With broadband and cable and satellite and digital terrestrial broadcast and IPTV making HD content available, who would think we need another method of transmission? Apparently, the Walt Disney Company does. They created MovieBeam, a new service that takes advantage of unused portions of analog television station transmissions. It’s available in 29 major markets in the US.
The system relies on a set-top box that stores the movies as they are dribbled over the airwaves. The box comes preloaded with 100 movies, and each week, another 10 get downloaded off the air. (This in turn bumps off 10 of the previously-stored movies.) You pay $200 for the box, and $30 to set up your account, then you pay for each movie as you watch it. “Popular” movies cost $2 each to watch, and “new release” titles cost $4. It will cost you an extra $1 to watch them in HD (though only “select” titles will be available in HD). You will need an HDMI connection with HDCP support to watch HD versions; component connections can only carry standard definition versions. Oh, and you’ll need to hook up the box to a phone line so that it can phone home occasionally.
This is an intriguing offer, especially for people who prefer to watch movies over network programming. For less than the cost of a DVD rental, you get the convenience of choosing from a rental shelf filled with 100 choices at all times. The selection is broad, from PG to R, comedy to action, and from a variety of studios. I guess I’d have to live with it for a while to know whether or not having 100 choices would be enough. Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait to run that test; according to the Web site, the service is not available in my area yet.