Extending iTunes rental times

Last week my colleague, Rob Griffiths, noted that the 24-hour rental period for iTunes movies just wasn’t long enough for many parents. Get the kids to bed by 9:00, start watching the movie, fall asleep in front of the TV at 10:00 and by the time 9:00 PM rolls around again, the movie’s expired.

However, Apple has made an accommodation for exactly this kind of situation yet, inexplicably, hasn’t bothered to mention it to anyone. It’s like this:

I rented Spider-Man 3 on Tuesday morning. I transferred the movie to my iPod touch, attached the touch to the Panasonic plasma TV via Apple’s Component cable, and watched it. I found the picture to be very dark—dark to the point where I had to boost the TV’s brightness all the way for the dark parts to be discernible.

Concerned that the rental was encoded too dark, I transferred Spidey back to my MacBook Pro and gave it a look. The video was just fine—perfectly bright. Hmm. I then moved it to my iPod classic and attached that iPod to my TV via the Component cable. Here too, the picture was nice and bright. (My colleague Dan Frakes confirmed that a movie he purchased at the iTunes Store was really dark on his iPod touch when played on a TV but looked fine on his iPod classic when also attached to a television. So yeah, there appears to be an issue with video-out on the iPod touch.)

To round out the test I moved the movie from iPod classic to MacBook Pro to 3G iPod nano. Its picture was also fine on the attached TV. The day was done so I paused the movie on the iPod and shut down the TV and AV gear for the night.

The next evening I fired up the TV to find that the paused image of Spiderman was still on the screen. Giving it a go, I pressed Play on the iPod and the movie picked up where it left off. Expecting the movie to vanish any minute—after all, this was nearly 12 hours after the movie was supposed to expire—I let it play for half an hour. It continued to play without complaint.

Having pretty well memorized the movie’s dialog by this time I decided to see what happened when I pressed the iPod’s Menu button. I was greeted with this nice surprise. An Expired Rental screen appeared that displayed these words:

This rental has expired.

You can resume to finish your movie.

Below the words were two options: Delete and Resume.

There was no way to legitimately back out of this screen, you have to choose one or the other option and then press Select to enter your choice. If you choose Resume, the movie continues to play. If you choose Delete, well, you know.

Just for the fun of it I force-restarted the iPod by holding down Select and Menu for about six seconds. When the iPod rebooted, the movie was nowhere to be found.

Lesson learned: If you need to extend your rental period, this is one way to go about it.

Lesson unknown: Is such an option available when you play a rental in iTunes on your computer or with the upcoming updated Apple TV? Beats me, but I’m going to do my best to find out. Stay tuned.

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