Open Thread: Streaming vs. Downloads


The big news that’s going around is that Apple (s AAPL) could soon replace its existing digital download model with streaming audio and video files. So instead of downloading massive video files to an iPhone, iPad or next-generation Apple TV, users will stream those video files instead.

It seems like streaming should be a no-brainer for Apple, especially since most online video publishers have already made that choice. YouTube (s GOOG), Netflix (s NFLX) and Hulu all stream their video over the Internet — including to apps on Apple devices like the iPhone and iPad. Apple, meanwhile, still has the same strategy as when the iTunes store was first launched 2003, when most devices were hard drive-based and not connected to the Internet, requiring users to download their content before taking it on the go. But for Apple’s new stable of products, which rely on flash memory and are frequently connected to the Internet, the model is out of date.

The next-gen Apple TV is expected to follow this trend, and will reportedly ship with 16 GB of flash memory (or less), which means that — unlike its 160 GB predecessor — a download model won’t work for consumers who plan to watch large amounts of video on the device. A typical hour-long, standard definition TV download from iTunes is about 600 MB to 800 MB, and about twice that size in HD. Which means that even if an iTunes user wanted to, he wouldn’t be able to download and watch an entire season of 24 or Lost on the Apple TV.

That said, downloadable media still has its perks. In situations where a user knows he might not have Internet access, the ability to download and take a piece of content on the go is a plus. Perhaps more importantly, new data plans from AT&T restrict the amount of video that users can stream on devices like the iPhone and iPad that are connected to its 3G network.

While time-consuming, the ability to download and transfer the files to these devices could keep users from going over their data plan limits — which is important, considering that, according to AT&T’s estimates, users will only be able to watch about 20 minutes of standard def video on its $15 200 MB data plan, and only 200 minutes of standard def video per month with the 2GB plan.

Given the different use cases that are still available on Apple TV and older iPod products, Apple may continue offering downloads. But which do you prefer? The ability to stream files whenever you’re connected? Or the ability to download and take videos with you, even when you don’t have a wireless connection?



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Tony Williams

I live in a rural area and max speed at the best of times is 1.5meg. The only way I can get high quality video is download. It is not very fair to block a lot of the rural areas from high quality content. There should always be a download option for the broadband impaired.

andy beach

Why do I have to pick? I want to be able to both stream and download. I like the amazon model of buying something then it being available in my online library forever. If I want to download it to watch offline (either on PC or tivo) I can or I can stream it via roku or a web browser. if that had iPad/iPhone/Apple TV support thrown in, I’d buy lots more content there. Hopefully Apple will emulate this model.

The biggest argument against the streaming model is the unreliability of home broadband service at times, along with the caps they have put in place and begun enforcing. Between working from home and having multiple TVs and computers that are used to stream netflix, amazon, iTunes, etc I was easily going over my bandwidth cap and was forced to switch to a business account for fear of being cut off. To me however, thats money well spent as I happily cut back the amount I was paying in cable subscriptions to help offset that cost.


Download, no question. Streaming fits and starts are simply unacceptable, but 100% common in every service I have tried: Hulu, ABC, Netflix, etc. Even if they downgrade the video quality enough to stream consistently, it doesn’t do me any good for that movie I want to watch on my iPhone while in flight.

Nor does it recognize the single most important value of the iPhone: leveraging my enormous library of MP3s, over 70k, which iTunes makes easy for me to slice and dice any way I want. Without that, I’d go back to a blackberry and an iPod. The email and the apps are nice to haves, but the portable media option is what seals the deal.

Chris K

Why not the best of both worlds?

How about a tech that downloads the file, but leaves out key scenes which it seamlessly streams in when you watch the show?

STreaming is mostly fine with me. I don’t much video on the go, but fast forwarding and rewinding, starting and switching between content is clumsy and slow with streaming!!!!!!

So you lose that.

But you gain a cheaper price from the sound of things and no need to store the video which is also a pain in the ass. I don’t watch much TV, but if you’re the type that watches and follows 4 or 5 tv shows a season then at the end of the season you might 100 hours of video to store which in standard def is 150gb of H.264 video. That stuff adds up especially if you have a laptop. I mean if you have just a laptop where do you store the video? External hard drive? Well then you need another external hard drive for Time Machine so you can back it all up.

