Download services 'could replace DVDs'

i said this was goin to happen years ago!

The Courier-Mail

November 07, 2009 12:00am

VIdeo rental shops and the humble DVD are in peril because of digital download services, experts claim. Picture: TIVO

VIDEO rental shops and the humble DVD are in peril as another two movie download services prepare to launch in Australia, experts claim.

Microsoft plans to add online movie rentals to its Xbox Live service next month, with 102 Hollywood films in the offering.

Movies will be available for streaming or download in both high and standard definition.

Microsoft's entry will bring to five the number of major Australian movie download services and Sony is expected to launch its movie service for the PlayStation 3 early next year.

DVD decline

Queensland University of Technology film and television production senior lecturer Jon Silver says movie download services such as these will prove popular and could replace DVDs within five years.

"DVDs are in decline around the world,'' Dr Silver says.

"It's in a mature stage of its product life cycle.

"My view is the download market or streaming market will replace DVDs but not in the short term. That's going to be a five to 10-year transition around the world.''

But media experts warn there will be plenty of hurdles to overcome before movie downloads become a part of everyday life, including internet download speeds, unrealistic download caps, data costs and the price of movies.

Direct downloads

Although it might seem like Microsoft is getting into the movie game early, the company has been offering film downloads in the US since November 2006.

Microsoft Xbox Live product marketing manager Andrew Jenkins says the company often uses the US as a testing ground for new products.

The company will launch the Xbox Live movie download service in Australia in the middle of this month.

After a small download, users will be able to flip through hundreds of movies from studios including Paramount and Universal Pictures in categories such as new releases, action and comedy.

"We have a lot of products there, from recent movies that started screening at the beginning of this year to the really early titles that are cult classics that you just want to watch,'' Jenkins says.

"You'll have the option to watch it in high definition or standard definition and you can watch a preview first if you'd like.''

Jenkins says Microsoft also will have two delivery options: stream or download.

Users may choose to download things in advance if their connections are slow, he says.

But Jenkins says Microsoft has implemented new video-streaming technology to make the most of broadband connections.

Stream dreams

Rather than downloading a movie and waiting until a buffer has been reached to play it, like YouTube, the Xbox 360 service offers "instant streaming'', Jenkins says, that lets viewers watch the film immediately and then changes the bandwidth to suit their internet connection.

"The way the technology works is it spits out a low stream first and it will quickly scale up to whatever your broadband is able to take advantage of, up to 1080p high definition with 5.1 audio,'' he says.

Users will need a broadband connection with a consistent 3Mbps download speed to watch movies in 720p quality, or 4Mbps to watch movies in full HD.

These movies will only be available to rent and will stay on the Xbox console for 14 days - but only 24 hours after a user starts to play it.

Jenkins says movies in the Xbox Live store will cost $4 for older titles and $8 for new releases "so they're comparable'' to video store rentals. But these movies also will use a significant portion of internet bandwidth. Jenkins says, as an example, Watchmen in high definition uses 6GB of data.

Fusion Strategy media analyst Steve Allen says this requirement, combined with high broadband prices and limited speeds, mean any movie download offering will be "a restricted service''.

"Movie downloads will work,'' he says. "There's plenty of television programs and movies that are already affected by downloads.

"It's a minor part of the overall market now but it's increasing and as soon as we have true fibre-optic broadband, the dynamics will change.''

But Dr Silver says broadband internet services and computer hardware have already come a long way as "it used to take 24 or 48 hours to download a movie ... now it takes 20 to 30 minutes''.

Dr Silver says the level of Apple iTunes movie sales proves media downloads can work.

The company sells 50,000 movies each day.

"Australia is still travelling a long way behind the US market (in movie downloads) and we're talking about a small market at the moment, but there's a lot of potential there.''


  • Xbox 360 - Rent: $8 new releases, $4 others. Buy: Not available.
  • Apple - Rent: $5.99 new releases, $3.99 others. Buy: $24.99 new releases, $9.99 others.
  • TiVo - Rent: $5.95 new releases, $3.95 others. Buy: Not available.
  • BigPond - Rent: $5.95 new releases, $3.95 others. Buy: Not available.
  • Foxtel - Rent: Free to subscribers. Buy: Not available.

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