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Rent or buy movies through your Xbox

Microsoft to offer downloadable high definition films and TV shows to Xbox 360 owners

Game Over is a regular column by Chris Morris

NEW YORK ( -- Microsoft is getting into the movie business. The company will announce plans Tuesday for Xbox 360 owners to buy or rent films and television shows via its online Xbox Live Marketplace.

The program, which will launch Nov. 22, expects to have over 1,000 hours of available content before the end of the year. Microsoft (Charts), which will unveil the program at BMO Capital Markets' Interactive Entertainment Conference, is not expected to announce pricing details until later this month.

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Microsoft's Xbox 360 will begin offering digital downloads of movies and TV shows in November.

The Xbox Live Marketplace has been an integral part of the success of the Xbox 360. Users are currently able to download video free game trailers and demos and purchase add-ons for games (such as new levels or in-game accessories). Last December, Microsoft began experimenting with Hollywood, premiering the trailer for "Mission Impossible III" in the Marketplace.

Users will be able to rent major Hollywood releases, such as "V for Vendetta" and "Nacho Libre," and purchase television programming such as "CSI" and "South Park". Some, but not all, will be in a high definition format

Users who download a film will have up to two weeks in which to watch it. Once they start, though, the clock begins ticking. Microsoft said after a user has hit play, the film will only be viewable for 24 hours, before locking and becoming inaccessible.

Purchased television shows will be viewable as long as they remain on the Xbox 360's hard drive.

Several major media companies have signed on to support the initiative. Time Warner (Charts) (the parent company of will lend films, television shows and NASCAR features from its Warner Bros and Turner Broadcasting subsidiaries. Viacom (Charts) will help broaden the film library with films from Paramount Studios and shows from CBS, including high definition versions of "CSI," "Jericho," "Numb3rs" and "Survivor" - as well as newly remastered high definition versions of the original "Star Trek". Additionally, Viacom's MTV Networks will contribute shows from MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon and Spike TV. Ultimate Fighting Championship will also supply programming.

Microsoft said it has developed a progressive download technology which will allow users to begin watching the program or film before it has downloaded entirely to the Xbox 360's hard drive. Shorter programs, such as "South Park," will be viewable instantly. Longer features, such as a high definition film, will require a short wait, so they can build up a cache.

The move to digital distribution of video programming is not entirely surprising for Microsoft. The company faces stiff competition this holiday season from Sony (Charts) and Nintendo. Sony's PlayStation 3 is expected to offer a similar service, though this will not be available when the system goes on sale Nov. 17.

Microsoft has already announced its response to the PS3's included Blu-Ray DVD drive. In mid-November, an HD-DVD peripheral for the Xbox 360 is scheduled to go on sale for $200 (though Microsoft has still not given a firm launch date for the drive).

While the company has been just as hesitant to commit to exact pricing information for the film and movie content, don't expect any major surprises.

"Pricing for standard definition [media] will be commensurate with what you see on other services," said Scott Henson, director of platform strategy for Microsoft. "High def will be higher, but not by much."

Apple (Charts)'s iTunes charges $1.99 for TV shows and $9.99 to $14.99 to purchase movies. Microsoft, of course, will only rent movies.

Morris is Director of Content Development for Send him an email at Top of page

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