AndyO Blog

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Digital Movie Download War

Blu-ray DiscNow that Blu-ray has won the battle for high-definition discs, we can all go out and buy Blu-ray players and feel content with our purchases, right? That's what Sony would like you to believe. There are two problems with this:

  • Blu-ray players are too expensive (most over $300)
  • Many current Blu-ray players don't support Profile 2.0, so they're already obsolete (If you don't believe me, see this CNET post.)

There's also a secondary point about high-definition content. Most people don't care about it right now. 

Because I don't think Blu-ray will offer enough of an incentive to drop the good old DVD player, my prediction is that digital movie downloads will become the format of choice. I know, you might be thinking that a lot of people still want to drive down to BestBuy on Tuesday to pick up the latest DVD release and hold the shiny disc in their hands. But then I would remind you that people said the same thing about music CDs.

I've started to try out different digital movie download and streaming services. While I don't think all of them offer the average consumer the ideal experience, I think you're going to see huge advances in the next year that will make it easier.

Here are the services I've researched (or tried out myself):

Microsoft and the Xbox 360

When HD-DVD lost the HD battle, it was a direct blow to Microsoft. The company's technology was embedded in HD-DVD technology. However, Microsoft is also one of the first companies to start renting HD digital movies over its Xbox 360 system.

The good: I own an Xbox 360, and renting movies using the Xbox Marketplace is a breeze. You add "Microsoft Points" to your account and go buy or rent whatever you want. Once you rent an HD movie, you can start watching it in 10-15 minutes. The great thing about the Xbox system is you can go play a game while you wait. 

The bad: So far, the movie selection isn't as deep as I'd like to see. Plus, searching for a movie isn't as easy as it is using a computer. Xbox 360 Elite Pro bundle starts at around $500, so it's not cheap at this point. Once you start the movie, you have 24 hours to watch it--which can be too short. But this is standard with most digital downloads.

Digital Cable and DirectTV (satellite)

Cable has come a long way in the past 10 years. Not only can you watch HD content on your new LCD or Plasma TV, but you can watch it when you want. If any group is poised to take advantage of a new digital rental model, cable and satellite companies are probably in the best position.

The good: Familiar set-top box model. No computer needed. Additional services, including Internet, available as a bundle.

The bad: High cost per month. Limited selection of movies per month, depending on what the cable or satellite company makes available.


The Netflix Watch Now feature, which allows you to stream movies over your computer, is top-notch. They've continued adding titles, including entire seasons of hit shows. I watched the first season of Heroes using this technology.

The good: Unlimited viewing of 7000 titles. Movies start in about 30 seconds. DVD-quality is acceptable on an HD TV.

The bad: No HD Watch Now feature yet. Computer required.

Rumors: Being able to watch movies through Netflix on your Xbox 360.

Apple TV 2.0

I don't know much about this offering, having never used it myself -- but after reading this detailed review complete with side-by-side image comparisons, it seems like it's pretty good. CNET also liked it.

The good: Movies from every major Hollywood studio. HD available for most new titles. Integrated Podcasts and YouTube.

The bad: $229 for a stand-alone device (too much for some people). Doesn't work with older TVs that aren't widescreen.


I've watched one CinemaNow movie through my Xbox 360. The way this works is you download the movie to your PC, and then you can stream it over the Xbox.

The good: Large movie selection.

The bad: No HD options, except for a few titles that you can buy. The movie that I downloaded and watched through my Xbox 360 didn't look good enough on my HD TV.

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posted by AndyO @ 6:19 PM   0 comments