After years of waiting, it appears as if Microsoft are delivering on-demand movies and TV shows to Australian Xbox 360 owners. What took them so long?
At E3 last month, Microsoft announced a new Xbox Live service called Zune Video. It will let 360 owners stream video content at resolutions up to 1080p. Importantly, it was announced for all major territories, including Australia and New Zealand.
It's been nearly three years since Xbox Live Video Marketplace launched in North America, eighteen months since it launched in Europe, and just over a year since we heard about its prospects in Australia.
Xbox Australia's marketing manager Jeremy Hinton explained to me why it had taken so long:
"We work really hard every day to bring as many services as we can, and as quickly as we can, to Australian consumers. With video marketplace in particular, we've been working for a long time to get all of the rights signed off and locked away. That been a sticking point for us, but we're now in a position where that's done."
With all those deals done, Microsoft had to decide whether to go with the existing Video Marketplace service or wait a bit longer for Zune Video. They chose the latter, says Hinton:
"We're very excited about getting the streaming video service to Australia. It's confirmed, it is coming, and we'll have some news in the not-too-distant future regarding launch dates, prices, content partners, etc. We're still just finalising those details now.
"The exciting thing for me is the experience. I have to stress this is brand new, Microsoft proprietary technology that we're getting at the same time as the rest of the world. The fact that you can have 1080p, instant-start technology is just fantastic. So the best time for us to roll out the service is with this new technology, which is coming this side of Christmas.
"In the past there have been two challenges to this sort of technology. One is simply getting it into the living room, as usually it's been via a PC, but now we have the box already in the room. And two, it's always been an experience of 'If I wanna watch this movie, I have to wait five hours for it to download'. With this, you can say 'I wanna watch the Dark Knight' and you can switch on your Xbox, press play and you're watching it within seconds."
But the other challenge is whether Australia's broadband network is ready for it. Microsoft says you need an 8Mbps connection to stream at 1080p, though there are options to download and watch later or even adjust the resolution on the fly. Hinton says they don't know how many Xbox 360 owners have an 8Mbps connection, although they do know from speaking with ISPs that increasingly their standard connection is above that speed.
Of course, speed is only half of the issue. We have significantly tighter download caps in Australia than overseas, especially in the US. Streaming or downloading 1080p films like The Dark Knight would chew through your cap at an alarming rate. Hinton says this is something they are addressing:
"We're doing a lot of work with ISPs. Late last year we announced a partnership with iiNet whereby all Xbox content is unmetered on their plans. Increasingly we're trying to work with ISPs to say, this is an active community, these are consumers who are downloading a lot of content, and we need to have a better solution for them here in this market.
"With any of these partnerships, we do need to work in consultation with each ISP, and each provider does work a bit differently. Since our video-on-demand announcement [at E3] , more ISPs are coming to us directly and saying 'We want to understand how to best work with your platform so that consumers can have the best experience on our plans'."
Video Marketplace has been a hit, with Microsoft revealing a year ago that one-third of all Xbox Live transactions were for video content. Are you looking forward to getting video on demand on your 360? And, perhaps more importantly, do you have the internet plan to handle it?