iTunes & iTunes Extras: A viable alternative to physical media – at last!

One thing I love about buying movies and TV shows on physical media: the extras.  You usually get audio commentaries from the filmmakers along with little featurettes (and occasionally feature-length documentaries) about the making of the film.

But the problem with physical media is having to store it somewhere.  All those cases all add up.  And if higher definition versions come out later, you’ll have to replace the disk, packaging, etc.

Until recently, I had been put off of iTunes movies because I’ve a reasonable fear that the movie studios may pull the movie off the service at any time and remove my access to the movie.  After all, this DOES happen with iTunes music – if you buy a track or album and it’s no longer sold on iTunes, you won’t be able to download it again if you’ve removed the files to make room on your computer or device.

However, I think Apple (and the movie studios) treat movies & TV shows differently.  Given the size of HD movies, they can take up an enormous amount of space on a device.  And the Apple TV has limited storage (we’re talking about the 4th generation here).  So it makes sense that purchases remain in the cloud.   Thus I’m pretty certain that movies & TV shows bought on iTunes will remain a permanent fixture – and even if they don’t, I’m sure Apple would refund accordingly (although I shall bring this up again in another blog post about iTunes in-app subscriptions – what a mess THAT is!).

Anyway, one thing I have come to love with iTunes movies is iTunes Extras.  When movies first started being released with Extras, the offerings were not brilliant.  But more and more movies are being released with DVD/Blu-Ray quality features – and with audio commentaries.  The audio commentary thing is a HUGE deal.  Something that’s traditionally been limited to physical media is now being made available online (or offline if you download the movie to your computer or device).

Even Amazon Prime Video has jumped on the audio commentary bandwagon – offering a few of their TV shows with audio commentary.  It’s essentially a different title because the Amazon Prime Video platform doesn’t appear to offer multiple audio streams.  But it’s a start.  Netflix doesn’t offer ANY audio commentaries for any of their shows yet – so they’ve got some catching up to to.

But there is a downside to iTunes Extras.  They’re not available on iTunes TV shows.  If you buy a series or individual episodes, there are absolutely no extras whatsoever.  None.  Nada.  Kaput.  I hope Apple and the respective studios will put that right.  It’s essential, I think, to do this if Apple has any ambitions to make Apple TV a viable platform.

As for making backups of all the iTunes things – I use one of these, a Drobo.  Lovely device (on loan from work) – it offers full redundancy – up to two disks can fail at once and the data is okay.  But it’s a seriously noisy thing – and one of the disks (the second one from the bottom) is humming like mad.  So it’s on to take backups of my systems, then shut off.

Coming up next on my blog: iTunes subscriptions – is Apple passing the buck? and What movies to watch on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in 2017.

The soundtrack to Marvel’s Doctor Strange is wonderful!

As a HUGE soundtrack fan & collector, I was so pleased when Marvel Entertainment released a track from the forthcoming movie, Doctor Strange.

I’m not familiar with the character or comic, but given the music I am so very much looking forward to going to see the film AND buying the soundtrack.  One of Michael Giacchino’s finest tracks.  Heck, one of the finest film soundtracks in ages.

Back when Stardust was filming, I cheekily asked Jane Goldman if it were possible to sit in on a recording session of the film’s soundtrack (composed by the excellent Ilan Eshkeri), but alas, wasn’t possible.  Having seen films being made firsthand, the one thing that keeps eluding me is that of watching a film score come together in front of my eyes (and ears, and shoulders, knees and toes – knees and toes).  Maybe one day..

Apple Music Redux: MUCH better now

Or: How Apple Got Its Groove Back

A while back I wrote off Apple Music as “buggier than a buggy thing in the land of insects” and gave up on it (and Apple) due to the sheer frustration of the thing (along with the bricked iPad Pro that stayed bricked until I spent £50 getting the blasted thing replaced at the nearest Apple Store in London).

Anyway, four months later I was curious to know if Apple finally got their act together after hearing that they were making substantial improvements to Apple Music in iOS 10.  Well, it turns out they have.  I think in part this is due to not having iTunes Match enabled.  iTunes Match allowed you to upload your music library to Apple’s servers and listen to your music on any device supporting iTunes.  Then Apple Music came along and mucked it up on a scale I can’t describe as it involves a large number of expletives in a row.

