iTunes becomes a movie management tool

iTunes has been doing movies for some time now – trailers from the Apple Movie Trailer’s website have been passed through iTunes for full screen playback, leading many to believe that Apple were grooming iTunes for eventual movie distribution.

Well, iTunes 4.8 will do nothing to dispel the rumor mongers – in version 4.8 iTunes gains more movie management and playback features, including movie Playlists and full screen playback. Simply drag a movie or folders of movies (any .mov or .mp4 whatever the size) into the iTunes interface and they become Playlists.

Playback can be in the main interface (in the area occupied by album artwork otherwise); in a separate movie window (non-floating so it will go behind the iTunes main interface) or to full screen. Visual can be of individual movies or of playlists – audio always plays the playlist regardless of the setting controlling the visuals.

If one had to speculate (and one does, really in the face of Apple’s enticement) it certainly seems that Apple are evolving iTunes toward some movie management features. The primary driver of this development in version 4.8 is the inclusion of “behind the scenes/making of” videos with some albums. For example, the Dave Matthews Band “Stand Up” album in the iTunes Music Store features “an (sic) fascinating behind-the-scenes look at band’s (sic) creative process with the bonus video download.” The additional movie content gives Apple the excuse to charge an extra $2 for the album ($11.99 while most albums are $9.99).

There is a lot of “chatter in the channel” about delivery of movies to computers or a lounge room viewing device (derived from a computer but simplified). Robert Cringely, among others, seem to think the Mac Mini is well positioned for the role of lounge room device. Perhaps, others like Dave TV think a dedicated box or network will be the way to go. Ultimately it will be about two things: content and convenience.

Recreational Television and movie watching is a “lay back” experience – performed relaxed on a comfortable chair at the end of a busy day with little active involvement of the mind. Even home theater consumption of movies is not quite the same experience as a cinema (although close enough to it for many people.) It will take a major shift in thinking for the “TV” to become a “Media Center” outside of the College Dorm Room. We’re still many years from digital television broadcasting being the norm, let alone HD delivery to in-home screens big enough to actually display it at useful viewing distances. (If you want the HD experience right now on a computer screen Apple have some gorgeous examples in their H.264 HD Gallery. QuickTime 7, a big screen and a beefy system are pre-requisites but the quality is stunning.)

Apple do not have to move fast, nor be first, with the “Home Media Center” to ultimately be successful. Look at what happened with the iPod and iTunes in the first place. The iPod was neither the first “MP3 Player” nor some would argue “the best” but it had a superior overall experience, aided by a huge ‘coolness’ factor. So, even if Apple are planning an ‘iTunes Music Store for Movies” some time down the path, it’s not something I’d expect to be announced at MacWorld January 2006 or even 2007!

In the meantime, the new movie management features in iTunes are great. This is not a professional video asset management tool, we’ll have to look elsewhere for that (something I hope the Pro Apps group would be working on) but it is a tool for organizing and playing videos. I have collected show reels and other design pieces I look to for creative inspiration but until now there was no way of organizing them easily. Now I can import them all to iTunes, create play lists for “titles”, “3D”, “design”, “action” and so on for when I need inspiration. Movies can be in multiple play lists, just like music.

I can wait to see what Apple have planned in the future, in the meantime, I’m happy with a new tool in my toolbox.

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