Update: That was fast. It's busted—or fixed, depending on your POV. See the jump.
Movie rentals from iTunes 7.6? Awesome. That pesky 24-hour viewing window once you've started the film? Not so much. And even if you get a little trigger-happy and click play only two MB into the download, the self-destruct timer activates. What if you need just a little bit more time? Or maybe a whole lot more time. We'd heard you could extend the doomsday clock by toying around with your system's date/time. We tested it
and it's true. There is, of course, a catch or two.
Yesterday we rented 300 and started playing it only 5MB into the download—it was fast and smooth. Very nice. But now I've only got 9 hours left to experience the magic. With time running out, I closed iTunes, set my clock back and restarted the program to see if it does bestow a Lazarus effect. Sure enough, it did. I even got a little mad with power here, turning the clock back to 2003 to see just how potent this elixir is. iTunes yelled at me:
But when it started back up, check it out: That's right. iTunes knows I was playing God and messing with time on a massive scale. But I got three years to watch my movie anyway! Unfortunately, this trick does not work to revive already dead flicks—once they expire, they're automatically dumped. I know, because I launched my computer forward in time by a day and got this:
So, this is a great way to extend the life of movie rentals by a couple of hours if you're running late on finishing it, but it's not really a practical way to steal movies, since your would have to live in the past every time you fired up iTunes.
Another idea was to set the computer's time up before we rented, thinking you could then set it back to normal and have as much time as you wanted. Being adventurous, we tried to set the clock ahead 50 years. The homemade XP Pro computer we used in testing wasn't built for serious time travel, however. The 50-year shift made everything go kablooey. So we tried the more modest jump of one year. It worked.
Giz-Certified Best Method
Take your system into the future (but not too far) before you click play for the first time, which starts the 24-hour clock. Start the movie. Then exit iTunes and return to the present. We did this with the second movie we rented, playing it for the first time in 2009. We came back to 2008, and now we have a whole year to watch it. This method obviously doesn't require as much careful time-shifting back and forth to extend your movies' life span as it does if you start playing around after you've started the 24-hour countdown.
We figured it would work on a Mac, but wanted to be absolutely sure, so Benny Boo gladly dropped $4 (which we may or may not reimburse) to test it on his MacBook. As you can see, it works:
The bad news is that it doesn't seem to work with iPod/iPhone, however. Benny's year-long rental is apparently too much of a time paradox for the iPhone to swallow, so it kept spitting it back up despite a restart and repeated attempts: If you've gotten it to work on your portable, let us know in the comments. With automatic system-time updates, there's a chance any time you set will be corrected. In that case, you'd wake up to a long list of expired flicks. Frankly, don't count on this hack working for too long anyway since Hollywood is uberprotective of its content and someone's bound to lock this hole down tight within days. We don't know of a similar trick for Movielink or CinemaNow rentals—maybe you do—but our guess is that it's not doable.
Alright so it appears to no longer work. Here's what happened on our end. Before, we had set our computer date to 2009, and started playing Ratatouille (and Benny started playing The Simpsons) to start the 24-hour timer in 2009. Came back to 2008, everything was gravy. We go to play it again just a few minutes ago, and it tries to connect to iTunes, and then gives us a 5103 error. Benny gets the same deal.
So we delete the busted file and try a fresh download, this time with our computer dated to Jan. 24, a mere week ahead. Download starts, we click play and get the 5103 error—we couldn't even get it start in the future, which was the basis of the original trick. Adrian tried to extend a movie he rented last night by throwing his computer back a week. 5103 error, though coming back to the present he got it to play. We figured it wouldn't last forever.
We're still playing with it, so we'll let you know what other tricks we come up with as we confirm them. For now, feel free to go and play Jobs with time for yourself, and by all means report back. [Apple iTunes]