Got $20US and a hankering for lots and lots of pixels? iTunes has a deal for you: Apple announced earlier today that it is launching HD movie sales and rentals in the iTunes Store, beginning with a small selection of titles (Transporter 3, W. and more) and with a couple of big-ticket films up for pre-order: vamp-rom-teen thriller Twilight drops on 3/21 and James Bond in Quantum of Solace on 3/24. Sales will be $19.99US and rentals will cost $4.99.
Up until now, HD movies had to be
purchased rented directly on the Apple TV, although HD television content has been in iTunes since late last year. This is a big step forward for iTunes users and a big 'pptthhbbttt' to the Blu-Ray business model. Keep in mind a few caveats: you'll need iTunes 8.1, and you may want to test your video output path if you've got a DisplayPort-equipped machine and a large external screen (these files are going to be HDCP-enabled, bet on it). Playback quality may not be what you've come to expect from HD media, as the files will still be 720p with H.264 compression -- but be sure to keep plenty of open hard drive space and a clean ISP connection, since they'll weigh in at four GB or more per movie. No word yet on whether the movies will include Dolby Surround audio instead of simple stereo. Looks like Twilight and Quantum will carry the Dolby audio option, though other HD movies may not -- check the rental page for individual titles to be certain.
I'm continually impressed with the quality of streamed and purchased HD video that I play back from my previous-generation MacBook Pro over VGA to a flat-panel 720p TV -- it's not dramatically different from satellite or broadcast HD, at least to my verging-on-middle-aged eyes. The opportunity to buy or rent HD movies might make the Mac mini media center even more appealing.
Thanks to everyone who sent this in.