Boosting the high-def capabilities of its Xbox 360 game console even further, Microsoft will begin selling the first HD movie and TV downloads via its Xbox Live internet service.
Set to kick off on November 22, a week after Microsoft releases its HD DVD add-on drive for the console, the Xbox 360's three million gamers in the U.S. will now be able to download high-def content to the hard drives in their consoles.
Movies will be offered as rental-only, and TV episodes as permanent downloads the day after broadcast. Microsoft has not yet announced pricing details.
Microsoft's initial lineup will include over 1,000 hours of programming. Currently, Warner and Paramount are the only two studios on board, including the libraries of their subsidiaries MTV Networks, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, CBS and Turner Broadcasting.
Some movie titles expected to be available at launch include Warner's 'Batman Begins' and 'V for Vendetta,' Paramount's 'Mission: Impossible' and 'Jackass' franchises, as well as such shows as 'South Park,' 'SpongeBob SquarePants," 'The Real World' and 'Pimp My Ride.'
"This groundbreaking announcement is a win for everyone," Microsoft corporate VP of interactive entertainment business Peter Moore said in a statement. "It connects our partners with one of the most coveted audiences in entertainment today and provides even greater value to our Xbox Live community, allowing them to enjoy the games and entertainment they want, when they want it."
Certainly, this is exciting news for the potential mainstream adoption of high-def content -- more options gives consumers more choice. But perhaps more importantly, it seems to be a very wise move for Microsoft, positioning the Xbox 360 not only as a game machine and HD DVD player (if you buy the add-on, of course), but also a true high-def "media hub." It also seems sure to give Sony's high-profile launch of the Blu-ray-driven PlayStation 3 in two weeks a real run for its money -- will high-def-interested gamers still flock to the PS3, or choose to spend their HD dollars downloading content to their existing Xbox 360s?
Of course, we'll have to wait and see just how user-friendly (and potentially time-intensive) downloading long-form high-def content through Xbox Live turns out to be, as well as if more studios join Warner and Paramount in supporting the platform. In any case, making the choice between the Xbox 360 or the PS3 -- or simply buying both -- just got a whole lot harder.