It turns out that Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is good for more than just
playing games and streaming the occasional transcoded video file.
Indeed, the game console can also be a source of movie and TV-episode
downloads using Microsoft’s online store, Xbox 360 Marketplace.
Vudu delivers more HD content than any other service, but achieving that image quality requires you to purchase a $300 box that can’t be truly integrated into the rest of your home network (meaning you can’t stream the content downloaded to it from one room to another). And the company currently has HD licensing deals with only Lionsgate, Paramount, and Universal; the rest of its offerings are limited to standard definition.
Vongo’s subscription business model puts it in a category all its own:
The service’s primary focus is to provide an all-you-can-eat
smorgasbord of movies and other video content that can be downloaded to
your PC for a $10 monthly fee. It doesn’t offer any for-purchase
content, and its TV offerings are nearly nonexistent.
Movie-rental outfit Blockbuster Entertainment acquired movie-download service Movielink in August 2007, but the company seems to have lost interest in its latest asset. When we contacted Blockbuster’s corporate communications department in preparation for this story, they couldn’t be bothered to provide us with Movielink’s phone number (which wasn’t listed on either company’s website). It’s easy to see why.
Apple’s tight connection with Disney (owner of the ABC television network and Pixar animation studio), its support for high-definition H.264 video, and a slick set-top box for playing your favorite TV shows and movies in your living room, render the iTunes Store an attractive proposition for home-theater enthusiasts. Too bad its video is limited to 720p.
CinemaNow offers newly released movies on the same pay-per-view model that most of the other services here (with the exception of Vongo) use, but the service also sells a limited collection of movies that can be downloaded and burned to a DVD that can be played anywhere. CinemaNow’s optional subscription service allows unlimited downloads, but these titles cannot be burned.
Most readers will be familiar with the BitTorrent peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol, which earned a somewhat notorious reputation as the tool of choice for people sharing large copyrighted files—particularly Hollywood movies—over the Internet. Bram Cohen, the programmer who originally created the protocol, has since founded BitTorrent, Inc. to exploit legal applications for his product. Movie downloads are one.
If you’re like us, you’ve bought a lot of traditional media, be it
DVDs, CDs, or—gasp!—books, from Amazon.com over the years yet have
downloaded little or no content from its digital stores. After spending
some time with Unbox—Amazon’s relatively new movie and TV download
service—we’re about ready to start using it regularly. With a broad
selection of inexpensive content and an easy and cheap way to get Unbox
content to your living room, we initially thought this would be the
service to beat—despite a complete lack of HD content.
Back when Roxio’s product was called Easy CD Creator, it was a favorite among enthusiast disc-makers, but over time it became bloated and buggy, allowing Nero to gain traction. Knowing this, it’s hard not to perceive a hint of one-upmanship in Easy Media Creator 10. This suite offers a whopping 29 individual apps to Nero’s 22 (whether that’s a good thing depends on your uses for such a bounty).
When you install Nero 8 Ultra, no fewer than 22 individual apps take up residence on your PC. Some cover very specific tasks, such as DriveSpeed (which, as you might guess, tests the speed of your drive). Others are much more ambitious, like Nero Home, a Media Center–like interface that serves as an entertainment hub for music and video playback, TV streaming and recording, and content sharing over a network, all via a large living-room-friendly interface.