Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Renting Movies on iTunes for Plane Rides

iTunes movie rentals are the best. At $2.99, a movie rental is much cheaper than movie purchases ($9.99/film), and they help kill time on long trips. But a real stumper is whether or not these babies can play without WiFi. Nobody wants to spend ten dollars renting movies she's excited to see, experience the hustle and bustle of airport check-in and security, and then find that the movies don't play on the airplane. That, my friends, would suck big time. So the real question is--can iTunes movie rentals play on airplanes?

This is a topic I've been curious about for a very long time, and I found no clear answer on the internet (much like the issue about embedding multiple videos in a tumblr post. Clear here for my step-by-step guide on how to do so.) There are more than enough posts initiating discussion, but there are very few that give a straight answer. And so fellow readers, I set out to investigate, and I come back with a clear answer:

Yes, if you rent a movie on iTunes using your home wireless, you can in fact play this movie on the airplane (where there is no wireless).

If you read enough online discussions and forums, you'll find that people's main worry is whether iTunes needs to talk to a server to initiate playing the video. Many posited that the rental had to be played *first* using a WiFi connection; once 'play' is clicked for the first time, the movie expires after 24 hours.

With this in mind, I did a test at home before I spent my six dollars on two rentals. Where could I find a cheap rental? On the iTunes Movie page, I was delighted to find a '99 cents Movie Rentals' section. Perfect.

I rented the movie directly from my iPad's iTunes. Downloading a Standard Definition movie took around half an hour. After it had finished downloading, I turned off my wireless. Time for the moment of truth: would the movie play without WiFi? Yes! It did!

Here are screenshots as proof for all those hard-evidence seeking people.

This is my trial run at home.
After downloading the movie rental, the film appears in Videos under Rentals. 
Immediately, I turn off WiFi to simulate a plane scenario. 

Without WiFi, I am able to start playing the film.

As proof that there was really no WiFi, my internet browser did not work. 
More confirmation that WiFi was off when I started to play the movie.

Yup, the movie plays without WiFi! Success!
I repeat the same set of steps with another film, Finding Neverland, and find similar results:
I downloaded the film using my apartment's WiFi. I turn off WiFi to simulate plane settings.

With no WiFi in sight, the movie is able to start the 24 hour rental period. 
Confirmation that there in fact no WiFi when I initiated my rental period. 

I was overjoyed by the results! Confident from my success, I proceeded to download two movie rentals for my upcoming flight: Finding Neverland and Husbands and Wives. I'm proud to say that both played just fine on the airplane. However, I'd like to note the following: given my tendency to be overcautious and the abundance of naysayers on the internet, I had decided to start my 24 hour window this morning at my apartment (just in case). It was really no trouble--all I had to do was press play and then pause for my two rentals. I think though, this additional step had no influence on the results. Next time I fly, look forward to an update about this.

Conclusion: Yes, movies rented on iTunes can be played on an airplane without WiFi access. Starting the movie to initiate the 24 hr rental period does not require WiFi, but if it can be done beforehand with WiFi, it wouldn't hurt.


  1. Apple should stream the rental rather than force the download... Half hour is longer than it would take to go to the video rental store or box and pick up the physical disc!