The next time you buy a movie, and it comes with one of those “redeem this code to get the digital version on your favorite platform” notices, make sure you’re picking the right service if you want the highest-quality video across as many other streaming services as possible.
For example, If you’re already sold on Apple’s ecosystem, but you’re also using Movies Anywhere—and you should be, because it’s amazing—you might want to redeem your code for a new HD movie on the iTunes Store, first, if you can. Otherwise, you’ll have to repurchase the film if you want its 4K version. You won’t get it for free.
Heck, you might not even get a 4K upgrade on iTunes anyway.
Managing movies across different services is a headache
Starting late last year, Apple decided to give HD movie owners free upgrades to the film’s 4K version, if one existed. As users soon found out, this generosity didn’t apply to everything they could access via their iTunes libraries.
For example, if you redeem a code for an HD movie on Movies Anywhere, which then unlocks it for viewing on a connected iTunes account, that doesn’t qualify the movie for a free 4K upgrade from the iTunes Store. Apple’s policy spells this out pretty clearly:
If you buy an eligible movie from a Movies Anywhere reciprocal service in 4K, HDR, or Dolby Vision, you will be able to watch a matching quality version from the iTunes Store (as long as the same movie is available in 4K, HDR, or Dolby Vision from the iTunes Store).
If you buy an eligible movie from a Movies Anywhere reciprocal service in HD, you will be able to watch the HD version from the iTunes Store. (These movies will not be upgraded to 4K, HDR, or Dolby Vision even if the iTunes Store has the movie in those formats.)
Some movie owners who went this route—redeeming an HD film via Movies Anywhere, and then pulling up iTunes to view it—have reported that a few of their titles received a free 4K upgrade anyway. But this seems to be the exception, rather than the norm.
More annoying, once you unlock a movie on Movies Anywhere, and pull up you connected iTunes library, Apple’s service assumes you’ve purchased the film. There’s no easy way to just pay Apple a little to upgrade to its 4K version, which would make a lot of sense.
When you only have HD and want 4K on iTunes, get your wallet
If you purchased an HD version of a film, connected it to all your services (including iTunes), and you now want the 4K version, you can use Apple’s “Gift This Movie” feature and send the “gift” to yourself. Specifically, gift the film to the email address you also use as your Apple ID.
And if this process isn’t enough of a pain, there’s no guarantee that codes you redeem on iTunes specifically—say, if you buy a standard HD disc that comes with a digital unlock code—will even get you a free 4K upgrade to the film’s digital version. You might luck out; you might not.
Next time, just buy the full, digital, 4K version
So, what can you do if you want to make sure you’re getting a 4K version of a film across as many streaming services as possible? Buy the digital version of a film on a service with a 4K version (like iTunes, for example), which will then unlocks the 4K version on any connected services via Movies Anywhere, if other services have it.
That last point isn’t just an aside; while a movie might exist in 4K on some services (like Star Wars: The Last Jedi on Vudu), that doesn’t mean that there’s a 4K version on other services you use (like Star Wars: The Last Jedi on iTunes). Yes, you can do everything correctly and still not get 4K on other platforms you’ve connected through Movies Anywhere. That’s just the way it is. I have a headache.