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MovieBeam Delivers Digital Movies Direct to Customers’ Home Theaters

MovieBeam Delivers Digital Movies Direct to Customers’ Home Theaters

Apr 3, 2006 8:00 AM

Installers may soon have to find more room in the rack for consumers who want the latest videos without having to leave the house. The MovieBeam video rental service has moved out of trials and into stores in 29 metro areas throughout the country. The Disney-, Intel-, and Cisco-backed service delivers digital movies to households equipped with a Linksys-branded box packing a 160GB hard disk and decoder.

The box (about $230 after rebate) comes pre-loaded with 100 movies that are automatically swapped out over several weeks according to a schedule set by studios. Additional movies are beamed to the box as compressed Windows Media Video 9 files over the PBS feed of the NTSC television signal. The box decodes the digital files and upconverts them to 720p video before sending them on to a display over HDMI, component, S-VHS, or composite video. Of the 100 titles always available, at least eight are expected to be original high-definition content.

Customers will pay a rental fee for each movie they want to view. The 24-hour rentals have a tiered pricing structure starting at $1.99 for standard-definition catalog titles and $2.99 for SD new releases. HD movies price at $3.99 for catalog titles and $4.99 for new releases. MovieBeam new releases coincide with the home video DVD schedule, and the company says it has the support of most major studios. At press time, Sony Pictures was a noticeable exception, although MovieBeam officials note that Sony took part in MovieBeam trials and is expected to sign on as well.

Once customers have selected a title, they have 24 hours to view the film. They can fast-forward, pause, and rewind titles as much as they like within the 24-hour period, but if they’re in the middle of a movie when the rental period expires, the movie shuts off midstream. The MovieBeam box has a simple user interface and offers the ability to search movies by artist, director, genre, and other criteria. Parental controls and weekly spending limits can be programmed into software by the installer or customer. MovieBeam’s timed rental structure could be a headache for installers if customers are shut out of a movie they’ve purchased. Installers may remember the unpopular features of the doomed Divx rental service, which launched in the early days of DVD and crashed less than two years later. It too involved a limited viewing window. MovieBeam officials maintain that the service will appeal to consumers as an alternative to trekking to the video store for the latest releases. According to Carl Crabill, MovieBeam VP of sales and marketing, research shows that most consumers view movies within a day of renting a movie.

Most custom clients would probably want a purchase option. Crabill says future plans call for a possible rent-to-own model in which consumers could burn movies to a DVD after paying a purchase fee. Digital rights management issues currently prevent that option, but company officials see future applications in which the MovieBeam box connects to a DVD recorder or Media Center PC for recording.

MovieBeam won’t sell a box to an account that doesn’t fall within the antenna mapping system for broadcast TV. You have to enter a zip code prior to purchase to determine whether your home’s location is within reception range of the analog broadcast signal that carries MovieBeam files. The component-size box comes with a small antenna used to receive a terrestrial signal over the air. A phone line is also required to transmit purchase information from the box to the service, but it doesn’t factor into the movie download process. The box is being sold at Sears, Circuit City, CompUSA, and

The Linksys box also packs an Ethernet port, which is expected to be used in the not-too-distant future as a low-cost solution for multi-room video.

Out of the gate MovieBeam had some problems related to HDMI connections. Early adopters of the MovieBeam service reported problems with signal pass-through on the HDMI connection to Mitsubishi TVs. MovieBeam says the issue involved the unique handshake cycles of Mitsubishi HDCP copyright protection circuitry and has not occurred with other TV brands. A software download fix was in the works at press time, and MovieBeam said it would reach boxes as part of a service update.

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