Apple Adds HD Movie Rentals, Downloads To iTunes

Apple (AAPL) has added hi-def movie purchases and rentals to its iTunes store. Previously, it only offered HD movies via its Apple TV set-top box, or HD TV shows via its iTunes store. It’s been popular: Apple says more than 50% of TV programs have been downloaded in HD, when available.

HD movie selection is limited: Of the top 50 iTunes movie purchases, we could only find 5 that were available for purchase (or pre-order) in HD.

Rentals will cost $4.99 and HD downloads will cost $19.99.

We don’t expect this to make a significant impact on Apple’s business, but it makes the new iMac a more attractive bedroom TV, and could make the new Mac mini a more attractive set-top box, which could help Apple sell a few more units.

Apple’s movie streaming rivals include Amazon (AMZN) and Netflix (NFLX). Netflix offers HD streaming to some devices, but doesn’t offer streams of new releases — where iTunes shines.

We’re excited about movie services like iTunes, but we think digital movie rentals are still the cable industry’s game to lose.

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