The emphasis in the newly updated and miniaturised Apple TV is all about renting media. However, despite its name, for users in Australia, media only equals movies, and for that reason it's a somewhat less appealing upgrade.
The idea of being able to rent new-release TV episodes in HD for $US0.99 is pretty appealing, and Apple apparently considered it so important that it's at the very top of the US press release announcing the latest incarnation of the Apple TV, which goes on sale later this month for $129. However, it's not going to be an option in Australia (or indeed anywhere other than the States), unless you take the not-all-that-uncommon step of setting up a US iTunes account for yourself. Here, we can only rent movies, with $6.99 being the set price for new HD releases.
This gap in availability is hardly unusual. Apple's approach with every single media format it has worked with (music, TV, movies and books) has been to roll it out in the US first and then hit other world markets later. Later is often much later: the iTunes store got to Australia more than two years after it debuted in America. On the books front, we still don't have a launch date for iBooks in Australia, and the alternatives are a bit messy.
Now, before the usual round of "typical Apple hater" comments start, I realise that the system whereby TV rights are assigned to different worldwide markets existed long before Apple got into the media business. To a massive extent, it's the fault of the TV networks that we're stuck in this situation right now.
On the other hand, Apple's power in the digital media market at this stage dwarfs any other company. Had it demanded worldwide availability for some shows, it might have had the clout to pull that off. If anyone was going to engineer a change, it would be Apple, and from an Aussie perspective it's a shame that hasn't happened.
With that said, even a rights deal couldn't solve the other problem with renting any form of digital media in Australia: how quickly it will chew through your download cap. Yes, you can avoid that if you're an iiNet subscriber, and yes, it seems like less of an issue as terabyte download plans become more common. But with the future of broadband particularly cloudy in post-election Australia, chewing up a chunk of bandwidth for a movie you only plan to watch once seems a little wasteful. If I'm going to do that, I figure I might as well buy the movie outright.
Excited by the prospect of the Apple TV? Prefer your movies in physical form? Figure it's still easier to head to Channel BT? Tell us in the comments.