If Front Row can stream movie trailers from Apple, why not whole movies?

Technology Review’s Daniel Turner takes a look at the speculation running up to next week’s Macworld Expo and covers the usual rumors: Intel-based iBooks, Intel-based PowerBooks, new iPod shuffle; you know, the usual rumors. But, one of Turner’s notions is interesting (they’ve got quite an eclectic mix of writers over there, it seems):

Last fall, Apple refreshed its all-in-one iMac line and debuted Front Row, a piece of software that hijacks the usual Mac UI and replaces it with a simple interface — easily visible on a TV screen from the couch — allowing for presentation of photo slideshows, home movies, music, purchased TV show downloads, and movie trailers. The last item is the most interesting: if Front Row can stream movie trailers from Apple’s website, why not whole movies?

“If Front Row can stream movie trailers from Apple’s website, why not whole movies?”

We just tried, for the heck of it, running Front Row on an old 450 MHz Power Mac G4 via a cable modem (approximately 1.5Mbps). We chose a random movie trailer and it streamed very nicely. Very watchable on a rather large LCD. Imagine if Apple somehow jacked up the encoding a bit? Anyway, backing away from the monitor a few feet (like you probably would at least be positioned to relax while watching a movie) helped even more. (Close up, things like a yellow #2 pencil in a medium shot of an actor registered pretty high on the pixelation scale. But, from only a few feet away, it was more than acceptable. Can you guess which trailer we watched?)

Full article here.
What do you think? If Front Row can stream movie trailers from Apple’s website, why not whole movies – after you buy them of course, or – dare we say – subscribe to Apple’s service? Could Apple manage the bandwidth demands and deliver as perfectly smooth an experience as we just had with the trailer we tested? It’s fairly obvious that Front Row 1.0 is a test; a test of many things, but is one of its most important tests for Apple to see how well streaming content works?

[UPDATE: 8:49am ET: See related article: Apple Computer sues Burst after negotiations over iTunes, iPod licenses breakdown – January 06, 2006]

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  1. The name of the software should be a clue by now..
    Who needs to be in the Front Row to look at their own photos? or play music…Front Row is about MOVIES….it always was…(though to be honest…nobody sits in the front row of a movie theater!)…Maybe it should have been called
    Middle 10 Rows Back….

  2. It’s definitely a novel idea. Imagine paying just $9.99 per month to be able to stream a predetermined amount of movies per month. It’s the ultimate on-demand system. Apple just needs to make sure that the streaming/caching of the movie will not cause choppy playback because the last thing a service like that would need would be consumer backlash.

    All I know is this, that new iMac looks real good in any living room and being able to patch out HD video content to a HDTV from the iMac (Mac Mini or otherwise) would be paradigm shifting.

  3. I know that Apple likes to be a decade ahead of everybody else, but what about people like me who are still on dial-up? Obviously this setup isn’t going to work.

    Just a quick-n-dirty poll: Who here still has a dial-up connection?

  4. I think a perfect demonstration of streaming is the Apple Keynotes, the quality of them is perfectly watchable for longer periods. TV Shows would be perfect and we know they’ve already got something going on with them.

  5. TDSOTM said “I know that Apple likes to be a decade ahead of everybody else, but what about people like me who are still on dial-up?”

    My friend, it is not Apple who are ahead, but you that are behind.

  6. How can it stream movies when it can’t even handle trailers?
    I have 1meg broadband and it still keeps telling me ‘Movie trailer server not responding’.
    Lot of work still to be done on FR

  7. I just posted a link to the Contact form:


    That’s a press release that Apple has sued Burst. A little company with some key patents on streaming media tech. This means that what Cringely said was true, if Apple wants to open a streaming movie store, it needs to license from Burst, and apparently it has been in negotiation.

    As for streaming movie trailers, FR doesn’t show what bitrate they’re using but it’s clear that they are below DVD quality. If you go to their movie trailer website:


    You’ll see they have about 30 HD trailers. This is a much better indication of whether Apple can stream movies. I’ve looked and 480p movies will need a streaming rate of 2Mbps. This is doable on a stable moderately quick cable modem. Add some buffering time, perhaps 15mins, while you pop the popcorn, and you should have no trouble with a 480p movie stream.

    Oh, you can get rid of the FR server messages if you go to your QT prefs, and movie your buffer all the way to the right to your largest setting.

  8. Dave H,
    Many people in this country don’t have a choice of their internet connection. People who live in large cities or towns to not realize that many people living in the country have no access to high speed internet because no cable company will run cable out that far! It may not be his fault.

  9. front row movie trailers use some form of peer-to-peer technology… when i watch a number of trailers in a row i get a threatning message from my university administrator to stop using peer to peer… it seems we might be streaming from a collection of servers the same time to get the speeds we do…

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