Apple introduces iTunes Movie Rentals

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Apple on Tuesday introduces iTunes Movie Rentals, a new feature of the iTunes Store that enables users to download movies and watch them for a short time rather than having to buy them. Movie rentals will be priced at $3.99 for new releases and $2.99 for older films. High Definition (HD) movies will be downloadable only via Apple TV and will cost $4.99 for new releases and $3.99 for older films.

The new feature is dependent on iTunes 7.6, a new release of Apple's jukebox, music, TV and movie software that's available for download from Apple's Web site. It also requires an update to QuickTime, version 7.4. That update is accessible through the Software Update system preference.

Apple's managed to get the support of all the major movie studios, including Fox, WB, Disney, Paramount, Universal and Sony, along with Touchstone, Miramax, MGM, New Line and Lions Gate. Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that the new service will launch shortly, and by the end of February will contain over 1,000 movies. Movies will become available for rental on iTunes 30 days after they are released on DVD.

iTunes Movie Rentals are tied to the Digital Rights Management technology used by Apple for other content purchased from the iTunes store. You can download movies and watch them from a Mac, PC or Apple TV. Movies downloaded on a Mac or PC can be transferred to an iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV. And Jobs indicated that you can transfer movies downloaded on Macs or PCs to other devices while you're in the middle of watching it, letting you pick up where you left off.

Movies downloaded directly via Apple TV, in contrast, will only be playable on Apple TV. Apple VP Greg Joswiak described standard-definition Apple TV movie rentals as "DVD quality," while non-Apple TV rentals are downloaded in a "near-DVD quality" format compatible with Macs, PCs, iPods, and iPhones. High-definition rentals are full 720p films with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.

According to Jobs, after downloading a movie rental you have up to 30 days to start watching the movie. Once you begin watching, you have 24 hours to watch the film as many times as you want. Jobs said that users with modern Internet connections will be able to begin watching rentals within 30 seconds of initiating the rental download.

The new service is being offered as a free update for iTunes users in the United States beginning today. Jobs said that Apple is "dying" to get this feature to an international audience, with that release due "later this year."

Updated with information about system requirements for iTunes Movie Rentals. Updated at 2:26 PM PT with more detail about rentals on Apple TV and Mac/PC.

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