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Movies Anywhere (mostly) opens the closed iTunes ecosystem

With the recent unveiling of Movies Anywhere, Apple has—willingly or not, I do not know—opened up the world of iTunes to movies from other places. Stated another way, you can now have movies in the Tunes ecosystem that weren’t purchased there, or that weren’t digital versions acquired by using an iTunes redemption code with a physical disc purchase.

To put it bluntly, this is huge; I’ve long wanted a way to get all of my movies into iTunes (and iOS) so that they could sync to devices, easily stream (without the computer on) to the TV, etc. The service goes well beyond iTunes/iOS, of course—the full list of supported players is quite extensive.

Important: As of now, Movies Anywhere is a US-only service. If you’re not in the US, hopefully something similar will be coming to your country at some point in the future.

What’s really amazing, though, is that you can not only combine purchases from multiple sources into iTunes, but convert and/or upgrade them in the process. Thanks to Movies Anywhere, I’ve been able to do two seemingly amazing things…

  1. Put an UltraViolet-only (i.e. no iTunes version) digital redemption movie into the iTunes ecosystem.
  2. Paid a modest fee—not to Apple—and converted an old physical DVD into a high-def —digital version.

Note: The original version of this post stated that you could convert a DVD into a 4K iTunes video. That is not the case, based on this article and my own testing. Thanks to @netnothing for the pointer.

How does this magic work? Honestly, I don’t really know.

Merging digital movie services

But I do know that it works because Movies Anywhere integrates many disparate service providers, including iTunes. And all of those integrations are both inward and outward, so movies added in one spot appear in all the others. There are many articles—here’s one—that explain the features and bits of this process in detail, but here’s a short summary of how to get going:

  1. Register for a Movies Anywhere account.
  2. Go to the Manage Retailers section of your Movies Anywhere account.
  3. Connect the various services, but especially Vudu and, obviously, iTunes. If you don’t have a Vudu account, you’ll want to create one. Here’s how mine looks after setting everything up…

  4. On Vudu, go to your Account Information page, and link your UltraViolet account. Again, if you don’t have an UltraViolet account, you’ll want to make one.

And that’s basically it. Once you’ve created and linked the accounts, you’re done. Buy a new physical disc and it comes with a code? Great; no longer do you need care which service the code is for—even UltraViolet-only codes are fine. Redeem the code, wait a couple minutes, and your digital movie will show up in your iTunes library.

It can get a bit more complex: I first tested this with an UltraViolet code for the Blu-ray of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (a Sony/Columbia movie). To redeem that code, even on its own, I had to create a Sony Pictures account, which I then linked to UltraViolet. So that movie’s route to iTunes was Sony Pictures > UltraViolet > Vudu > iTunes. Wow…but it worked!

This is the opening of the iTunes ecosystem that Movies Anywhere enabled. In the past, there was no way to get a movie that (for instance) you ripped yourself, or that came with an UltraViolet-only code, into the iTunes system—you would have to either purchase the movie in iTunes, or purchase a disc that included an iTunes-functional digital code. While this doesn’t help for ripped discs—see the next section for a way around that—it does let you buy any movie from pretty much any source without fear that it’ll be locked in one system.

Convert old physical discs to digital media

Beyond redeeming all codes, one really cool feature is the ability to convert any DVD or Blu-ray physical disc into a digital version, in only a matter of minutes—for a small fee, of course. You can convert DVDs to SD for $2, or to HD for $5; Blu-ray conversions cost $2, and obviously, they’re converted to HD only. How do you do this magic?

You do it courtesy of Vudu and the Disc-to-Digital feature in the Vudu iOS app—they offer a Mac desktop app, too, but I didn’t try that one. The app has a section called Disc to Digital; tap that, then scan the barcode on the back of your disc’s box.

If the movie can be converted, you’ll see your options—either SD and HD, or just HD. Select the one you want, wait for an email (about a minute), click the link in the email to confirm, then wait (about a minute or so) and the movie will show up in Vudu, in Movies Anywhere, in UltraViolet, and (shockingly) in iTunes.

