11 video download stores compared

NBC’s recent decision to end selling television shows through the iTunes store, is a reminder that, unlike digital music, Apple isn’t the undisputed king of online video. In fact, far from it. Aside from the numerous ad-supported video sites, of which YouTube is the industry leader, there exists a plethora of paid-for video download stores — both rental and purchase-to-own — each of which is hoping to take a large slice of this emerging and potentially lucrative market.

In this post, we take a look at eleven paid-for video download stores, noting that while there appears to be much competition, many of the resulting services lack innovation, in terms of their technology choices and how they approach copy-protection.

Movielink

Movielink logoOriginally a joint venture created by five of the major studios: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. Studios, the service was recently acquired by Blockbuster. The content on offer includes television shows and movies from those studios, along with Walt Disney Pictures, Miramax, Lionsgate and others.

Although you can browse and pay for content from the Movielink website (which requires Internet Explorer), to download and manage videos, users need to install the Movielink Manager software. From then on it’s a standard Windows Media DRM affair, whereby rentals can be stored for up to 30 days and expire 24 hours after the first viewing, and in some cases, downloads can be played back on up to three PCs (depending on the original content-owners’ wishes), while others are limited to one PC.

In addition to playback on a computer, there are a number of ways of getting Movielink content onto a television, using Media Extenders based on Intel’s Viiv platform, such as those offered by Netgear and D-Link, as well the Xbox 360 in conjunction with Windows Media Center or Windows Vista Premium. According to the the website, Movielink is also supported by Portable Media Center (PMC) devices that are capable of syncing with Windows Media Player, which doesn’t include the iPod or PSP. Interestingly, users of AT&T’s Homezone set-top-box can also purchase and playback Movielink content.

Platform:
Windows-only

Territory:
U.S.-only

Pricing:
$1.99 – 19.99 (to-own)
$.99 – 4.99 (rental)

Direct2Drive

Direct2DriveIGN-owned Direct2Drive offers television and movie downloads — purchase-to-own only — alongside PC games and other types of content, such as digital comic books and video gaming guides.

The movie catalog is mostly Hollywood offerings (both new releases and older films), with television downloads including shows such as 24, Prison Break, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which can be purchased in single episodes or as a season pass.

Once again, extra software is required to manage downloads, which, as with Movielink, utilize Microsoft’s Windows Media DRM. Content can be played back on up to two PCs, along with two “transfers” to supported PlayForSure portable devices. One nice touch is that users are permitted to re-download any content which they’ve purchased in the event of a hard drive failure.

Platform:
Windows-only

Territory:
U.S.-only

Pricing:
Television shows $1.99 per episode or approx. $39.99 for a season.
Movies $9.99 – $19.99

BitTorrent

BitTorrent.comBitTorrent.com is the legitimate download store brought to us by the same people behind the peer-to-peer technology which powers lots of filesharing sites (many of which link to pirated content). The site sells movie and television downloads, alongside other content such as games and music. BitTorrent’s film catalog is a mix of independent, niche and Hollywood content, while the television shows on offer come from major studios, including Comedy Central, FOX, NBC and Warner Bros.

Although content can be browsed and paid-for through the website itself, users will need the BitTorrent client to manage downloads. Once again, the videos themselves use Microsoft’s Windows Media DRM, limiting playback to Windows PCs as well as supported media extenders such as the XBox 360.

Content is offered on both a purchase-to-own and rental basis (rentals must be downloaded within 30 days from the transaction, and expire 24 hours after the first play). An additional feature of the service is that video rentals can actually be downloaded without making a commitment, since you have the option to pay only once you begin watching.

Platform:
Windows-only

Territory:
Varies per video, although the majority of content appears to be U.S.-only

Pricing:
Television shows $1.99 per episode.
Movies $3.99 – $14.99 (to-own) $3.99 (rental)

CinemaNow

CinemaNow logoCinemaNow offers movies, television shows and music concerts from more than 250 studios including 20th Century Fox, ABC News, Disney, HDNet, Lionsgate, MGM, Miramax, NBC Universal, Paramount Pictures, Sony, Sundance Channel and Warner Bros.

