iTunes Extras have returned to the Apple TV, offering DVD-style bonus features.
Movie special features have returned to the Apple TV and are coming to iGadgets later this year.
One of the shortcomings of buying a movie as a digital download rather than on disc is you miss out on the director's commentary and other special features. Apple's iTunes Extras aims to fill that gap, although it's been a rough road.
Apple introduced iTunes Extras back in 2009, along with iTunes LP offering interactive album artwork. The idea at the time was to convince people that they weren't missing out on anything by making the switch to digital downloads, although five years later it's become the preferred option for many homes.
Of course we all know that Apple giveth and Apple taketh away, sometimes with little or no explanation. There's still no sign of Game of Thrones Season 4 in the Australian iTunes Store, by the way, even though it's available in the UK.
With the release of the second-generation Apple TV, support for iTunes Extras was lost and became only available from iTunes running on a computer. Now Apple is bringing iTunes Extras back in from the cold, reinstating it to the Apple TV as of today. It's only available on the second and third-generation Apple TV, not the first.
If you fire up the Apple TV and open the Movies tab you'll see an iTunes Extras option in the scrolling options across the top. Click here and you'll find a list of 50 movies which include iTunes Extras content. Browsing in iTunes on a computer, there seems to be more than 100 movies supported.
Movies that support iTunes Extras can include behind-the-scenes video content, directors commentary, short films and high-resolution photo galleries of storyboards or concept drawings. Because it's all hosted online, Apple can add extra content over time – although the same applies to Blu-ray extras and not much came of that.
Thankfully if you already own one of the iTunes Extras movies you'll get access to the extra content, but the big catch is that iTunes Extras is now only available for the HD version of movies. The movies cost more and can put a rather big dent in your download limit.
If you're on a slow internet connection you might need to wait an hour before you can press play on a HD movie. At this point you might decide that iTunes Extras is more trouble than it's worth until the NBN arrives in your street in one form or another. As with many tech companies, Apple's decision to limit iTunes Extras to HD movies feels like a US-centric decision which doesn't take into account that many people don't have the fast download speeds and uncapped download limits most Americans enjoy at home. The fact that it leaves owners of first-gen Apple TVs in the lurch also sucks.
To access iTunes Extras you need to ensure you've installed the latest Apple TV firmware update, and that your iTunes Store settings are set to HD movies. Now when you press Play to watch a movie you're presented with a disc-style menu, with the options across the bottom which vary depending on the movie. With Frozen you'll see Play, Songs, Extras, Featured Extras and Related. Dig through them and you'll find things such as the Making Of documentary, deleted scenes and artwork.
Even if you've purchased the movie in HD, if you switch your iTunes Store settings back to SD you lose access to all this extra content, which is a frustrating limitation.
iTunes Extras is also coming to iGadgets for the first time, arriving along with iO 8 in "Spring", which means it will finally be supported across all Apple devices.
Do you buy your movies on disc or as digital downloads? Does iTunes Extras encourage you to make the shift away from optical discs?
Read more posts from Adam Turner's Gadgets on the Go blog.