed me all day. As you note, you can't compete with BR's data capacity using downloads. But given that BR accounts for a tiny slice of the pie, Apple doesn't need to. There's plenty of reasons for Apple to sell what it can via iTunes against the mainstream DVD market as an alternative.

People said the same thing about CDs: why would I buy a download from iTunes when I can get a plastic box with a CD with resale value, lyric notes, ect. Several billion downloads later, it's clear that not everybody wants those things vs. portable music on demand.

If BR were 60% or 80% of the market, Apple's iTunes downloads would still have a market. As it is, BR almost doesn't matter. Who has one apart from PS3 users? I was tempted to start getting BRs from Netflix, but they charge an extra $4 a month. That's an insignificant barrier in reality, but it put my interest on hold, knowing that I don't watch enough Netflix movies to warrant my existing subscription. - Dan]

13 nat { 09.12.09 at 12:43 pm }

iTunes LP and even more, iTunes Extras adds legitimacy to those patent filings (http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/09/03/12/apple_exploring_magic_wand_controller_for_next_gen_apple_tv.html and http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/09/06/18/apples_magic_wand_3d_movie_browser_resurface_in_documents.html) of a Wii-like pointer remote for the Apple TV.

It makes perfect sense and navigating iTunes Extras menus would be far cooler and intuitive than DVD or Blu-ray.

p.s., Could someone tell me what the formatting code is for creating links (so I don’t have to paste the URLs).

14 The Mad Hatter { 09.12.09 at 7:25 pm }

People said the same thing about CDs: why would I buy a download from iTunes when I can get a plastic box with a CD with resale value, lyric notes, ect.

The same thing is happening in the gaming industry. Some gamers I have talked to won’t buy IPhone games because they don’t get the game package, and cannot resell the games. Other gamers love the Apple method, and aren’t concerned about resale.

I think that Nintendo and Sony are going to have to change their game distribution mechanism, and that a lot of game stores are going to go out of business.

15 nat { 09.13.09 at 12:22 pm }

@ The Mad Hatter,

I haven’t heard many gamers complain about the lack of packaging for iPhone games but I have seen plenty of gnawing of teeth over the eventual move to download-only dedicated consoles (which the iPhone has spurred).

In a sense, I can understand this fear because Microsoft, Nintendo, and even Sony (a hardware company, no less) make most of their videogame money on the games, rather than the hardware, thus they jack up software prices. It’s the polar opposite of Apple’s business model. Not only that, each is far more restrictive than the App Store in most respects.

At the same time, this desire to keep things the way they are shows an unhealthy attachment to physical things. It’s the greatest trick of all time that’s been played on them: software sold as a tangible hardware product.

Many don’t even seem to grasp that this contributes to the need for publishers who can press discs, which must have retail shelf space bought out, which results in the astronomical $60 price of new games. They think digital distribution is bad because they can’t trade games but the truth is, there’s little desire to trade away your games if they’re in the $1-$10 range, as iPhone games are.

This sets up Apple to enter the living room gaming space with the Apple TV the same way they have in the mobile gaming market with the iPhone. High volume/low margin download-only gaming using an iPod touch and/or a utilitarian pointer remote as the controller.

16 The Mad Hatter { 09.13.09 at 12:42 pm }

Nat,

Agreed. I had a long conversation with our 22 year old about this yesterday. He just can’t get his mind around the fact that you have no need to trade cheap games, and he doesn’t like the idea of the local game store closing it’s doors, because they have nothing to sell. He also has a belief that Apple games are too limited, compared to PSP and DS games, due to not enough memory on the device (he’s an RPG fan – Final Fantasy, etc).

That said, he understands why the drop in carbon emissions is important, in fact I think that’s the point that now has him considering downloaded games.

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