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Monday, March 03, 2008, 07:00 pm PT (10:00 pm ET)

Apple well shy of movie rental goals

While Apple promised 1,000 movie rentals for the iTunes Store in January, an in-depth search reveals that only 384 movies are available — and that the rarer-still HD titles scarcely take full advantage of the format.

The catalog represents just 39 percent of the official target set for the end of February and includes just 91 high-definition titles — 21 of which come from the 1980s and earlier, predating even basic surround sound and providing little actual benefit from the higher resolution or 5.1-channel surround sound that often come with Apple's 720p videos.

Some of these HD movies, such as the Kirk Douglas movie Lust for Life, date back as early as 1956 and predate most modern filmmaking techniques. Other movies, however, lack age as a reason for their stripped-down features: 40 HD movies (26 of which were released before 2000) lack Dolby 5.1-channel audio.

A few movies are even mistakenly labeled. Aliens and Dodgeball are labeled as HD titles but reveal themselves to be standard-definition upon a closer look.

Even if users are willing to pay for a permanent download, Apple supplies just 770 movies regardless of their delivery format, still 230 titles short of what Apple promised just for rentals alone. Of the entire collection, just 384 movies are available for rent.

First alluded to by a tipster in one of AppleInsider's Friday reports, the shortfall puts Apple significantly behind other online rivals, some of which take advantage of links to traditional DVD business. Amazon's Unbox claims 10,442 titles, while the mail-in rental firm offers roughly 6,000 movies — though in some cases, these titles include anything from instructional videos on marine radar systems to sports matches.

iTunes' rental offerings


No matter how many full titles are available through each service, however, the deficit tarnishes Apple's attempts to expand its modest iTunes video library. The Mac maker aggressively claimed in January that it "has it right this time" with the Apple TV and has pushed its video rental service since its Macworld San Francisco debut, going so far as to promote 99-cent weekly rentals ever since the Apple TV's version 2.0 firmware upgrade in mid-February.