In addition to purchase-to-own content — which can be transfered and played back on up to three devices — CinemaNow offers subscription-based and rental on-demand streaming. The service also gives users the option to convert and burn certain content to a regular DVD, which can then be played back on virtually any stand-alone DVD player.

Purchase to-own content is downloaded and managed using CinemaNow’s Media Manager software, which also enables streaming to an XBox 360. Additionally, the service is supported by various Archos personal media players, as well as HP’s upcoming line of MediaSmart LCD TVs.

Platform:
Windows-only

Territory:
U.S.-only

Pricing:
Movies/TV $3.99 – $14.99 (to-own)

Amazon Unbox

Amazon UnboxAmazon Unbox sells movie and television downloads — both purchase-to-own and rental. Content comes from major Hollywood and TV studios, in addition to independent content, some of which is drawn from the company’s own self-publishing service, Createspace.

Content can be viewed using the Amazon Unbox Video Player, Windows Media Player, a PlaysForSure portable device, or a TiVo DVR. Content can be streamed to a television using a Windows Media Center Extender such as an Xbox 360 console from a PC running Windows XP Media Center Edition or Windows Vista (Home Premium or Ultimate).

As already mentioned, Unbox is supported by Tivo’s more recent line of DVRs, where movies can be ordered from Amazon’s website where they’ll be remote-loaded to a users registered Tivo, or alternatively, Unbox content can be browsed and purchased directly from the device itself. Remote-loading can also be used to make purchases from one PC and have the content be sent to another. Users are also given the option to keep a backup of their media library on Amazon’s own servers.

UnBox is another service which utilizes Windows Media DRM — rentals must be viewed within the first 30 days after purchase, and they may only be viewed within 24 hours of the first time the user presses play.

Platform:
Windows-only

Territory:
U.S.-only

Pricing:
Movies $9.99 – $14.99 (to-own) $0.99 – $3.99 (rental)
Television shows $1.99 per episode

Xbox Live Video Marketplace

Xbox Live Video MarketplaceThe Video Marketplace is part of XBox Live, Microsoft’s Internet service for its next-generation games console. Movies and television shows are offered from Paramount Pictures, CBS, TBS, MTV Networks, UFC, NBC, Warner Bros., and more recently Lionsgate Films and Walt Disney Pictures. At the present time, the service is only available to users in the United States, however, Microsoft has announced that the service will be available in Canada and Europe by the end of 2007.

Video Market’s key differentiator from competing services is its tight integration with the XBox 360 — where content and be browsed, purchased and directly downloaded to the device — and its emphasis on HD content (see this website for the current HD offerings).

Update: Movies on the Video Marketplace are rental only, where downloads expire after a set period of time (for example, after 14 days). However, after you start watching the video, you can play it as often as you want for 24 hours, after which the rental expires. Television shows appear to be purchase-to-own but may vary on a show-by-show basis.

Platform:
XBox 360-only

Territory:
U.S.-only (Europe and Canada by years-end)

Pricing:
HDTV shows are 240 MS Points, SDTV shows are 160 MS Points. New HD movies are 480 MS Points, and classic HD movies are 360 MS Points. New SD movies are 320 MS Points, classic SD movies are 240 points. You can purchase 1000 MS Points via Xbox Live for $12.50 USD.

Jaman

Jaman logoJaman specializes in offering independent and world-cinema — both purchase-to-own and rental. Users can browse content on Jaman’s website, where a number of films can also be streamed for free. However, to download content requires installing the Jaman application, which is peer-to-peer based and includes its own player and proprietary DRM. The service also has a number of built-in social features including user reviews and recommendations.

Prices are low, and the copy-protection is in some ways slightly less restrictive than competing services. For example, rentals expire after seven days, in which you can watch the movie as many times as you like. On the other hand, content is tied to the Jaman player (no portable devices or media extenders are currently supported), although the company claims to be close to releasing a hack for the AppleTV to get its content onto Apple’s set-top-box.

