Download Movies Legally, for a Price

You are even allowed to burn a back-up copy of the file to DVD or to another hard drive. In order to play that back-up copy or use the file on other PCs, you'll need an Internet connection. This will allow you to hop over to the Movielink Web site to enter a password and PIN number to authorize any of those devices to play the file. (CinemaNow will be able to play films on just one computer.)

At both sites, movies will be priced comparably with DVDs: $20 to $30 for new flicks, and $10 to $20 for catalog titles at Movielink; and $10 to $20 for catalog and new titles at CinemaNow. Movielink is offering 300 films at launch, while CinemaNow has about 85 titles.

Though supplying lower-resolution movie downloads for use on portable devices and offering price breaks for buying both the DVD and the electronic download may seem like natural developments, neither company has plans for these options. "We expect that in the future we will open up delivery to Microsoft Portable Media Center devices, but we are not announcing that today," says Movielink's Ramo.

Competition in the video download space is heating up as Hollywood explores its options. "There is nothing to prevent studios from selling to anyone they want to," observes Ramo.

The next logical step is to bring digital downloads to consumers' favorite Web storefronts. Warner Home Video is launching just such a service in Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands; the company announced today a deal with Free Record Shop, a popular entertainment chain, to offer digital versions of about 100 Warner Brothers films for sale alongside DVDs. Ruud Lamers, managing director of Warner Home Video Benelux, says, "We want to make sure that when we are fighting illegal downloading, we have a legitimate alternative out there." This service is available only in these three countries, however.

As with CinemaNow, the movies will be available for playback only on the device you downloaded them to, and they are protected by Windows Media 10 digital rights management. Lamers also describes these movies as DVD-quality, and expects a typical user to need about 2 hours to download a film over a broadband connection.

Though portable devices aren't supported yet, Lamers says that Warner is working with Free Record Shop "to explore this in the future. There are so many portable devices, though, and each needs its own technical specifications, and that's the challenge we face." "Our goal," he adds, "is to make our content available to as many possible consumers through as many ways as possible."

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