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HD for High Definition – XBox 360 Delivers Movies

Over on The M Show I mentioned an article last week from Variety that named the XBox 360 the leader in movie downloads via the web (beating out even Amazon). Since I managed to score a 360 for Christmas I thought I would put it to the test and download my first HD movie.

You buy (actually rent) the movies by spending Microsoft Points from your XBox live account. So – just to bring you up to speed – you need the XBox 360 console at $399 (includes a 20GB hard drive, not the core system which is cheaper, but does not have the hard drive), and then an XBox Live account which I think is around $50 a year (I rolled my old XBox account onto the new box).

You then by the coin of the realm – Microsoft Points at 1000 points for $12.50. I can see why they do this so that they don’t have to worry about international currencies, but there is what I call the “casino chip” effect – you’re not really thinking hard about how much a point is worth and you don’t really think of it as “real money” so you tend to burn through them.
I was also suprised there was no volume discount on Microsoft Points, you can buy in increments of 500, 1000, 2000, or 5000 but all at the same rate.

There are currently 64 movies available, and 71 different TV shows (multiple seasons for many shows such as CSI, and you can select individual episodes of the TV shows). I chose V for Vendetta (great movie by the way) at 480 credits – $6 – for HD (320 credits – $4 – for the widescreen 480p – DVD resolution). Note that the file sizes were 1.7GB for the 480p and 6.1GB for the HD version. This is smaller than a normal DVD file for the 480p and same for the HD so there’s some kind of funky compression going on (probably a flavor of WMV?)

I have a fast RCN cable modem and I think the download took around 30 or 40 minutes. I’m not really sure, I started the download and switched to a game and it finished in the background, not exactly on-demand, but faster than Netflix or me carting my fat self over to the Hollywood Video.
The Digital Rights Management (DRM) is hardcore. You have 14 days from original download, or 24 hours from the first time you start watching it before it deletes itself. Not a huge deal because the 20GB drive can only hold 2 or 3 movies because I also have game demos on the drive.

A downer – you have no DVD chapters, only the normal tape controls (FF, Rew, Pause). This was a bit of a bummer because there was only one scene where the higher definition took my breath away and it was only a split second so it wasn’t worth going back a second time.

I can see why HD is fantastic for sports, but it only made a difference in once scene for me in the film. On the other hand I switched over to a normal DVD next and was surprised at how fuzzy it looked. It’s strange you don’t notice going up, but then you do notice going back down.

The thing I liked most is that for $6 I’ve been able to skip the HD DVD format wars completely. Let Sony choke on Blue-Ray (didn’t anyone learn anything from Betamax?). Why even bother with the XBox 360 HD upgrade? I’m not going to buy a single disc until the format wars are over if I can rent first run HD for $6 a pop.