Platform:
Mac/Windows

Territory:
Varies per-video.

Pricing:
$4.99 (to-own) $1.99 (rental)

Guba

Guba logoGuba offers movie downloads, both Hollywood and independent, on a purchase-to-own and rental basis. Content is, once again, a standard Windows Media DRM affair, where rentals can be stored for up-to thirty days and expire 24 hours after you hit play, and videos can be streamed to supported media extenders and transfered to certain PlayForSure portable devices.

There’s nothing to really make Guba standout from other similar services, except that pricing seems quite competitive.

Platform:
Windows-only

Territory:
U.S.-only

Pricing:
$4.99 – $19.99 (to-own) $2.99 (rental)

iTunes Store

iTunes StoreApple’s iTunes Store, accessible through the company’s iTunes software, offers television shows and movie downloads from major TV and movie studios including: ABC, CBS, FOX (TV) and Disney, Paramount, Lionsgate and MGM (movies), on a purchase-to-own basis only.

The service works on Mac and PCs, and content can also be streamed to or synced with an AppleTV, as well as transfered to video iPods and the iPhone.

Platform:
Mac/Windows

Territory:
U.S.-only (movies) and U.S./UK (TV shows)

Pricing:
Television shows $1.99 / £1.89
Movies $12.99

HungryFlix

HungryFlixHungryFlix is a radically different paid-for download offering compared to the services already mentioned. All videos are offered as non-DRM’d MPEG4, so as to be compatible with both Mac, PC and Linux, as well as many portable devices, media extenders and set-top-boxes, and the service specifically targets portable media players such as Apple’s iPod or Sony’s PSP.

Sadly, as a direct result of its non-DRM policy, HungryFlix’s catalog is limited to independent and niche content only. Instead, the company hopes it can compete mainly on convenience and price. Short Films cost between $0.99-$1.99, and features/documentaries are priced $0.99-$4.99.

Platform:
Mac/Windows/Linux

Territory:
Worldwide

Pricing:
$.99 – $4.99 (to-own)

Streamburst

Disclaimer: Streambust is the online distributor for my own documentary, In Search of the Valley.

Streamburst logoStreamburst (a new UK startup) offers a different twist on the issue of DRM. Like with HungryFlix, the downloads are DRM-free MPEG4. However, each video file has the credit card holder’s name printed into it, along with a unique watermark, in the hope that this will discourage piracy.

Currently the service is in trial mode, with a very limited catalog which includes Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s Long Way Round, as well as Boorman’s Race to Dakart.

Platform:
Mac/Windows/Linux

Territory:
Worldwide

Pricing:
$1.99 – $7.99 (to-own)

Verdict

It’s still very early days in the paid-for video download space, where so far, greater competition hasn’t produced nearly enough innovation in terms of pricing and convenience — particularly in relation to copy-protection. The majority of services are built on top of Microsoft’s Windows Media DRM, which immediately rules out Mac and Linux users, but what’s really disappointing is that despite using the same core technology, each Windows Media-based service requires a separate download manager and offers a completely different and often confusing user experience.

There is, however, some evidence of innovation, which points to what we might expect more of in the future: Amazon’s Remote Load and backup service should be a feature supported by every download store, for example, and Steamburst’s watermarking approach to DRM may offer a happy halfway house that both content creators and consumers can feel comfortable with.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

37 Responses to “11 video download stores compared”

  1. Michael Griffiths says:

    Nice comparison. Didn’t know most of those existed.

    However, I belive Vongo (subscription movie service by Starz) deserves a mention, because it’s a different business model. Unlimited access to old catalog, pay-per-view (few $$) for new/high demand movies:

    http://www.vongo.com/

  2. Steve O'Hear (editor) says:

    @Michael,

    I did try to look at Vongo, but could not get access to the site as I’m based in the UK. They actually use geo-blocking based on a user’s IP address, so that you aren’t even allowed to look. Pretty useless for getting an idea of what’s on offer.

