MovieBeam Delivers On-Demand Movies In HD

Earlier this week the video-on-demand movie service called MovieBeam was reborn, and will offer movies from six major Hollywood studios in standard definition, and high definition movies from Warner Bros. and Disney. According to MovieBeam, Disney, Miramax, and Touchstone titles will be available day and date with the DVD release, while movies from other studios will conform to a 30-45 day window between DVD release and on-demand availability. Although MovieBeam has specified that around 10% of its titles will be in HD, there is no word yet as to whether the day and date titles specifically will be in HD.

The MovieBeam system uses over-the-air datacasting. Customers buy a MovieBeam set-top box with a 160GB hard drive in it and a small indoor antenna. Movies are “datacast” over-the-air and recorded on and played back from the hard drive. The MovieBeam hardware costs $250 and carries a $50 rebate. There is a one-time $29 activation fee, and rentals, which offer unlimited viewing over a 24-hour period, range from $1.99-$4.99.

MovieBeam will have around 100 titles available at any given time, and about ten new titles each week. Standard definition new release movies will be $3.99, and HD movies $4.99. Standard def catalog titles will be $1.99, and HD catalog titles will rent for $2.99. It remains unclear at this time if the standard definition content will be 16:9 with 5.1-channel digital sound or 4:3.

MovieBeam was actually founded several years ago by Disney and, according to Reuters, was flagging when Disney took a $24 million write-down on the company in 2005. But in January a new infusion of nearly $50 million in cash from Disney, Cisco Systems (who recently purchased set-top box manufacturer Scientific Atlanta), Intel and three other venture capital firms brought the Disney spin-off back to life. The revamped MovieBeam is now available in 29 markets, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

MovieBeam set-top box will be branded as Linksys, which is Cisco’s consumer electronics line. The box is spec’d with a 160GB hard drive. To offer some perspective on that as a storage capacity, my DirecTV HD TiVo has a 250GB capacity, which is spec’d for 30 hours of HD video recording, or 200 hours of standard def. However, since it’s an a la carte, on-demand service that shouldn’t matter much.

MovieBeam is targeted to heavy renters, and it remains to be seen if the narrow selection of movies, focused on new releases, will be appealing enough for people to invest $200 in a new box. While operating over-the-air has the advantages of not relying on the not-yet-ubiquitous broadband Internet connection, it’s not known how reception of the over-the-air signals will function outside of the urban areas of the initial launch. And, while Disney, Miramax and Touchstone movies will be day and date with DVD releases, movies from other studios will lag behind in the 30-45 day window that currently exists between DVD release and pay-per-view/on-demand offerings.

Still, on-demand HD has beaten HD DVD and Blu-ray to market.