Review: XBox Live Video Store – where's all the content?

Although the UK version of Microsoft’s Video Store for its XBox 360 console launched last December, it wasn’t until just over a month ago that I got to try out the service for myself. Microsoft’s PR team kindly loaned me a top of the line model – the HDMI equipped 120GB “Elite” version – to hook up to my High Definition TV to download and watch a few shows and movies purchased from XBox Live. However, while the service is dead easy to use and worked as intended, for a number of reasons I came away disappointed.


In order to purchase and download content you need to sign up to the free component of XBox Live. Thankfully, most of the sign up process can be down online through your PC’s web browser (unlike the PlayStation Network which drove me mad entering all of my data via a PS3 controller). From then on in the XBox Live Video Store’s User Interface is very straightforward and browsing content was quick and easy. However, to pay for content you’re required to purchase a bundle of ‘Microsoft Points’, the company’s virtual currency — see Microsoft Points – what’s next for the company’s virtual currency?

It works on a pre-pay system whereby you purchase say 1000 points, which then acts as credit against any content you want to download. The problem is that the price to rent an HD (380 pts) movie means that you’re always left with change from the pre-pay bundles of points you’re able to purchase. Thus ensuring that Microsoft is always looking after some of your money.

Lack of content, especially HD

It could well be a UK thing, but I was surprised by the lack of content choices. The range of movies available seems sporadic and very random, neither focusing on back catalog classics or new releases. For example, as of publication there are less than ten movies available that were released this year, and the same goes for films made last year. Not surprisingly, HD content, which I was particularly eager to try, is even more sparse. In the end I purchased two movies, one Standard Definition (SD) and one HD. Neither of which I really wanted to see, but with very little choice, they were at least titles I hadn’t previously watched elsewhere.

Picture quality

This one really surprised me. Picture quality on SD content, albeit played on a 1080p HD television, was poor, definitely not comparable to DVD. Although HD content fared a lot better, as you’d expect.

Rental windows – 14 days and 24 hours

All movie download rental services impose some kind of rental window whereby you must begin watching a movie within a number of days, and once you press play you have a set number of hours to complete your viewing. XBox Live offers 14 days standby, and a 24 hour viewing window. The limit to 24 hours is a real pain if you don’t complete a movie in one sitting, and made me nervous navigating around my media library in case I accidentally pressed play! Unbelievably, I also got caught out by the 14 day standby limit, and one movie I purchased had expired before I got round to watching. Us bloggers lead busy lives 🙂

Fan noise

It’s true what they say. The XBox 360 is a little on the noisy side, noticeably so during quiet peroids of a movie.


The XBox 360 is a great games console (yes, I “tested” some games) but as a competitor to your cable TV’s video on-demand film library or even online services such as iTunes or Amazon UnBox/On Demand, it doesn’t really compete — although I am comparing the UK version which is certainly inferior to XBox Live Video Store U.S. Which explains why Microsoft has partnered with Netflix to incorporate the latter’s video streaming service into XBox 360. It also demonstrates how early we are in the HD wars. If you thought the range of content available on Blu-ray was bad, take a look at XBox Live’s Video Store.

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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.

One Response to “Review: XBox Live Video Store – where's all the content?”

  1. Dave Zatz says:

    There’s plenty of content here in the US, though as you observed it’s kinda of random – though that’s not limited to the Xbox. The bigger problem is presentation. It’s just long lists of genres. Again, Microsoft isn’t the only one with this problem. At least the Marketplace is better designed for the 10′ interface, whereas I find the PS3 more computer-like – things are too small from the couch.

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