Microsoft Will Offer Video Downloads to Xbox

Microsoft will launch a new service later this month that allows customers to download movies and television programs through their Xbox 360 gaming consoles.

The company has signed deals that allow it to sell or rent an initial 1,000 hours of programming from CBS Broadcasting, Viacom’s MTV Networks and Paramount Pictures, Turner Broadcasting System, Zuffa’s Ultimate Fighting Championship and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Customers will be able to delete the TV programs they buy and then download them again an unlimited number of times. This is probably due to the Xbox 360’s relatively limited, 20GB of storage capacity, said Jonathan Coham, an analyst for Ovum.

The 20GB of storage "significantly limits the console’s ability to store premium content, especially considering it is required for game updates and saving files," he wrote in a research note. Microsoft should offer better storage capabilities rather than ask users to keep downloading the content they have already bought, he said.

While Microsoft hasn’t new storage plans for the Xbox 360, the console is designed in a way that could accommodate a larger hard drive in the future, a spokeswoman for one of the company’s public relations agencies said.

Movies will be available for rental and can be stored on the Xbox for up to 14 days, but once the movie starts playing, the customer will have 24 hours in which to view it. The content will also be offered in high-definition format for an extra charge.

The service will be available to Xbox Live subscribers on Nov. 22 from Microsoft’s Xbox Live Marketplace, an online store where Xbox users buy updates to games, demos and other content. Xbox Live is a subscription service that lets gamers compete against others online. About 4 million gamers subscribe to Xbox Live, according to Ovum.

The movies and TV programs will be available only in the United States, at least initially. Microsoft is working with content partners in other regions, but doesn’t have more to reveal about international availability yet, the spokeswoman said.

The company also didn’t reveal pricing for the movies or TV programs. The content available will include the TV shows CSI, Survivor, South Park and remastered Star Trek episodes, and the movies Nacho Libre, The Matrix and Superman Returns.

Other gaming platforms don’t yet offer a similar entertainment service, although Sony Computer Entertainment has hinted that a video download service might come for the PlayStation. Xbox users can play DVDs from their console, and Sony’s upcoming PlayStation 3 will play movies on the new Blue-ray disc format.

Consumers have other options for downloading movies and TV programs and watching them on their televisions, including using Microsoft’s Media Center software. However, those services typically require a computer attached to the television and are sometimes complicated to set up. Gaming console makers have advantages over other companies offering Internet television services in that their equipment is already located in the living room and connected to a TV, Coham said.

By Nancy Gohring, IDG News Service (Dublin Bureau)

Check out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.

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