Posts Tagged iTunes

HD Movies: Blu-ray or iTunes?

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I feel like I’ve already ranted about the trend of Blu-ray movies including Ultraviolet digital copies rather than iTunes digital copies, though it apparently wasn’t here on my blog. I haven’t tried an Ultraviolet movie, though I’ve heard bad things, as it doesn’t fulfill one of my main requirements for digital movies, which is to be able to watch them via AppleTV (without having to use AirPlay).

This post isn’t about that.

Recently, a viewing of the Iron Man 3 trailer led to my father mentioning that he had yet to see¬†Iron Man 2. Post haste, I queued it up on my AppleTV and we proceeded to watch most of the movie before he left for the night. At some point it occurred to me (or possibly it was pointed out to me) that we should have been watching the Blu-ray version as the digital version wasn’t HD.

Yesterday, while killing time during my daughter’s cheer practice, I watched The American President on my iPad, having previously loaded my ripped-from-DVD copy via iTunes. The quality was terrible and I made a mental note to re-rip it when I got home, with the presumption that it was an old rip using suboptimal settings or software. Coincidentally, I had also mentally implanted a scene from Dave that was therefore missing, so I went exploring the DVD to see if it was a deleted scene or something. This led to the discovery that the DVD itself is of terrible quality (subsequently confirmed by reading reviews of the DVD on Amazon).

I checked, and the movie is available on iTunes, which the HD version being the same price that Amazon is charging for Blu-ray. I decided to to buy it now, since I had just watched it. Instead, I added the Blu-ray to my Amazon wish list. However, I do not currently have a method of ripping Blu-ray movies, nor do I anticipate acquiring such a method. Therefore, it seems like buying the iTunes version is likely a better idea. However, I am aware that this effectively locks me into Apple’s devices for playback (plus iTunes on Windows systems I suppose).

So which way to go? Get non-combo-disc-non-digital-copy Blu-rays that lock me into using physical Blu-ray players? Get Apple-only iTunes copies that are of known lower quality (though perhaps not usually noticeable)?

Plus, even when a DVD and/or iTunes digital copy are included with the Blu-ray, that still results in the Iron Man 2 situation described above.

At present, it’s pretty clear that the iTunes HD version is my best choice, but what about the future? Or perhaps I can rely on the iTunes DRM being crackable (is it already?) and let that be my escape hatch should the need arise.

Do you think putting a comment in my Amazon wishlist entry for Blu-ray movies that says “I’d rather have iTunes credit” is likely to be effective?

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iTunes Match

Two nights ago, I finally decided to take the plunge and give iTunes Match a try.20130124-171511.jpg

I’ve held off for this long mostly because it didn’t seem to offer much value to me. I’m not much of an audiophile, so the upgrade to 256-bit wasn’t very tempting. My iOS devices have plenty of memory and my music library isn’t all that large, so having my music in the cloud hasn’t been compelling.

The features that ended up luring me were cloud-syncing of playlists, star ratings and newly ripped CDs. The feature that *should* have been compelling but that I hadn’t even considered was syncing between multiple computers. Pre-iTunes Match, syncing new music between my iMac and my MBP has been fairly easy via Home Sharing. (Music not bought via iTunes that is — iTunes purchases were automatically downloaded.) Syncing meta data changes, on the other hand, was nigh impossible. Finally, syncing to my computer at work — on which I just installed iTunes today — is what really makes it all worthwhile.

So, how did my iTunes Match migration go?

Pretty well, I’d say, mostly because I was prepared.

I did quite a bit of research ahead of time so that I wouldn’t be surprised. This is key as there are certainly things about the process that might be very disconcerting if they were unexpected. In particular, it seems that a lot of people expect that after a track is matched it will have its meta data normalized with the iTunes Store data. That is not the case. I can understand that many people may not want their custom metadata overwritten, but it seems like there should be some method of updating to Apple’s curated data.

Years ago, I ripped a bunch of CDs in Linux and ended up with track_names_like_this, often including the album and/or artist in the name of the track. I’ve cleaned up most of these in the intervening years, but had a handful of CDs, mostly my wife’s, that still have this. I was concerned that this might affect matching, though I don’t think that’s actually true. Even so, I preferred to clean this up beforehand. I manually fixed one or two CD’s worth and then decided to simply re-rip the rest. In the end, I’m not sure if this was the best decision. I ended up editing the names of many of the re-ripped tracks anyway as iTunes added prefixes that I didn’t like to those tracks.

Also worth noting, I had recently verified that all of my tracks had album artwork.

