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The first time I heard a CD after decades of vinyl music, I was an instant convert, ready to go digital. Last week I became an instant convert to mobile movies, after my first experience of movies at hand … on an iPod, which had been sent to me by NBC Universal as a way of introducing me to this platform. A converted Andrew L. Urban reports.

I know it’s not brand new, but it’s new to me, and in its infancy generally. Where have you been, you might ask. There are already hundreds of movies available in iTunes, in every genre. And plenty of recent ones. Top movie titles sold (you can rent, too, at around US$3.50 - $6 per title) include Fast & Furious, Twilight, Men in Black, Race to Witch Mountain and Mean Girls.

Fugitive ex-con Dom (Vin Diesel) gives a hand to Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) in fast & Furious. © 2009 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.

The pre-loaded ‘sample’ movie on the shiny gizmo is the Paul Walker/Vin Diesel action drama Fast & Furious (a Universal title, natch) – plus Los Bandaleros, a terrific 20 minute short also featuring Vin Diesel, with Michelle Rodriguez and Sung Kang, shot in the Dominican Republic and showcasing a great Latino soundtrack. The widescreen image and surround sound (or stereo) sound quality is superb, and the functionality both easy and intuitive – just like it is for the other applications. Double tap the screen, for instance, to enlarge the image, touch it to bring up the controls. The subtitles (where relevant) are crisp and easy to read – and unobtrusive. Naturally, you watch movies holding the device on its (widescreen) side … Movies on iTunes are usually US$24.99 (with some exceptions and you can also watch the trailer before you buy.

Availability of movies on iTunes is usually about the same time as the DVD release (country by country).

"hard boiled action and a bit of soft boiled romance"

Fast & Furious is a great starting point for your iTunes movie library; hard boiled action and a bit of soft boiled romance provide the necessary shimmer. The night (or dark interior) scenes are a tad dense as you might expect, but otherwise the viewing is spectacular.

For cinema purists who won’t accept movies in digital format, the iPod is the tool of the devil. Movies must be shot on film and viewed on the cinema screen. But that ignores the changing world, and while that is still the ultimate and ideal movie experience, there are many reasons to embrace digital delivery of movies, even on the smallest screens. The TV screen has long been accepted as a platform for delivering movies to a mass audience. The global audience for movies on hand held wireless devices is far greater still. The absence of geographical limitations and the ease of viewing make this a practical solution for solo viewing, whether in transit or in remote places out of reach of other movie delivery platforms.

The shared movie experience remains unbeatable in the cinema – or the next best thing, the home entertainment centre. But given the high audio visual quality available on iPod, this is a far superior alternative to in-flight viewing, for example, where not only quality suffers but the aspect ratio is unreliable – not to mention the ‘modifications’ for airline play. I thought of a few other situations where movies “at hand” fill a void:

"the real digital world"

Waiting rooms (doctors, dentists, Govt offices, etc);
Hair salons;
In transit (buses, trains, ferries as well as planes);
On holiday (take your own movie library);
Boring dinner / parties;
Share accommodation (no fighting over what to watch);
Home evasion (eg own menu away from family);
Between appointments/classes/conference sessions

So it’s about time Australian filmmakers woke up to the real digital world … and got their films onto the world wide web for a world wide audience.

Published October 1, 2009

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Top rental movies on iTunes
(rankings at 25/9/09):

Confessions of a Shopaholic (1)
Twilight (4)
The Secret Life of Bees (12)
Changeling (18)
Doubt (27)
W. (36)
Shaun of the Dead (64)
Gladiator (82)
Pride & Prejudice (89)
Notting Hill (96)
Pretty in Pink (100)
Mary Poppins (159)
Master and Commander (171)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (190)
The Departed (200)

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