HD Download Lowdown

It was an epic effort requiring superhuman vision and hearing and, above all, heroic resolve. For in order to download the high-definition version of Superman Returns onto Microsoft's Xbox 360 at the Sound & Vision video lab, I, too, would have to return - and return, and return ...

More on that later. First, let us catapult into orbit and zip around the world counter-rotationwise, faster and faster, till the earth reverses direction, bringing us back in time to where this treacherous story begins.

The setting: Any Metropolis, USA, during the great high-def-disc format wars of 2006. The two battling factions, HD DVD and Blu-ray, are locked in stalemate, each side parading its big, swinging lasers and refusing to give an inch to its opponent - forget surrendering the crusade. Meanwhile, upon an über-sturdy fence sit millions of onlookers, none buying either format till a victor emerges. And over on every tech blog, there's some geek-head declaring, "Let them have their format war. By the time it's all finished, both formats will be obsolete - we'll all be downloading high-def."

Flash forward a few months, and sure enough, HD downloading has become an actual alternative. Microsoft launched its Xbox Live feature late last year, allowing Xbox 360 owners to download games and movies - including select HD titles; Moviebeam offers roughly half a dozen high-def downloads (all pretty much from the Disney family); and Apple's new Apple TV unit is spec'd to allow the playing of 720p video. Meanwhile, of course, some cable providers do offer a selection of high-def on-demand movies (though limited - Cablevision, for instance, has mostly been carrying small films such as the Julianne Moore flick, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio).