You can rent or purchase movies in 4K from iTunes, but you cannot download them locally to your devices like with 1080p (HD) and standard definition (SD) content offered on the store.

BOTTOM LINE: new 4K purchases and previous HD purchases upgraded to 4K are always available to you for streaming in SD/HD/4K, but you can download them locally only in SD/HD.

According to Apple’s support document, you can download a local copy of an HD or SD movie from iTunes to your iPhone, iPad, Mac or PC just like you’ve always been able to (Apple TV caches a movie when you start watching, depending on available storage).

You cannot, however, download a 4K version of the movie onto your Apple ID-authorized devices. This puts a new definition on “renting” and “purchasing” so here’s a quick cheat sheet:

  • BUY SD/HD: The movie can be downloaded locally onto your iOS devices and computers to keep forever and you can stream it unlimitedly on Apple TVs.
  • RENT SD/HD: The movie is cached locally on your iOS devices, computers and Apple TVs for smooth playback and automatically deleted after 48 hours . You have 30 days to start watching your rental. The OS automatically plays the best quality of video available for your device and Internet connection.
  • BUY 4K: The movie can be streamed unlimitedly in SD/HD/4K on your iOS devices, computers and Apple TVs. You can also download it locally onto your iOS devices and computers in SD/HD resolution only.
  • RENT 4K: The movie is always streamed to your iOS devices, computers and Apple TVs and cannot be downloaded to keep the file forever. You have 30 days to start watching your rental. After you press play to start streaming, you have 48 hours to finish watching. The OS automatically plays the best quality of video available for your device and Internet connection.

I doubt this new policy indicates a licensing issue.

More likely, Hollywood majors are afraid that someone might beat FairPlay encryption so they’ve probably imposed this limitation upon Apple (FairPlay technology limits playback to iPhone, iPad, Mac or PC devices authorized with the same Apple ID account you’ve used to purchase content from iTunes).

This isn’t such a big deal as it sounds because a) you’re getting 4K versions of iTunes movies at no additional charge if you already own them in HD; and b) the latest flicks on iTunes cost $20 a pop regardless of the resolution versus $30 or $40 that many other streaming services charge for 4K content.

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The very fact that Apple is upgrading our previously purchased HD movies to 4K, where available, completely free of charge, is unheard of in the streaming industry.

Thoughts?