Without iTunes Match enabled, Apple Music actually works as intended.  I can listen to my complete music library from my Windows 10 PC, my work Mac and my (soon to be retired) Android phone running Apple Music – downloading tracks to the other devices for offline listening, if necessary.

There have been relatively few problems – the only big one has been with the release of iOS 10 in which Apple’s servers were under siege from everybody downloading the latest versions of iTunes (which provides a beautiful new and much-improved user interface) and iOS.  But now that everything’s calmed down again, Apple Music is a pleasure to use.  I’ve terminated my Spotify subscription and have gone back to Apple Music full time.

My musical tastes are eclectic, that's for sure!
My musical tastes are eclectic, that’s for sure!

Happy iPhone 7-mas everybody!

Today Tim Santa Cook will take to the stage to show us the brand new iPhone 7 and what it can do.

With Samsung announcing that the earliest it’ll be swapping out Note 7s with new models using batteries not made by its own manufacturing facility (apparently Samsung will be using a third party for the time being until they can bring it back in-house) on the 19th September, I’m tempted to hand back the phone, get my money back and just bite the bullet and buy the iPhone 7 Plus.

The Galaxy S7 Edge uses a Samsung manufactured battery, so I’m now quite nervous about keeping that one around.  Not that there’s been any reports of an S7 Edge exploding.  But it does make me wonder about Samsung’s confidence in its own manufacturing facilities.

Update: Another two Note 7 explosions – one in Australia, and another in the US.

But we’ll see.  Mr. Cook has seriously got to wow me with the iPhone 7 before I can make that decision.  If he does, then I’ll have to start making arrangements for the return of the Note 7 and selling the S7 Edge.  Fun!  If this is the competition, I might as well just stick with Apple..

How I love technology at times…

In other news, I’m trialling Apple Music again after a three-month absence.  Since then, Apple has rolled out two new iTunes updates (bear in mind I’m still using Windows 10), and have made a couple of changes to the backend logic with regards to Apple Music/iTunes Match.  I won’t touch iTunes Match again with a 50ft bargepole.  Why they’re still offering it given reports that they’ve essentially duplicated the functionality with Apple Music and removed DRM from uploaded non-Apple Music files when using multiple devices, is beyond me.

Apple Music is still a little buggy, even under Windows 10 and Android.  But Apple are slowly getting there. There are still issues with syncing, and I still see error 502s and similar when downloading quite a few files – but it’s much better than it was.  I’ll continue to experiment.

 

Music streaming is a steaming pile of..

.. nonsense.

Apple Music is now seriously beginning to get on my .. feathery friends.  Not everything is its fault, but plenty of it is.  You see, the biggest problem with music streaming is in the licensing of tracks and albums.  Once a license runs out, the tracks are removed without any notice to you, the subscriber.

None of the services I know of (Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, Google Play Music, etc.) provide any warning or expiry date as to when tracks or albums will be removed.  They just vanish!

But perhaps what’s worse (I’m typing this on an iPad Pro with no easy access to the image concerned, but that’ll come a bit later – thanks, Apple, so much for “PC replacement”!) is that Apple Music will offer albums, but many are incomplete.  Take the case of the soundtrack to the new film, Florence Foster Jenkins (music by the wonderful Alexandre Desplat).  Only ONE track from the album is available on Apple Music.  Add the album to your collection, that one track is there sticking out like a sore thumb.

ONE track available out of an entire album.  This was the straw that broke this camel's back.
ONE track available out of an entire album. This was the straw that broke this camel’s back.

Also take the Deadpool album.  It too is on Apple Music, but one of the iconic themes is not available on that album, but it is available on another.  Apple Music makes absolutely no effort to link to the same tracks available elsewhere within its catalogue.  Spotify has no problem with this.

I’ll have to reconsider my options towards the end of this month.  Not sure I can justify £9.99 a month to a service which is still just too buggy, still too incomplete to be a non-beta service.

Update: Cancelled iTunes Match and Apple Music.  Gone back to Spotify, and I’m using STAMP Premium to convert my Apple Music playlists to Spotify.  Apple need to give their developers a big kick up the arse.  There has been so little improvement to how the catalogue operates, and when you’re still encountering server errors, this is completely unacceptable.