Now you can download films and TV shows on Xbox 360

Robert Levine:
Owners of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game console will soon be able to watch sci-fi epics as well as play them.
Microsoft said it would offer movies and episodes of television shows for downloading through its Xbox Live online service in the US from November 22.

With the new offerings, Microsoft is joining cable giants and Internet start-ups on the long list of companies hoping to profit from video downloading. But Internetbased services have had trouble getting traction because it can be complex to send a downloaded film to a television screen and frustrating to watch it on the small screen of a computer.

Owners of the Xbox have already connected it to a TV and, in most cases, the Net.

“What makes this big is that there’s no PC in the middle,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group.

Microsoft has negotiated the rights to rent or sell more than 1,000 hours of material from CBS, MTV, Paramount, Warner Bros and Turner Broadcasting.

The video store will work much like that of Apple Computer, with some important differences. While users will be able to keep television shows, movies can be rented for only a limited period. The videos will not be playable on other devices and cannot be burned onto DVDs, but users can log in to watch their videos on a friend’s Xbox.

Peter Moore, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for interactive entertainment, said that the price of standard-definition videos would be comparable to what competitors charged.

Apple’s iTunes charges $1.99 for an episode of a television program.

High-definition content will cost more, Moore said, because of the costs involved in storing it and making it available for downloading.

He further added the service was partly intended to make the Xbox more versatile and therefore more attractive.

New game consoles from Sony and Nintendo are due out this month, so extra features could help Microsoft keep up in the marketplace.

Microsoft has sold more than two million Xbox 360 consoles in the US. Most of those who buy the machines sign up for the Xbox Live service, which requires broadband Internet access and allows users to compete against each other.

Microsoft will go into the video business with a different business model. Microsoft, which analysts say loses money on each Xbox 360 it sells, expects to make up for that by selling games —and now video.

The video downloads will take up a lot of space. Microsoft says a one-hour television program in high definition will take up about 2 gigabytes of the console’s standard 20-gigabyte hard drive. Microsoft says the Xbox will play both movies and TV shows as they are being downloaded.

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