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Apple TV and Automatic Downloads

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Lately there has been some peculiar activity on the iTunes Australia store. Some of my favourite shows are becoming available only a day after being aired in either the USA or Britain. For the record, these shows are:

  • Doctor Who
  • Game of Thrones
  • Mad Men

Both Game of Thrones and Mad Men have season passes available for just over $30. Oh, and that’s HD. A quick look and you are looking at about $50 for a Blu-Ray of season 2.

So suddenly we have an influx of shows that are timely and cheap (relatively speaking). Sure, they encumbered with the iTunes DRM and you have to use iTunes but I like to think that this is a good sign. It seems like Australia has become a test bed for online distribution.

Aside from the DRM (and the fact that you are restricted to Apple devices) there is one glaring omission, communication. The scheduling of when shows will be available is largely hidden until they are released. So right now I’m going on faith that the prompt deliveries will continue for the remainder of the season but obviously have no guarantee that they will. Even if some insight was given into when the next episode will be released that would be an excellent start.

The next issue is the overall experience. I have a setup with a Mac Mini and an Apple TV connected to my television. It’s a shame that I kind of need both. The Mac Mini has been delegated as the storage server and it can hold all my iTunes downloads. However the full screen experience is somewhat lacking and generally requires fiddling around with a trackpad and keyboard. The Apple TV on the other hand delivers a fantastic (if somewhat limited) full screen experience as you would expect. However there is no way to reliably cache your shows on it so as to avoid disturbances due to issues involved in communicating with Apple’s servers. The device itself has a substantial buffer, but to buffer an entire show generally involves starting it, hitting pause and waiting for it to download completely without looking at anything else in the meantime.

So this is where the Mac Mini comes into its own. I can open up iTunes and download the shows I have purchased and share them with my Apple TV through the Home Sharing feature. Unfortunately the Apple TV interface for Home Sharing isn’t as slick as the regular TV interface, but once you get going it doesn’t really matter. The Apple TV also serves as a great way to browse the iTunes store and purchasing items is really easy.

And with this ease comes a small snag. It appears (and has been confirmed by a support request with Apple) that when you purchase a season pass on an Apple TV you cannot set up iTunes to automatically download new episodes as they become available. You can still download these episodes manually though, so the limitation won’t stop you from downloading your purchase shows, but it does make it just a little bit harder.

The workaround of course is to perform the actual purchase via iTunes on the machine that you want to download the episodes to. So unfortunately for the moment the keyboard and trackpad attached to my Mac Mini are there to stay.

Fortunately iTunes does send an email when a new episode of a show you’ve subscribed to is released, so this acts as a prompt to kick off the manual download.