  3. Joseph Prisco says:

    As a Mac user with a PowerMac G5, I have no easy way to use any of these Windows-only services. If Hollywood insists on DRM for their products, they should choose a standard that’s available on ALL computer platforms. Why should I have to run a particular OS just to watch a movie? It’s greed and proprietary DRM that creates more pirates than they prevent every single day.

  4. Foo says:

    what about http://thepiratebay.org/ ? worldwide, no drm, any platform, free. seems to be the best of the bunch

  5. Tyler says:

    I could have read all this on wikipedia. There is nothing being compared here and no point being made.

  6. Peter says:

    I also find that the Azureus Vuze service works pretty well, for both free content and buying/renting. It’s simple and easy to use, and there are sometimes files for free that you would normally have to pay for. The only problem is that the paying service is windows-only, so I need to use parallels to watch rented or bought stuff. DRM sucks.

  7. Alex says:

    As a linux user most of these programs screw me over or leave me with next to no library to choose from. The studios need to get over themselves and realize what is going to sell to the masses. No DRM. If we pay for something then we can do what we want with it, it’s ours. That would only happen in a perfect world though, so here’s to holding our breath!

  8. Paul says:

    So how’s MVLib? From what I can tell, it’s AllofMP3 for movies. They’re both basedin Russia, they both give you a choice of bitrates/formats, and they both give aportion of the money to a Russian media oprganization that supposedly pays back the artists, so they’re technically legal. I don’t want to give them my credit card (I guess I could just buy a Visa gift card). Do you know what kind of payment they accept? By the way, I’m also a Linux user.

  9. Evan says:

    HungryFlix supports Mac and Linux. DRM-free MPEG4 files.

  10. Sean says:

    Do any of these besides the Xbox 360 service have HD material?

  11. charles says:

    Sean, vuze.com has the largest library of HD content on the web. Tons of free HD content, and HD indie films for sale as well.

  12. wireboss says:

    Ummm, Netflix’s service should be in this list too… 17 hours of downloadables WITH the usual DVD mail service for $17

  13. Daveed says:

    I never before realized how ridiculous all these options are.

    DRM filled. Expensive for no physical content or product.

    If new (non special sets) DVD’s are selling for roughly $20, then a relatively low quality download should be approximately 9.99, especially if it’s restricted to only playing on my computer (can’t be burned). The price then should go down as the movie gets older.

    They will just continue driving people to pirating until they give people a better option.

  14. Jamie says:

    Jaman supports both Windows and Mac.

  15. Thanks for the mention of my web site listing all the HD content available on Xbox Live Video Marketplace. I originally put together the list for my own use to avoid ordering Netflix movies on DVD that I could get in HD using my Xbox 360. Judging by the hits to my pages, however, others must be finding the list useful. I have since purchased an HD-DVD player for my Xbox 360 so now I can get some HD titles from Netflix. However, Xbox Live Video Marketplace still has much HD content not available on HD-DVD (or Blu-Ray either).

    An important note about your Xbox Live Video Marketplace entry: although some downloaded titles may be kept and replayed indefinitely, most may only be kept for 14 days after purchase and 24 hours after first playing them. I must admit that those restrictions discourage me from downloading very much. Also, as my web site indicates, most titles are only available for download for a limited time before they are removed from the service.

  16. Steve O'Hear (editor) says:

    @Bryan

    Thanks for the info Bryan! I’ve updated the post with the correct XBox Live info.

  17. Jeremy says:

    This is a pointless article.

    The main point of comparison should be whether or not it plays on an iPod not whether or not the client is Windows based.

    Most people who are into portable video use iPods. Large numbers of these sites use files that can not be played on an iPod, but some sites files can be.

    How the heck can you do any kind of comparison without saying if the product being sold can be played on the most popular portable player?

    There is tons of other info left out also. This is more of a (breezy) “review” and not really a comparison at all.

  18. David Mackey says:

    Wasn’t familiar with Jaman. Don’t use CinemaNow because of their heavy adult focus. I like Movielink. You failed to mention Vongo which is another good choice.

