Thursday, December 17, 2015

Buffering without streaming

I should have guessed my viewing of That Sugar Film was doomed from the start.

First I succumbed to the allure of a 99-cent rental from iTunes, even though I was not that interested in the film, and have a number of other prominent documentaries I need to watch before I close off my rankings.

Then I kept pushing it back and pushing it back until yesterday, when it was set to expire within 40 hours, and my only chance to watch it would be in the window of time between the end of my meeting and the start of my midnight showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

I was looking at something theatrical for that time slot, but I've been getting out to the theater a ton lately, and the only movie I really wanted to see -- Mississippi Grind -- started too late (9:40) for me to be sure I'd be able to get over to a different theater in time for the start of Star Wars. (We'll be getting a ton of new releases on Boxing Day, but for now there's pretty much of a drought -- especially with movies trying to avoid coming out around the same time as Star Wars.)

So I reluctantly brought my laptop along with me and spent that downtime in a Starbucks, where That Sugar Film would reluctantly be my appetizer for the main meal. Appropriate, at least, in that it was about food. Appropriate also in that I had just bought a bag of M&M's, a bag of Hershey's Miniatures, and two white Reese's Peanut Butter cups to accompany my bag of gummy snakes, which were all designed to give me diabetes to keep me awake during the midnight screening. I added a toffee nut latte to that excessive expected sugar intake and got to work.

At the time I started, it was just after 9, and I should have had plenty of time to finish a 100-minute movie before I had to leave for the theater. Except that I was hit by an almost immediate Sugar crash.

Extremely annoyingly, the movie started buffering. Which makes absolutely no sense, because it was not streaming.

So it was really "buffering," I guess, not actually buffering.

One of the great benefits of iTunes is supposed to be that once you've downloaded the movie, you can watch it anywhere without interruption. That file exists completely on your hard drive, and it should not be the least affected by ephemeral environmental factors like a poor wi-fi signal.

Yet here I was, watching the movie pause, then go on fast forward for 30 seconds to catch up, then have its video out of synch with its audio, then just come to a complete standstill.

If this had happened once, it would have been a glitch. When it happened the twelfth time, or thereabouts, and after two reboots of the PC as well, I basically had to give up. With more than an hour still remaining in the movie -- an hour I will struggle to squeeze in before the rental expires tonight around 9 p.m. And even if I do find the time on approximately four hours of sleep, there's nothing to say that these shenanigans won't repeat themselves.

It may just be this one file having an issue, and the other four movies I have downloaded from iTunes may not be similarly afflicted. But you better bet I wasn't ready to test one of the others, as that would start that movie's 24-hour expiration clock ticking.

Before I go writing a letter of complaint to Apple, I must acknowledge two things:

1) I am at least five, and probably more like ten, versions behind on my iTunes. This is because half the time I upgrade to the latest version, it seems to wipe out my library and I have to restore it from a backup. Easier now just not to upgrade.

2) My PC is, sadly, getting long in the tooth. Just lately it has started to show increasingly erratic behavior. It turns five years old in May.

So is this the beginning of the end for my PC? Certainly, the ability to play movies on iTunes is not an essential feature -- not the kind of thing that would total it, anyway. But this time of year, especially with four other movies already downloaded, I do feel like I rely pretty heavily on it. And I'm certainly not buying a new PC any time between now and January 14th.

So here's hoping That Sugar Film was just That Faulty File. And not my PC slipping into a permanent diabetic coma.

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