With my preparations done, I took the plunge. Of 2546 tracks, 347 (14%) were purchased from iTunes and thus already in the cloud and 1855 (73%) were successfully matched. Combined, that’s a bit over 86% success. All of the remaining 344 were uploaded, so arguably that’s 100% success, depending on how you measure success. Of those 344, 143 are Beatles songs, most of which are from the Mono box set that is not available in iTunes. I wouldn’t have wanted these to match the stereo versions, so that’s fine. Another 34 are from narrow distribution albums that I’m not surprised are not available in the iTunes store. Also, 4 tracks are custom recordings and 1 is a 4-second CD intro.

I looked through the final 162 tracks and nothing really jumped out at me. I know I have some songs that were acquired from a select-your-tracks CD burner vending machine, but I don’t recall which songs those were. Counting only these 162 as “maybe should have matched”, gives a 6.4% match failure rate. Not bad.

Living with iTunes Match

20130124-171822.jpgHaving fully populated iCloud with my music, the next step was to enable it on my iOS devices. Also, I knew I was going to need some new playlists as my previous go-to playlists are not supported by iTunes Match. Specifically, smart playlists that reference other playlists don’t work. While iTunes was processing my library, I worked on creating new playlists and I’m actually happier with my new playlists than my old ones.

With tracks and new playlists in iCloud and devices synced with “all music” to have all of the newest metadata (and re-ripped tracks) pre-loaded to avoid needless download, I flipped the switch on my iPhone to enable iTunes Match. As expected, my list playlists changed but my tracks were available. What I hadn’t expected was that most of my album artwork vanished. Worse, two days later and it’s still mostly missing with no obvious sign of progress. Hmm.

Perhaps ten hours later, I also flipped the switch on my iPad. Oddly, while the album artwork did appear to disappear briefly, it very obviously started repopulating and seemed to finish pretty quickly. Certainly it wasn’t missing any artwork when I more thoroughly checked it hours later.20130124-171900.jpg

I’ve tried turning iTunes Match off and back on on my iPhone, but that didn’t help.

What’s next?

I have yet to replace my matched tracks with their higher quality versions from iTunes. I feel like I need to do some level of verification that the songs are the same.

I may delete all of the tracks from my iPhone and then let them download from iTunes to see if that fixes the artwork issue. I expect it will.

Will I re-up my subscription in a year? It’s too early to tell. If I stick with listening to music at work via my computer, rather than my iPad as I’ve been doing (or my iPhone before that), then having the automatic sync between disparate devices is probably worth $2.09 per month.

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The Beatles

I’ve never been a Beatles fanatic. I like a lot of their music, but I’ve never owned a single track. I’m not completely sure why this is, though I could go into each music-buying phase of my life and come up with reasons. Lately, the biggest reason is that I primarily purchase individual tracks and The Beatles weren’t sold that way. Until now.

As is presumably widely known, as of this past Tuesday, The Beatles has come to iTunes. I was happy that this had finely happened as I’ve been paying attention during the long process that led up to this moment. When The Beatles Box Set came out last September, I had fully expected it to be on iTunes as well. I was disappointed when that didn’t happen. Now, 14 months later, it has.

While I was tempted to purchase the box set last year, or at least put it on my wish list, the value just wasn’t strong enough for me. I really wanted to be able to pick-and-choose the songs I wanted. Now that I have that option, it’s somewhat comical how tempted I was to simply click the “BUY ALBUM” button for the entire box set. I resisted this impulse and I’m glad I did. It turns out that it would have been a mistake for several reasons.

First, it’s overpriced. The physical version, which has the technical advantage of higher quality (though I doubt I’d ever notice) along with the ease of having backups for the ripped music rather than having to burn backups of the downloaded music, is $20 cheaper.

Second, the mono versions of the songs are not included in the iTunes box set. In fact, they aren’t available at all on iTunes. I’m not going to go into the details, but many people strongly prefer the mono versions of the early Beatles songs over the stereo versions.

Third, and perhaps most significant, is that the whole reason I was waiting for The Beatles to be available digitally was so that I could buy just the songs I wanted. To give up that flexibility on impulse would be silly.

So, now what? Many readers may not be surprised that the answer involves a spreadsheet. I went through the entire song listing for the box set, by album, and rated each track as either “Yes”, “Maybe”, “Meh”, “No” or “Dup”. “Yes” means that I’d buy the song for iTunes $1.29 price. “Maybe” means that I wouldn’t buy the individual song, but I’d appreciate it on an album. “Meh” means that I don’t really care, but there is some chance that getting the song on an album and listening to it repeatedly would result in it growing on me. “No” is obvious and “Dup” means that the song was on an earlier album in what I think is a mostly similar version.

