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HD VOD Trickling to Consumers

1 Jun, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf

Glory Road is among the HD selections offered by MovieBeam.

As high-definition discs trickle into the market, consumers with the right home theater systems already can experience high-def movies via video-on-demand.

About 10% of set-top VOD provider MovieBeam's catalog is available in high-definition, said Brent Jenkins, VP of programming.

The service's HD lineup includes a selection of feature films such as Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol 2, Analyze This, Glory Road, Bubble, Mission to Mars and The Iron Giant.

The company has been offering HD titles since its February launch. Its selection continues to grow as content holders become increasingly comfortable allowing content for HD release, he said.

MovieBeam charges an extra dollar — $2.99 versus $1.99 per movie — to order an HD version. The films take up more space on the “data casting” embedded digital signal the service uses to deliver content. HDTV set owners who also have MovieBeam can choose the cheaper standard-definition offer too, Jenkins said. The signal automatically downconverts the content if the user purchases the standard option.

Households enabled with HDTV sets are hungry for more programming to view in the enhanced format, VOD providers said. There are still a lot of gaps in HD cable and network TV programming.

Feedback at MovieBeam has been good so far, and the company looks at its HD selection as providing added value for its users, Jenkins said.

“In general, [customers] are glad that there is an outlet for HD content they didn't have before,” he said.

Moviebeam's HD movies are only accessible for viewers who have HDTV sets with HDMI. This is the source that keeps the copy protection intact.

“Security is the primary thing that studios are concerned with right now,” Jenkins said. “It's also much more expensive to produce, and it's a very narrow-margin business.”

More than 25% of U.S. households are expected to have HDTV sets by the end of this year, thanks to increased affordability, according to Jupiter Research. According to the Liechtman Research Group, 55% of domestic households will have at least one HD-capable TV set by the end of 2010.

More than 30% of consumers in a Forrester Research report conducted in 2005 said their next TV will be HD-ready.

The Internet offers few high-definition VOD options. Movielink.com doesn't have HD titles yet. But CinemaNow.com has been offering HD content for about a year, for the Windows Media Video High-Definition DVD (WMV-HD DVD) format, protected with Microsoft DRM.

CinemaNow has 82 titles in its HD cache, including Warner Music's concert video Green Day: Bullet in a Bible, as well as news and documentary programs from HDNet, the “Get Out” travelogue series and Imax selections.

“Demand is good,” said Bruce Eisen, CinemaNow president. “It's not blowing the doors off, principally because of the obvious issues: The file size is large, it takes longer to download, and the technology is more sophisticated.

“And well, it's not Harry Potter,” he added.

CinemaNow users who want to purchase HD content must have computers equipped with Windows XP, Windows Media Player 10. Other minimum requirements include a 2.4GHz processor, 384MB of ram, a 64MB video card, 1024x768 screen resolution and a 16-bit sound card.

But, if users also have an HDTV set, they can connect their computer to their TV and use that screen for viewing CinemaNow downloads in lieu of the computer monitor.

Any CinemaNow download can actually be viewed this way. The site offers a tutorial section on hooking the computer up to the TV.

It was important for CinemaNow to get out in front of the demand for HD VOD, Eisen said. CinemaNow is one of the few, if not the only, online destination for HD VOD content.

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