As an added bonus, if the movie has iTunes Extras, you get those, too:

In a nutshell, this is—by far—the cheapest and easiest way to convert a collection of old physical DVD discs into digital HD copies. It’s not perfect, of course—you can’t control the quality, and I assume there’s DRM buried in the converted movies. But in terms of ease of use and speed, it can’t be beat.

Not every movie can be converted; there’s a tool on the Vudu Disc to Digital page you can use to check the available titles.

Out of my collection of 76 remaining DVDs, I found that 55 could be converted. I had no luck with movie collections—The Ultimate Matrix and Wayne’s World The Complete Epic couldn’t be converted. None of the Pirates of the Caribbean titles would convert, nor would The Terminator—though Terminator 2 and 3 would.

I won’t convert all 55, of course—probably only a handful, in reality. But it’s nice to be able to have this option to turn my old non-digital DVDs into high-def digital copies that are full iTunes citizens.

What’s not open in the iTunes ecosystem

The only remaining wall in the iTunes ecosystem is with self-ripped discs—there’s still no way to get these into iTunes. If I want such non-Vuduable (hey, new verb) movies fully integrated in iTunes, the only solution would be to purchase a new copy that’s iTunes-aware, in some form. Given the cost of doing that for these older movies, I won’t be pursuing that option for many of my movies.

2 Comments

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  1. Re: self-ripped discs, RipIt had a feature to convert DVDs to MP4 H264 in the file format / wrapper that allows iTunes / iOS to recognize it. RipIt isn’t really current anymore but other utilities like Handbrake (& perhaps also VLC and RipIt’s successor Mac DVDRipper Pro) have this functionality.

    For those common 55 titles, yeah a few bucks to Movies Anywhere is worth it, for the speed & HD upgrade capability. But for the other 21 or any rare foreign or indie DVDs, with no path via Movies Anywhere, you’ll need to do an actual conversion on your Mac, using one of these utilities.

  2. I prefer to add streaming media to Home Sharing in iTunes over employing cloud streaming services. If I decide I want to make the videos mobile, I think I would still rather incorporate a home sharing solution than to relinquish the control and incur the expense of the cloud solutions. What are some options for that?

    I use ffmpeg to make conversions of the main titles of my DVDs, which I normally rip as full copies. The Homebrew system makes it pretty simple to maintain a full featured installation of ffmpeg, and I have a couple of different conversion methods that I fold into AppleScript droplets for the .mpg or a .vob concatenation of individual .vobs (please refer to the one I shared with you for converting Blu-ray titles using Don Melton’s Transcode).

    Here’s an example. You can download test files from:

    http://hubblesource.stsci.edu/sources/video/clips/

    For the grb_2.mpg file downloaded from that page, I converted using:

    /usr/local/bin/ffmpeg -i ~/’Downloads/grb_2.mpg’ -c:v libx264 -tune animation -crf 10 -preset slow -c:a copy ~/’Downloads/grb_2.m4v’

    DVD videos are more complicated, of course. They generally need detelecine and cropping, and balancing data size and rate with quality can become tedious. Here’s an example of my strategy used to convert 2001 and The Matrix and many others (2001 is used in the command strings.) First I get crop values:

    /usr/local/bin/ffmpeg -i ~/’Downloads/2001.mpg’ -t 6:23 -vf cropdetect -f null – 2>&1 | awk ‘/crop/ { print $NF }’ | tail -1

    2001 requires looking a little further into to file because of the overture (-t 6:23). Normally, I could get crop values within a minute of the start of the film.

    Then I plug those into the conversion step (notice that my source file is also in the downloads folder as was the case for my Hubble example):

    /usr/local/bin/ffmpeg -i ~/’Downloads/2001.mpg’ -vf ” fieldmatch,crop=704:288:6:96″ -r 24000/1001 -c:v libx264 -tune film -crf 14 -preset slow -c:a copy ~/’Downloads/2001.detelecine.m4v’

    Values for -crf and efficiency (-preset) can be adjusted to balance data size with quality. DVDs aren’t normally improved too much by increasing frame size, although that can be accomplished using ffmpeg, if desired.

    Then I use MetaZ to add tags, and I can even look for subtitle tracks on the net and add them with ffmpeg, too.

    I just drag the finished video file into the Automatically Add to iTunes folder in the iTunes Media folder.

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