How to Find Your Free SD Movie Download in iTunes

by Barrett

When you buy an HD movie in iTunes, did you know you can also receive the SD version for free?  And why would you need the SD version?  Ask your iPhone.

When you buy an HD movie in iTunes, did you know you can also receive the SD version for free? And why would you need the SD version? Ask your iPhone.

I’d like to point out three universal truths:

  • You can never have too much knowledge,
  • Too much joy,
  • Or too much digital memory for your multimedia needs!

As a Road Warrior, I happen to like having a few movies at any given moment in my iPhone.

I really haven’t had any media management concerns on my iPhone 4S over the past couple of years, because I’ve got the full boat… 64 GB of memory.

So I feel I can live a little large and jam some extra cinema into my iPhone’s playlist if I prefer.

And I don’t mind admitting I’ve downloaded a few flicks lately.
The last one was “Skyfall,” the latest James Bond and arguably one of the best.

The Evil Secret of High-Definition Video
Then last weekend while uploading some fun photos of my three year old, I realized my iPhone barely had enough memory for Siri to blurt out one of her snarky retorts.

By Grabthar’s Hammer, what happened?!

So I checked out my iTunes library and realized Mr. Craig’s high-definition Bond adventure had targeted almost 6 GB of precious flash media on my iPhone.

One movie… 6 gigabytes?!

Well that didn’t seem right.
I know HD content can create large files, but I thought with compression technologies, the movie studios wouldn’t be offering up digital files quite so big.

I reviewed a few of the other movies I owned in iTunes:

“Star Trek” – 1.96 GB
“Inception” – 2.19 GB
“Thor”- 1.73 GB
“Apollo 13” – 2.22 GB
(Yes, you may notice a genre pattern here.)

So why were all these films so much smaller than “Skyfall?”

The only difference was the other movies were downloaded via an iTunes code packaged with the Blu-ray Discs I had bought.

And “Skyfall” was purchased directly from iTunes.
Apple had been running it at a special price.

The Blu-ray Disc Dream is Not All in High Definition
I sprinted over to my Blu-ray Disc shelf and studied the cases.
As I looked more closely at the packaging, I came to the uncomfortable realization that my bonus ‘digital copies’ via iTunes had not been downloaded in HD after all.
The iTunes movie codes inserted in the Blu-ray Disc cases only unlocked the standard definition files.


Well, in fact, the fine print does only say, ‘Digital Copy.’
(not HD Digital Copy)

Well, I guess that explains the size discrepancy.
They’re just SD movies.

So… iTunes SD movie downloads provided by glorious Blu-ray Discs in HD?
That doesn’t feel quite right.

But it’s a discussion for another day…
And a new data point for my ongoing struggle to decide
whether I should stick with buying physical Blu-ray Discs or give in and go all in with iTunes movie purchases.

There’s No Room for HD in Your Smartphone
As much as I prefer to own HD movie files for use on my larger displays, I don’t believe smartphone screens really show a significant difference between HD and SD.

But more importantly, my iPhone (or any smartphone for that matter) can’t handle more than a few HD movies at a time.

It’s simple math.
If you only own a 16 GB smartphone, it’s toast after you feed it two movies.

Using an SD file would appear to be the only reasonable option when loading up your movie collection to your smartphone…

Time to find the ‘Mini-Me’ version of 007.

SD Still Has its Place
So your simple media management solution is to own two files for each movie you buy.

  • HD for your HDTV or computer
  • SD for your smartphone

But how do you locate the SD peer file, once you’ve bought and downloaded the HD movie master?

Sure, you can easily find the SD version in the iTunes Store.
But you don’t want to pay again to download the SD sibling, once you’ve already had to pony up for the HD version.

Don’t do that…!

Where’s Your Free SD File?
The location was not entirely obvious to me even after some online research and a quick review of iTunes itself.

But buried in an Apple support page, I found a cryptic answer….

“To download the SD version, you need to download the video again from your Purchased page.”

Well that seemed simple enough.

So I took at look at my ‘Purchased page’ in iTunes and observed all my movie icons happily waiting for their next screening.
But there was nothing to indicate an additional free SD download of my HD Bond.

Then I saw it!

Here’s the trick:

  • Go to your ‘Purchased’ page in the iTunes Store
  • Click on ‘Movies’
  • On the bottom right there’s a box that say, “Download HD When Available”
  • Unclick that!

Suddenly the SD versions appeared as available for download!

It was like having the keys to the candy store.
I clicked, and before you could say, “shaken but not stirred,” I downloaded my SD movie file.

2.45 GB.
Thank you.

One final step…

Then in the ‘Summary’ tab of your iPhone (in iTunes):

  • Go to ‘Options’
  • Click on “Prefer standard definition videos”

Et voilà!
The SD files finally show up for syncing to your iPhone…

Load Up on Your Mobile SD Content
So to access your SD content, you simply have to tell iTunes you don’t ‘prefer’ HD… twice.
(which kind of goes against everything you believe in)

You just don’t want HD… right now.
(Don’t forget to switch that setting back when you go to buy your next HD movie.)

It’s just not that intuitive…
And all this from a tech empire that designs products my three year old could operate well over a year ago.

Anyway, that’s how you do it.

Your iPhone can now experience some Hollywood Zen.
…and still have some room left to answer your next phone call!