All about iTunes movie rentals

Kirk McElhearn
14 August, 2010
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You probably know that you can rent movies from the iTunes Store. But there are a number of conditions that affect what you can and can’t do with rentals. Here’s an overview of how you can watch them, on which devices you can view them, and how to move them from one device to another.

Apple’s movie rental service is easy to use, but it offers a limited amount of flexibility. (You can thank the movie studios for that.) Like other movie-rental services, you have 30 days to start watching a rental from the exact day and time you rent it. Once you start watching, you can watch it for 48 hours. That means you can watch part of a movie on Friday night and finish it over the rest of the weekend, or, if you really like the movie, you can watch it over and over again during that 48-hour window.

When this 48-hour period is up, the movie will automatically delete itself from your computer or portable device. While there’s a sort of workaround that lets you continue watching a movie that you paused during the 48-hour window, if you switch to some other content in iTunes or on your Apple TV, the rental will expire. There’s no official way to extend your rental-period or discount on re-renting a movie.

Apple lets you watch rentals on a Mac or PC with iTunes; on an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, iPod classic, or iPod nano (3rd generation); on an Apple TV connected to a TV; or on a portable device connected to a TV with an Apple composite or component AV cable. Finally, you can watch HD rentals only on an Apple TV, or an iPad. (If you’re in the US or have a US account, you’re able to watch HD rentals on your computer too.)

Ideally, if you plan to rent a movie from the iTunes Store, you should rent it from the device you are planning to use to watch it. If you have an Apple TV, rent the movie from it directly; if you want to watch a movie on your Mac, rent it from iTunes; if you want to watch one on your iPad, rent it from there. Bear in mind the size of the file, and how much space you have available: standard definition movies take up roughly 1GB to 2GB, HD movies are 2GB to 3GB or more.

Rentals don’t work like other items you purchase; you can’t sync them to a portable device. To put a rental on a device like an iPod or iPad, you have to move it, which removes it from the original device after copying. This transfer has something to do with DRM voodoo to make sure that you don’t rent a movie and put it on different devices, where you might be able to get around the 48-hour viewing window, or allow two people to watch it on different devices. You must also be connected to the internet to move a movie, and iTunes sends authorisation information about your device to its server so you can’t play the movie back on two devices.

With iTunes, you can move a rented movie from your computer to a portable device.

To transfer a rental, connect your portable device to your Mac, then in iTunes, click on the Movies tab. You’ll see your rental, and a Move button lets you transfer the file to your device. Click this button, then click Apply to start the transfer. When it’s completed, you’ll be able to watch the movie on the device.

You can’t, however, transfer a movie rented on an Apple TV or iPad to any other device, and you can’t transfer a rental from one computer to another. If you were to try – just take the movie file and put it on another computer into your iTunes library – you’d see an alert, when trying to play the movie, telling you that it is authorised to play on another computer or device.

You can, however, transfer a rental from one computer to an iPod, then from that iPod to another computer. Move it to the iPod, then disconnect the iPod and connect it to another Mac while holding down the Command and Option keys (to make sure that iTunes on the second computer doesn’t sync its library to the device). Click the Movies tab, as above, and move the movie over to the second computer. (Keep your eyes on iTunes; after it moves the movie, it may try to sync other content to the iPod, so be ready to click the X icon in iTunes at the top of the window to stop the sync.)

Renting movies from the iTunes Store can be pretty simple if you don’t want to do anything special, though you’ll have to jump through some hoops if you want to move rented movies. If you have an Apple portable device, or an Apple TV, it’s an easy way to find a flick to watch while you munch on some popcorn.

UPDATED 15 August to correct an error about rental expiration time. Australians are lucky enough to get 48 hours to watch our iTunes movies rentals, compared to the 24 hours allowed in the US.


6 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Michael Quinn says:

    Australian iTunes rentals – like most of the rest of the world – have a 48 hour limit.

    Seriously, it would just be easier if you guys did a simple redirect to than bother with all the lame cutting and pasting of articles.

    Or just an iframe (maybe with a 3 day cache delay) if you want to carry on the pretence you’re something else.

  2. AMW staff says:

    Thanks for the correction, Michael. I thought the 24 hour period applied to all iTunes stores. But you’re right, we do indeed have 48 hours to watch a rented movie here.


  3. James Murphy says:

    The convenience of renting movies in iTunes certainly appeals to me, but I just can’t justify the cost. A highly compressed 720p movie with no extras for $6.99, is not what I’d call good value for money.

    Each month I rent 10 Blu-ray 1080p movies with HD audio & extras for just $1.99 each from Bigpond ($19.95 month/12-month contract). Now that is what I call great value for money!

  4. Terrance Beavers says:

    I am so grateful for your article. Great.

  5. john says:

    Or you could just…go to a video store. Unless you specifically want the movie on your phone or ipad. And I don’t see how these are blu-ray movies. A blu-ray movie is about 20 gigs (and that’s not including any special features), so I don’t see how these movies can still be considered blu-ray when they’re only a few gigs. But then again when it’s being watched on a screen as small as an ipad then the content doesn’t really have to be that great.

  6. Karen says:

    I to think the price of renting through Itunes exorbitant. Also only 48hrs to watch a movie is so inconvenient. I would like a little more time. Life gets in the way unexpectedly and then you loose your rental!

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