Ask LH: Is It Worth Buying HD iTunes Content For Tablets?

Dear Lifehacker, I purchase the odd movie or TV series from the iTunes store to watch on my iPad and iPhone. With such (relatively) small screens, is it worth getting the HD versions, or are they really only for watching stuff on an actual hi-def TV? Thanks, Screensaver

Dear Screensaver,

The answer to that partly depends on your hardware; as Apple's own support note on its HD video playback page points out, you need an iPhone 4 or later, iPod touch (4th generation), iPad or iPad 2. If you're using an older iPhone, you won't have the capability.

I'd strongly argue that HD is a waste on an iPhone or iPad screen anyway due to the smaller screen size and fact that you're taking up a lot more of your precious storage capacity for a difference you're unlikely to discern, but I know that individual tolerances vary a lot when it comes to what's acceptable. Some folks will scream that their eyes are falling out for anything less than 1080p, while others are happy with YouTube style block-vision. I fall somewhere in-between, but would suggest you save a few bucks by only picking up standard definition, unless you've also got plans to send those files out to a larger display; it's perfectly feasible to output that video to a larger screen from an iPad 2 or later (or iPhone 4S or later), as per Apple's own support pages.

Another quick tactic here, more for if you're a movie fan is to pick up the digital dual/triple packs. While iTunes movies don't often drop much in price, there's still fierce competition in the real world retail space. I have acquired a number of iTunes movies that way via the physical disk, which is a best of both worlds solution, as long as you check that the digital copy is actually an iTunes copy, and remember that you're not legally entitled to rip other DVDs or Blu-Ray discs.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    "I have acquired a number of iTunes movies that way via the physical disk, which is a best of both worlds solution, as long as you check that the digital copy is actually an iTunes copy"

    What studios offer this? I might need to go back through my DVDs/Blurays to claim them.

      It's implicit on the packaging -- look for words like "Digital Copy" "Double/Triple Play", or the iTunes logo itself. It's not a redemption for existing discs.

        Thanks, I thought those digital copies were usually through publisher specific channels, not something like iTunes. I guess I need to revisit that assumption.

    These HD movies really take up a lot of space.. I don't think it's worth the bother even when playing it on a big TV streaming from your desktop iTunes.. if you really want the HD version of a movie go buy the disc.. for everything digital, stick with SD unless you're streaming.

    My 2 cents...

      Sorry, you may be able to, but I cannot watch standard definition blurry crap any more.

      720p minimum for me on a bigger-than-tablet screen.

      With iTunes movies being accessible in the cloud now, watch them and then delete them from your computer. Simple as that. Then stream them back whenever you want.

      Really? I don't find 2gb for a 720p iTunes copy that bad. Especially when data storage is so cheap. Like when you can pick up a 2tb external powered drive for 79 bucks..

      Or an internal 2tb desktop drive for about 90 bucks.

    Slightly off-topic but I really don't see a need for these new HD 1080p phones that are coming out. If you can honestly tell the difference between 720p and 1080p on a 4-5 inch screen, you're either delusional or are lying.

    Maybe you might see a noticeable difference on the phones with 5-inch+ sized screens...maybe, but I still think it's overkill.

      Why don't we all just use 720p phones for the rest of eternity... I wish we still used black and white.

      There's a reason 300DPI has been a standard in publishing for so long... anything more is almost entirely pointless.

    For my part, I think it's with paying the little extra for HD, but I'm not sure it's worth the extra download time.

    For using Apple TV on an actual TV... awesome.
    Buy some TB HDDs to backup old stuff. Storage is no issue really.

    I prefer to buy blu-rays. I usually find them to be cheaper when I buy online from the UK, Since discovering I can get better quality videos for cheaper I've stopped purchasing video downloads. I don't even use Itunes now, which has also greatly improved the performance of my PC.

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