Building this spreadsheet took a while as it included listening to at least some portion of the 30-second preview for a majority of the songs. But it’s done. The rest is just math. Here’s the data:

Album Yes Maybe Meh No Dup
Magical Mystery Tour 7 2 2

Let It Be 5 5 2

A Hard Day’s Night 5 6 2

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 11 2


Yellow Submarine
3 8
2
Beatles For Sale 2 6 6

Help! 5 8 1

Please Please Me 6 2 5 1
Revolver 4 6 3 1
Rubber Soul 8 3 3

With The Beatles 4 7 3

Abbey Road 9 5 3

The Beatles (White Album) 5 15 10

Past Masters 9 14 5
5

The first thing that jumps out at me is that I clearly have a bias in favor of Sgt. Pepper. I have a theory that my father played this album a lot when I was at a particular age. Now, at $1.29 per “Yes” song and half price per “Maybe” song, the only albums that are definitely worth (to me) their (iTunes) cost are Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, with Rubber Soul being “close enough”. On the other hand, the entire collection comes close to being worthwhile. Switch to the $130 physical media price and it’s a done deal.

Except…

There’s still the issue of mono versus stereo. Investigating the mono version of the box set a bit further and it turns out that it doesn’t include Abbey Road or Let It Be. Instead, it includes both mono and stereo versions of Help! and Rubber Soul. I find this a bit odd, but what can you do? (Note that it’s also missing Yellow Submarine, though all of the songs are actually present on other albums, just not the musical score from the movie.)

Taking away my computed value of Abbey Road and Let It Be leaves the total just $13.50 short of Amazon’s price for the mono box set. Close enough, particularly including the fact that the mono versions aren’t available individually.

That’s it, then. Get the mono box set, plus Abbey Road, plus the 5 Let It Be songs I want. For the supremely curious, the 5 “Maybe” songs on Let It Be that I’ll be missing out on in order to save $6.54 are Two of Us, Dig a Pony, Maggie Mae, I’ve Got a Feeling, and For You Blue.

Of course, I really feel like I should leave the mono box set on my wish list until after Christmas. So, for now, I guess I’ll just buy Abbey Road for now. Oh, wait… would you look at that. Abbey Road and Let It Be are both available on Amazon for $7.99. That makes Let It Be worthwhile. I guess it’s Amazon all the way.

Thanks for nothing, Apple.

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True Blood

I’ve been reading Charlaine Harris‘ Southern Vampire novels over the past year and found them reasonably entertaining. Since I got rid of cable, I cannot watch HBO’s new show, True Blood, based on these novels. The other night while I was at Blockbuster I found that they had the first episode of True Blood¬†available as a free rental. Naturally I took it — that way I’d know whether it was really worth the bother of watching the series once it become available to me (in a legitimate way).

Well, I got around to watching it tonight and I loved it! Subsequently, I found that it is also available for free on iTunes — at least I didn’t pay for the rental. I’m pretty resistant to iTunes TV episode prices, but I’d probably pay for this show, along with Showtime’s Weeds and Californication, if they were made available as they aired or shortly thereafter, rather than once the DVD was released (at that point, I’ll just get it from Blockbuster Online or Netflix).

Am I unique in being unsatisfied by the pricing and delivery models currently being offered for TV shows? Paying as much as or more than a DVD set for iTunes downloads when the DVD is already out seems silly. Likewise, paying $2 or $3 (HD) for a show I can watch for free from one of the broadcast networks makes little sense to me. Admittedly, I do have to pay for my TiVo service, but that amortizes out to way less per show.

Perhaps the problem is that there’s no room in the pricing model for renting TV episodes. I haven’t bought into the idea of owning TV shows, so that portion of the value isn’t really a factor for me. I think I might be willing to pay $1 per episode to just rent it, but more than that just doesn’t seem worthwhile to me, at least not for broadcast shows — I’d probably be willing to pay more for shows from premium stations. As I already observed, I’d likely fork over the $2 (maybe even $3 for HD) for certain shows.

Something else that would make the whole situation more palatable would be if I could go ahead and pay the prices that are currently being charged but in doing so I would also received the DVD (or Blu-Ray for HD prices) version once it was released.

HBO and Showtime just need to let me subscribe via the Internet.

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iTunes vs. Amazon

I bought myself an iPod Nano last November and the girls got new Nanos for Christmas (Brittney previously had the prior generation Nano, which has been handed “up” to Marci). I resisted such a purchase for myself for a long time because my Treo 755p works fine as a music player and, theoretically, as a video player as well. However, I’ve been going on runs without my Treo lately (which is a change) and thought that a Nano with an arm band would be a good running accessory.

Naturally, now that I have the Nano I use it for more than just running. Tivo Desktop Plus can be configured to automatically copy certain shows from my Tivo and convert them to iPod format. It’s pretty handy to have selected shows just show up on my iPod about a day after they air. I’ve also been listening to Podcasts in the car (I previously mentioned Coffee Break Spanish and I also listen to Clark Howard and 1Src).

Of course, I also listen to music. Prior to purchasing an iPod, I had Read the rest of this entry »

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