Movie rental downloads are the wave of the future. It’s not rocket science. People want convenience and hate to waste time and gas driving to their local video store. From the movie studio’s perspective, the shift to downloadable content can’t come soon enough. The switch to downloadable movies will free them from all the costs associated with the production, storage, distribution and packaging of physical media. They can still sell the movies for a healthy amount, but show increased profits.

The capability to rent downloadable movies has been with us for a few years now. The problem for many people has been twofold; the lack of widespread broadband Internet access, and the requirement to use a computer to view the movies. Even if the computer was successfully hooked to a TV (sometimes no mean feat in itself) for a larger picture, there were all sorts of other issues associated with computer use that made this a less than satisfactory solution for the majority of movie renters.

The passage of time has largely solved the broadband issue. An April, 2008 report from research firm Scarborough Research revealed broadband penetration is up over 300% since 2002. Nationally, 49% of households have broadband Internet access, and that number continues to increase with the continued rollout of services such as Verizon’s FIOS. As more households get broadband the demand for renting movies via Internet download will increase even further.

The greater gains however, will come from the introduction of alternative methods of downloading movie rentals. To this end, a plethora of products and services have been introduced or are planned for market introduction. Most cable companies offer some sort of video on demand rental service. The quality and selection of these offerings vary, MLSBD but they are available to many people.

For people that don’t have cable or for various reasons want a different service, there are other options available. TiVO has partnered with to offer the ability to rent movies from the Amazon Unboxed service. That collaboration has a lot going for it. TiVO has a universally praised user interface, offers HD capability from off air or cable services, and integrates the Amazon Unboxed service seamlessly into their interface to make things extremely easy for consumers.

AppleTV is a piece of hardware that allows people to download movies from the Apple iTunes Store for viewing on their TV. It’s a small, set top box like unit that connects to the Internet, and retrieves movies from the iTUNEs library. As with most things from Apple Inc. it is well designed and has an easy to use interface. It doesn’t stop at movies either. You can watch TV shows, music videos, and YouTube videos as well. It also allows A/V content from your computer to be viewed on your TV. There is a 24hr window from the time for movie rentals, after which the movies vanish, along with your rental fee. It’s like video on demand, but with a much larger library.

HD video for the Apple TV is delivered in 720p (You can watch them in 720p or 1080i). With Apple TV 2, the bitrate is about 1/8th that of Blu-Ray, so the video obviously isn’t as good, but it’s not bad either, and you don’t have to get off your couch. A problem for some is that there is no form of video below component 480i. If you have an older TV that doesn’t have component inputs, you’re out of luck. Another issue is the FF and rewind performance. The movie must be rebuffered to do this so it doesn’t work like your regular DVD player or cable company’s video on demand.

Something else that has been making inroads lately is the movie download box from Vudu, in California. In concept and form factor it’s much like AppleTV. This slick piece of hardware allows movies to be downloaded from the giant Vudu movie, concert, and TV show archive. They have a huge library, with over 10,000 titles, comprising movies, TV shows and concert videos. It offers the largest selection of all the services at this time.

The Vudu’s ace in the hole is its’ interface and its’ incredible ease of use. 5-year old children and 90 year old technophobes alike will have no problems with this thing, it’s really that easy. The RF remote only has 5 buttons and a scroll wheel. The interface is very much like the extremely expensive home movie servers from the likes of Kaleidescape, AMX and Axonix. No question those devices are cool as it gets, but at upwards of $30,000, they’re relegated to the homes of the very wealthy. The Vudu, on the other hand, is only $299, before any promotions. Vudu has no monthly service fees.

The Vudu team has done a great job on the interface, but that doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work, but it does, and very well too. Once a movie is selected, it plays instantly, with no lag, just like a DVD would. You can use the composite video output for older TVs, but most people will use either the component video or HDMI outputs, both of which now offer HD output. The HDMI will go up to 1080p/24 with their latest upgrade. The audio is in Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 at up to 40% higher bit rate than a standard DVD.

The Vudu comes in 2 flavors, a 250GB standard unit, or a 1TB, expandable unit that’s targeted more toward the custom installation community. You can rent the movies, with a 24 hour time limit to complete the viewing from the time “play” is pressed. Some title are rental only, while others must be bought, and some allow both.


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