Anyway with 16gb I don’t see why you couldn’t download the videos onto the device and watch them from there as regular rented downloads. Maybe the shows wouldn’t be treated like files that the consumer can copy, but they could give you the option of moving the content to an iPhone or iPad if you catch my drift. If you never started the rented videos you could re-download them at anytime within your 30 days. STuff you bought would have to be moved to your computer which the device could be programmed to do automatically. OR maybe you can re-download that stuff at anytime as well.


Before I wandered into the world of Mac, I started time-shifting with DVR’s at DirecTV about a decade back. Which is why I have an AppleTV.

Time-shifting overrules streaming any day of the week. My wife and I want to watch a program when we wish to – not because it’s available for streaming. Stop and resume as we wish to.

I store downloads either on my iMac or a standalone external HD. Load onto the AppleTV when I’m readying for an evening of shared watching.

Meanwhile, DirecTV has added download on demand for 1080p movies which, again, I put in the queue to download hours or days before I wish to view – then, view at my convenience. I’ve discontinued my movie channel subscriptions and do almost exclusively DOD movies, now.

Just waiting for iTunes and AppleTV to catch up with 1080p and a competitive range of content. Meanwhile, Revision3 and Cranky Geeks, Command N and anything Om offers – all fit into what I download and drag into the AppleTV.


Compare the image quality of an HD movie rental from the iTunes Store via your Apple TV (complete with full discrete 5.1 channel audio) with the “1080p” offering from DirecTV. I think you’ll find that Apple TV’s version is equal or superior to DirecTV’s in terms of sound and overall image quality.

And, if you have a 6 Mbps or higher Internet connection, Apple TV HD rentals are ready for uninterrupted viewing just 2 or 3 minutes after clicking to OK button. No need to download hours or days in advance…

Chris K

That’s funny.

I hate to ruin her party though. You can start watching iTunes downloads a few minutes after they start at worst.


Streamed video simply doesn’t work. Netflix doesn’t work, Hulu doesn’t work, Olympics didn’t work.

BitTorrent works.


I say streaming ONLY IF it’s as good as an italian pizza. If not, download.

So let me give you an explanation on what I think, but, first, I’ve to say that, in this comment, I’ll focus on paid contents ’cause I think all starts from paid contents.

If Apple has figured out how to streaming perfectly TV shows and all the the stuff, than I say “yes”, to me streaming is okay. In fact, the consequences of a very well done streaming is that you don’t need storage (or need “less” storage) on which put all your files. And if you don’t need an hdd, you can buy a product (say an Apple TV with no hard drive or only 16GB for some Apps) that cost less in respect of one’s with hdd mounted on it. Same thing for others media-center like those from WD, Lacie, Popcorn, ecc.

So it turns out that in this particular scenario you don’t have to spend money for the “hdd part” (and imagine “how much money”, considering that with download mode + 720P/1080P files you need, at least, 1TB of storage, easy). So you’ll spend that amount (or less) in a (hopefully) good streaming. And you’ll spend those bucks for something you choose and you like (contrary, with download mode, you are forced to buy an hdd drive, no matter what, AND PLUS movies/whatever you want to buy).
In addiction to that, with streaming mode, you’ll have not to manage (wasting your time) with files/formats eccetera.

So I think that streaming comports various benefits, but ONLY IF the service is extremely good. And whit “extremely” I mean perfect.

Just my two cents though.


An Apple TV serves a different market than a video-capable iPhone or iPad. Watching video on the go doesn’t necessarily require tapping your expensive cellular data service (think of a new Apple TV having a Slingbox-like capability to serve you your own TV library on the go over WiFi or other non-cellular data service). I’d be quite happy “streaming” content that my media control center has downloaded and is waiting for me (assuming it can upload to me at adequate data rate — not guaranteed given cable/ISP upload bandwidth caps).

If I’m going to stream, I want to do it over a cost-efficient link. Our U.S. wireless companies can’t do wireless data cost-efficiently yet. We’re years behind Asian, EU, and even African wireless infrastructure.


Download for me — Have a Verizon unlimited data plan but the download speeds I get are very rarely good enough for streaming video. In fact, in the 2-3 years I’ve had it I’m not sure I’ve ever found a speedy enough connection anywhere.

Scott Jensen

Definitely download for me. Internet connections are unreliable and I’d prefer the option to watch it later when I don’t have to be or cannot be connected to the internet.

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