Review: iTunes – the Life on Mars download experience

So downloads are all the rage now. Big Finish, which makes those Doctor Who audio plays, has set up a downloads service (they still haven’t got back to me about those missing extras, BTW, so I’m going to assume you don’t get the CD extras with the downloads, making them even less attractive).

The BBC, after doing ever so nicely with its iPlayer, has leapt onto the Apple bandwagon as well by putting various shows onto iTunes, including Ashes to Ashes, Life on Mars, Torchwood and more. I’ve had little interest in the iTunes TV service until now – cos it’s mostly been shows that are rubbish or aimed at kids. But with Stu_N suggesting I was wearing rose-tinted glasses in my recall of Life on Mars, I decided to give iTunes a try and download the first series.

If you’ve used iTunes to buy music, then using it to buy TV shows is about as easy as it gets. Click on the show you want, find the episodes you want and click Buy Now (£1.89/episode). Or you can buy an entire series with one click for a slight discount (£13.99 for eight episodes). iTunes then downloads your episodes. You can then play the videos in iTunes itself, on your video-enabled iPod (once you’ve synced) or on an Apple TV.

Unlike with music, downloading takes some time. Each episode of Life on Mars is about 600MB, so on my almost 5Mbps Internet connection (I’m a bit far from the exchange), that means 30 minutes or so to download the file, but only if you’re downloading them one at a time. If you’re buying a whole series in one go, it’s going to be a good few hours at least. Scale the time up or down according to your connection’s speed.

Also unlike with music, if you buy one episode of a show then buy the entire series, you won’t get refunded for that first episode, even though iTunes recognises that you have it. That’s worth watching out for.

Picture quality is pretty good on an iPod, but on an Apple TV, it’s a tad fuzzy, since it’s not at the maximum possible resolution. Given that Torchwood, for example, was shot on high def and is unavailable on Blu-ray or (ha ha ha) HD-DVD, this was an obvious opportunity that’s been missed to get some extra cash from anyone with an HD TV and an Apple TV, but who isn’t willing to fork out for a Sky HD box and subscription (or who wants to keep an HD programme). On the other hand, given most people’s bandwidth and the size of HD files, maybe that’s understandable.

Anyway, Life on Mars series one turns out to be as good as I remember. And Ashes to Ashes can’t hold a candle to it yet – as a way of demonstrating what music and fashions were in favour at various points of the 80s, it’s fine; but an interesting comparison and contrast of 80s policing techniques and culture with our own? I think not. Still, fingers crossed, maybe Alex can take a leaf out of Sam Tyler’s case files and get off her arse and do something rather than just shouting at men and expecting them to fix it for her. You know, talk with the WPCs and set up a rape suite. Fit up a few crims herself. That kind of thing. Still, she’s obviously used to having a butler around or something. If you’re not part of the solution, love, you’re part of the problem, particularly when it’s your own bloody dream.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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