XBL getting on-demand HDTV, film

[UPDATE] Xbox 360s will be able to download HD movies, shows from CBS, MTV, WB, and more beginning November 22; no plans for larger hard drive.


Back in August, Microsoft announced it would distribute an extended episode of the sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica via Xbox Live. Today, Microsoft revealed it plans to further blur the line between the Xbox 360 as a gaming console and multimedia machine. Beginning November 22, the company will begin serving up on-demand movies and television programs from major studios for the console over Xbox Live.

Popcorn Time!
Popcorn Time!

Initially available only in the United States, the service will be part of Xbox Live Marketplace and promises to have about 1,000 hours of unique content, 200 of which will be at 720p high-definition resolution, available by the end of the year.

Microsoft has signed with six content partners in the endeavor, including CBS, Turner Broadcasting, Warner Bros., Paramount, MTV and its properties (Comedy Central, Cartoon Network, VH1, and more), and UFC, the Ultimate Fighting Championship league. The company would not go into details about the terms of the deals, nor would they say whether or not they had exclusive rights to the programming.

"This really highlights the difference between us and Sony," Shane Kim, general manager of Microsoft Game Studios told GameSpot. "Sony has a very hardware-centric approach. You have to buy the Blu-ray drive whether you want it or not...The fact that we're a software company gives an enormous competitive advantage, because we can add capabilities like this. This is totally integrated seamlessly for our users...That's a big, big difference when you talk about future-proofing and flexibility...We're in a much better position to continue to add capabilities, that's the big difference between the hardware-centric and software-centric approaches."

Television shows and movies will be available in both high definition (720p) and standard definition (480p). While TV programs will be buy-to-own and remain on the Xbox 360 hard drive until it is deleted by users, movies will be delivered on a rental basis. Downloaded movies remain on the hard drive for up to two weeks, but once a user begins watching the movie, it is deleted 24 hours later. For that period, however, the movie can be viewed as many times as the purchaser wants.

Batman Forever in HD!
Batman Forever in HD!

Full-length high-definition movies push 5GB in size, which, as any gamer who has downloaded a demo from Marketplace knows, will take a while to download. Fortunately for those who want near-instant gratification, videos can be viewed while downloading once an ample buffer is established. Microsoft said that standard definition television programs were "ready to play within minutes" of the download beginning.

The addition of movies and television programs to Xbox Live Marketplace instantly raises the question of hard drive space. Currently, Microsoft has no specific plans to upgrade the external hard drive, but they did acknowledge that it is an option in the future. Kim estimates that the current detachable 20GB hard drive that comes standard with the Xbox 360 Premium model can hold four to five hours of high-def content or about 15 hours of standard-definition video.

The new content will be accessible through a new branch of Xbox Live Marketplace appropriately titled Video Marketplace. From there, gamers can sort through a menu with the following tabs: Movies, TV Shows, Music Videos, Game Videos, and Clips, which will house bonus content such as DVD extras.

The new Video Marketplace.
The new Video Marketplace.

As an example, Xbox Live group marketing manager Aaron Greenberg browsed through a page on Marketplace dedicated to Adult Swim's Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The page, which he described as a "skinned store," featured an ATHF-themed background and more than a dozen episodes of the cartoon. Each episode could be previewed instantly on the same page, though it was unclear how long previews would last. Movies, on the other hand, will be previewed with their cinematic trailers.

While Microsoft was not ready to make announcements on what movies and shows would definitively be available on the service, samples included shows such as CSI, Robot Chicken, the original Star Trek, and Babylon 5. On the movie side, Microsoft showed off ATL, V for Vendetta, Poseidon, and older films such as Batman Forever and Lethal Weapon 4.

Each studio will set their own release dates, and Microsoft expects TV shows to be available on Xbox Live the day after they air on television, just as some networks do online. Pricing has not yet been determined but will be competitive with other similar services, like on-demand cable or Apple's iTunes store. Video content will be available to both Silver and Gold Xbox Live members simultaneously.

[UPDATE] Microsoft has announced the list of programming that it expects to be available on Xbox Live Marketplace before the end of the year.

Adult Swim
Robot Chicken, Aqua Teen Hunger Force
CSI, Survivor, Star Trek
Comedy Central
South Park, Chappelle's Show
The Real World, Pimp My Ride
Avatar: The Last Airbender, SpongeBob SquarePants
Nicktoons Network
Skyland, The Nicktoons Network Animation Festival
Paramount Pictures
Nacho Libre, Jackass: The Movie
Spike TV
Carpocalypse, Raising the Roofs
Race Rewind
The Ultimate Fighter, UFC: All Access
Breaking Bonaduce, Hogan Knows Best
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
The Matrix, Superman Returns, Batman Forever

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