Buying From Itunes (Part 1) - Music purchases, Video purchases

10/4/2012 1:28:14 AM

ITunes has come a long way since 2001. Version 1 was supplied, appropriately enough at the time, on a CD - but what Apple always intended it to represent was the end of buying physical media.

Today, the iTunes Store is your default shop front for music, movies and TV shows, and the iTunes app in OS X is where Apple expects you to manage all your media, including content imported from CD and other sources, and sync selected items to your iOS devices. Now, with the arrival of iCIoud, there are more and more ways to move media between your devices - and to bypass the iTunes app altogether, if you prefer. But to make sure you can access everything everywhere you want it, you’ll need some key knowledge about the way content is sold and stored.

Description: iTunes store
iTunes store

Music purchases

There are two basic categories of media that concern us here: music and videos. Music was available from the start on what was then the iTunes Music Store. To get the music industry signed up, digital rights management (DRM), also known as copy protection, was embedded in every file, so the tracks you bought were locked to iTunes and your iPod, and couldn’t be played on other kit.

Description: iTunes download past purchases
iTunes download past purchases

Eventually Apple convinced the record labels to agree to drop DRM, same time it increased the quality of standard downloads to 256Kbit/sec AAC (advanced audio coding). This was introduced as ‘iTunes Plus’, and is now the norm for all iTunes music. If you still have older tracks in protected format, you can ‘upgrade’ them to the DRM-free and higher-quality files, but - illogically - you have to pay extra. To see which of your tracks can be upgraded, go to in Safari on your Mac (window opens in iTunes). However, if you subscribe to iTunes Match you can re-download any previous pur­chases in the new format anyway, so that’s likely to be more cost-effective.

All purchased music comes in AAC format. Older, protected tracks have the extension .m4p; newer, unprotected files are .m4a. Album artwork and metadata about the recording, including artist and copyright information, are stored within each AAC track file, as you can see if you right-click one in the Finder and select Get Info. To see where any iTunes item (whether music or video) is stored on your Mac, right-click it in iTunes and choose Show in Finder.

You can choose which version of videos to download when both 720p and 1080p are available

To play users’ own music files, the iTunes app also supports MP3, along with uncom­pressed WAV and AIFF files. You can also create files in Apple Lossless format, which preserves maximum quality at around half the size of uncompressed files. This is a different format from AAC, but files have the same extension, .m4a.

Video purchases

iTunes now supports both SD and HD (standard or high definition) video. ‘HD’ means 720p unless identified as 1080p. Users outside the US still have a more limited choice of content and can’t re-download purchased videos direct to other devices; support for this is being negotiated with copyright owners. So if you buy a movie on your iPad, and then want to watch it on your iPhone, for example, you’ll need to connect the iPad to your Mac, transfer the purchased video, then connect the iPhone and sync it. This seems clunky, but it’s also clever, in that it doesn’t just copy the file but creates a version appropriate to your target device, so it’s guaranteed to play properly and won’t take up more space than needed.

Description: TV Shows in iTune
TV Shows in iTune

You can also make iTunes create versions of music and video files for other Apple devices without syncing. Select an item, then go to Advanced > Create and choose a target device.

Downloaded videos come in the .m4v format, and iTunes also supports .mp4 and .mov video files of your own. Each of these ‘container’ formats supports various codecs the compression/decompression systems that store video in manageable file sizes - so quality (and compatibility) can vary.

Unlike music, videos bought from iTunes still have DRM to prevent copying or unauthorized sharing. But you can play any iTunes purchase on any device where you’re logged into your iTunes account.

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