  19. James says:

    There’s loads more sites, especially amongst the illegal P2P market, some of which have been mentioned. What many of you don’t appreciate is the reasons that most of these services don’t offer a Mac platform. It’s because Apple have a closed operating system when it comes to DRM. Despite the original sharing ethos of Apple, it has to come from iTunes! The studios realize this, which is why they all embraced Microsoft DRM in the first place.
    It’s why the BBC here in the UK have gone the same way…. in the knowledge that when Microsoft’s Silverlight player platform beds-in, it’ll be Mac compatible anyway.
    Personally my favourite is http://www.channelfilms.com... but then I would as it’s ours!

  20. Alex says:

    Paul, they accept VISA and Eurocard/MasterCard.

  21. Mike Hamilton says:

    And what about http://www.movie2b.com/ ?

  22. Ildiko says:

    Hey Foo,

    thepiratebay.org software does not work of Mac. Would be nice to actually find something that does. Everyone on the internet has site they love but unfortunately they do not always seem to know if it runs on PC’s only or both PC and Mac.

    More info please.

  23. Nikola says:

    Hey Steve did you see http://www.dvdclubvideos.com ?

  24. Mike says:

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    Movie lovers, your time has come! In Internet you can even find lists of the best world movies that you can “watch and die”. Those films are really worth to watch, but we strongly recommend you not to die, otherwise you won’t get an opportunity to watch even better films.

    Several years ago you could order new films in Internet stores and get them delivered to your home on CDs or DVDs. You had to wait days or even weeks to receive your wanted film copy.

    Forget about this turtle service and enjoy new technologies reducing the process of getting the movie to several minutes and saving your nerves.

    With the advent of Internet, now you can have all the favorite movies and TV shows delivered right to your Computer. There are numerous online movie sites providing cheap movie downloads. We suggest only downloading DVD quality movies from the legally approved safe and secured sites, for example http://themoviesland.com.

    Join the Internet revolution and start download full length movies and more with http://themoviesland.com. This online full movie site is definitely the best and receives our top rating.

    Here you can find greatest collection of different genres films – comedy, drama, romance, musical, action, adventure, fantasy, history, war, western and a lot more for you and your family members. Your children will love the great cartoon films and serials.

    You’ll surely appreciate friendly interface – it is well designed and very organized. Customer support of this service is excellent.

    This is not our personal observation but in fact the direct user experiences from various forums and discussion groups.
    Have a look at movie library of themoviesland.com. This network offers a lot of movies that you can’t find anywhere else.

    Themoviesland.com is known for its consistency in getting a good database of brand new titles to old classics. This legal DVD movies download site has no restrictions in bandwidth or content or download limits. It offers a life long unlimited access 24 hours/7days a week.

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  25. I’am find great movie download blog here – Movie Download
    Every hour update!

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  26. John says:

    Hi, all.
    I’m author of the blog with Direct links to download movies

    And I”ll be glad to see you here.

  27. Fantom says:

    Please, don’t forget about http://allbestfilms.com
    It’s the largest movie library I think. I find here many my favorite movies with good quality.

  28. Kym says:

    This site is good too – http://www.blinkbox.com – really good quality movies

  29. John R. Sellers says:

    It’s interesting to me that the only one of these stores that sells music videos is the iTunes store. Whutsup wit’ t’at?

    And to Foo, mentioning The Pirate Bay here is not appropriate.

  30. Natalie Pike says:

    Steve, you missed out http://www.blinkbox.com.

  31. Brian says:

    I hear verizon is rolling out a new way to view online movies however, with all the competition, it is going to be hard to get much market penetration but we are talking about a huge tele co. also. We’ll just have to see how well it’s received. Bri http://newonlinemovies.com

  32. define says:

    I did try to look at Vongo, but could not get access to the site as I’m based in the UK. They actually use geo-blocking based on a user’s IP address, so that you aren’t even allowed to look. Pretty useless for getting an idea of what’s on offer.

  33. ews says:

    We’ll just have to see how well it’s received