Microsoft has been expected for some time to put together a movie and television show download service, but I thought it would be somehow tied to the company's upcoming Zune media player.
I overlooked what is becoming a very powerful weapon for the company in living room entertainment: the Xbox 360. Microsoft is announcing tonight that starting Nov. 22 it will begin offering movie rentals and television show purchases through the Xbox 360 video game console.
The service completely bypasses the personal computer and the Windows operating system. Other companies in this business, including Amazon.com and Movielink, offer downloads for the PC and leave it to users to figure out how to show those videos on the television. (Amazon has an explainer here).
For now, the Xbox movie service is limited to the 6 million Xbox 360 consoles that have sold. Will it drive more console sales, or at least help Microsoft meet its goal of selling 4 million units through the holidays?
Xbox chief Peter Moore says that if nothing else, it will help position the Xbox 360 as an all-around entertainment device that can appeal to each member of the family. If you're not a hardcore gamer, you can still find a reason to keep the system in your living room.
The service also stands out in that it offers videos in both standard-definition and high-definition content. But you can only download one clip at a time. Apple lets you download multiple videos at once, an ability that would be problematic when dealing with high-definition footage.
The Xbox service only rents movies, and doesn't sell them for purchase. Microsoft should at least have the movie rental terms that competing services like Movielink have, but it falls short in one crucial area: If you rent a movie and don't watch it within two weeks, it becomes unplayable. Movielink gives you 30 days to watch a rental.
With both services, you have to watch a rental within 24 hours of when it starts playing or else pay more to unlock it again.