Xbox Live to Carry HD Movies and TV

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November 22nd will be the one-year anniversary of the Xbox 360 gaming console; to mark the occasion, Microsoft plans to unveil a movie and television download service for the Xbox 360 which will offer more than 1,000 hours of standard and high-definition video content for sale via Microsoft’s Xbox Live Marketplace. Microsoft’s initial content partners in the new service include the Viacom outlets CBS, Paramount Pictures, and MTV Networks as well as Turner Broadcasting System, NASCAR.com, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

“This groundbreaking announcement is a win for everyone,” said Peter Moore, VP of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business, in a statement. “It connects our partners with one of the most coveted audiences in entertainment today, and provides even greater value to our Xbox Live community, allowing them to enjoy the games and entertainment they want, when they want it.”

XBox Live video offerings will be available for sale via the same Microsoft points gamers use to pay for other content on Xbox Live, although Microsoft has not yet revealed any pricing information for television shows or movies. Television shows will be offered on a download-to-own basis, while movies will available on a 24-hour “rent via download” basis. Both movies and television shows can only be downloaded and stored on the internal Xbox 360 drive; reportedly, purchased television shows can be downloaded as often as users like to any number of Xbox consoles and moved to other Xbox 360 consoles via the removable drive.

Microsft claims more than 1,000 hours of standard and high-definition content will be available for purchase or rental by the end of 2006. Highlights will include high-definition versions of CBS dramas CSI,Jericho,Numb3rs, and remastered episodes of Star Trek. Sample movie titles will include The Matrix,Superman Returns,Jackass: The Movie,Nacho Libre, as well as condensed versions of NASCAR NEXTEL racing from Race Rewind, the 50 most intense fights from Utimate Fighting Championship, and many original shows from MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, Adult Swim, and Spike TV.

High-definition offerings will reportedly be in VC-1/WMVHD format, at 720p resolution, 6.8Mbps with 5.1 surround audio. A typical high-definition one-hour television show would be 2 to 3 GB in size, while a high-definition movie would probably land between 4 and 5 GB, making broadband Internet access absolutely essential for the service. An hour-long standard-definition television show would probably be around 600 MB, with a standard-definition movie might be 1.5 to 2 GB. Obviously, some video content compresses better than others: an episode of an animated show like South Park will likely be smaller than an equivalent length of live action video, simply because animation’s flat colors and less-active backgrounds compress more effectively.

Microsoft’s move to offer high-definition film and television content to Xbox 360 owners is a clear shot across the bow of Apple’s iTunes movie sales and forthcoming iTV device, as well as IPTV and Internet movie rental and download services like Movielink, Akimbo, and Vongo. Even through the service will initially be available only to Xbox 360 owners…can a Windows-based service really be that far behind?

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