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November 26, 2006

Xbox Live Video Marketplace

Filed under HDTV, Reviews, Xbox 360

The Xbox Live Video Marketplace went live on November 22, 2006...one year after the Xbox 360 launched. Here's another review with some nice pics.

The video marketplace lets you rent/buy movies and TV shows. The biggest news is that some of the content is offered in HD...and I'm all about HD now. For more details on the video marketplace see the FAQ (part 1 and part 2).

So on the 22nd, I found an HD movie to test out, "V for Vendetta".  I rented it for 480 Microsoft Points or $6 (80 MP = $1). I started the download before I went to work. The movie was a 6 GB download. In 30 minutes I had about 7% downloaded. I went to work and figured the whole movie would be finished by the time I got home.

Wrong! When I got home, the download was at 36% complete. I let it run for the rest of the night and I only got to 40% before the download ended in an error message. I was charged for the movie even though I never finished downloading it. 

I tried to download the movie again before I left for Thanksgiving. I was charged a second time for the download. When I came back, the movie was downloaded. Since I was gone for a few days, I have no idea how long it took to download.

Apparently Microsoft was having some growing pains with the video marketplace. Many people were reporting slow and failed downloads. Microsoft's Major Nelson acknowledged the problem and gave a number to call (800-4MYXBOX) to get credit for failed downloads.

I finished watching the movie this morning. The video quality was beautiful. However, I did notice a jerkiness during scenes with motion, like when the credits moved up the screen. I saw a similar issue when I first watched a DVD on my 360, but it was cleared up with a patch...hopefully this issue will be fixed as well.

The controls are fairly limited. The remote control works much better than using the 360 controller since you can access functions directly without having to go to an on screen menu. There are not a lot of control options:

  • Play/pause
  • Fast forward/Rewind (2x, 4x, 8x). At the fastest speed, it takes ~7 seconds to skip a minute. This makes skipping to a particular part of a movie *very* frustrating.
  • Chapter Skip. Normally a chapter skip moves to the beginning of scenes in a movie. This *could* work that way, but in this movie it did not. The movie was divided into "chapters" by creating a chapter every 8 seconds. The chapter skip will move you to the next or previous chapter. This is pretty useless without some logic behind the chapter locations.
  • Info. This shows the time elapsed and a countdown to the end of the movie.
  • Format. You can switch from the default view (which looks good) to a "letterbox" view which adds black bars to the left and right as well as top and bottom...effectively turning your HDTV into a SD TV. I guess you might use this feature if you are watching HD content on a SD TV.

The video is 720p, which looks great. The sound is in Dolby Digital 5.1.

What is missing? You don't get the chapter search that you get with a DVD. Also, there is no visual scene selection like most DVD's have. There is no way to do slow motion. There are no DVD extras, like director's commentaries or behind the scenes features. There is no support for subtitles, which I use a lot when I have trouble understanding what an actor says.

I called 800-4MYXBOX to fix the issue with the double charge on the one movie I downloaded. I spent at least 10 minutes on hold until I got to talk to somebody. The person I talked to would ask me a question and then would interrupt me every time I tried to answer her which meant she would have to ask me for the information again...it almost made me wish Microsoft would outsource their call center. After 30+ minutes on the phone, I finally got my credit...but I don't think I should have ever had to call. Microsoft knew there was a problem. They know what I've downloaded and when I've watched it. I would have expected them to correct the issue without any need for me to call in. Oh well.

You have 24 hours to finish watching a rental from when you start watching. When you look at the movie in your downloaded movie area, it indicates how much time is left in the 24 hour window. After my 24 hour window expired, I wondered what would happen if I tried to play the movie again. I just tried it and the movie started playing...no "Do you want to rent this movie again?" dialog. It doesn't look like I was charged for it, but after all the troubles they are having and since they have given me a credit for multiple charges on "V for Vendetta", who knows if this is the normal behavior.

I'm excited about the future of Xbox Live Video Marketplace. If I have the choice between watching an HD-DVD (my player is shipping this week!) or an HD video from the marketplace, I'd choose the HD-DVD every time. But, I do see utility in the Video Marketplace. Video Marketplace will eventually allow me to watch TV shows that I may have missed that are not yet available on DVD or HD movies that are not yet available on HD-DVD (or are instead on Blu-ray). I hope more and more content providers jump on the Video Marketplace.

Comments (1)

Mike Schriever:

I feel the rentals are too expensive. A dollar is what I am willing to spend. Right now, I do Netflix. For 47 dollars I get 8 movies at a time. Where I live, the turnaround is 2 days. I watch about 2 movies a night, so 60ish movies a month. At Microsoft prices, that would be 240 bones... not to mention I couldn't download that much if I wanted to. While I like the notion of the Marketplace, it isn't where a somewhat tech savy person such as me, will use it.

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