Zune Video Marketplace Hands On: Oh Crap! I Need To Upgrade My Broadband Plan

Zune video marketplace5Right now, I’m bathing in a sea of irony. It’s so thick, it feels like I jumped in a pool filled with slime. You see, Microsoft’s Zune brand has had a bit of a rocky start in Australia. Actually, that’s not right. It never had a start at all. But now it’s here, in the form of the Zune Video Marketplace on Xbox Live, and not only is it good, but it could well be the driving force in Video on Demand for the television in this country.

When the US reviewed the beta yesterday, they were a bit harsh on the Zune marketplace. They said: “Not a whole lot to write home about yet besides 1080p streams”. But they come from a country where VOD is commonplace and easy to get — Netflix, Hulu, Roku, Amazon, TiVo... all let you watch your entertainment whenever you want. Here in Australia, we have iTunes, we have TiVo and we have Foxtel, but the truth is that the Zune Video Marketplace is a much easier and superior experience to both of those.

Zune video marketplace1The beta service that I’ve been playing around with isn’t quite the finished product most of you will get to experience next month. For a start, at the moment there are only 102 movies available, a number that MS reckon will grow exponentially when it launches. Secondly, everything I can watch is being streamed or downloaded from the US, so there’s the inherent delays involved with transmitting data over distance. Thirdly, there are a few quirky bugs with the menus and launching the service that will almost definitely be ironed out before launch.

But forgetting all of that for a moment, you quickly realise just how fantastic a service this is. You launch the Zune marketplace from the Video Downloads option on the NXE, and after about five seconds or so, you’re given a screen with the most popular movies available. You can browse through the movie collection in any number of ways, including genre, alphabetical and popularity, plus new releases.

Movie rentals range between the equivalent of $4 for an SD film and $7 for an HD one. You’ve got 14 days to start watching, and 24 hours once you start to finish, which is all pretty standard online movie rental terms.

Zune video marketplace2Where Zune really excels in its versatility. When you select a movie, you’re given the option of downloading the film or streaming it in real time. If you select to stream the film, it will start within moments — it starts off quite pixelated and blocky, and your first thought is to question the quality. But as the movie buffers, the quality ramps up to 1080p HD with 5.1 surround sound.

If however, your connection is like mine and pretty damn dodgy (at least from the router up the back of the house to the TV at the front) the Zune streaming solution will adjust quality on the fly so you don’t end up with the film stopping every time it catches up to the buffer. That means that you’re able to watch the movie from start to finish, with the Xbox automatically adjusting the quality. In my admittedly limited testing of the service overnight, after it got past the initial blockiness, the video quality didn’t drop to unwatchable at any point.

Streaming also means you can start watching a film straight away, without having to wait for it to download. Microsoft have told us that in order to get an HD picture, you need a 3mbps connection, and 4mbps for Full HD.

Zune video marketplace4The one BIG catch with this is the bandwidth though. A two-hour HD movie could be up to 6GB in size. That’s a pretty big chunk of anyone’s download limit, right there. That’s where the download rental option comes in though, so you can download during your off-peak period and watch it when you’re ready within the next 14 days.

But more appealing is switching ISPs. iiNet are still offering unmetered Xbox downloads though, which should incorporate the new movie service. Turns out that movies aren't part of the iiNet Freezone (Thanks Michael). So you might just have to bump up your download limit...

Even though it’s still in beta, the Zune marketplace has already, one day in, become my preferred video rental option.


Comments

    You should probably check with iiNet that movie downloads will be included.

    "excludes all paid for content such as movies etc"
    from http://freezone.iinet.net.au/xbox.html

      Thanks MDolley. I was actually waiting for iiNet to get back to me to confirm that, but hadn't checked that site. Fixed the post up now...

        Does Microsoft say what the Min Connection Speed is for streaming in SD?

        I'm on iiNet, and I was keen to try this out - but if movies are excluded, that puts quite a damper on things.

        On a $60/35GB plan, a movie is up to 10% of your quota, so you're now paying $7 + $6 for a movie with less quality and no extras, compared to renting a blu-ray from Blockbuster. It's worse on a $50/13GB plan.

        MS better get their content mirrored locally and do some better quota-free deals with ISPs (perhaps throw them a share of the movie price), or they're gonna find it's not worth the effort of releasing it here (at least, not yet).

      Wow, why bother launching this service at all in AUS then? 6 Gigs is a massive amount of data, can you imagine someone with a 500mb Telstra plan, how much it would cost them to download that much data?

        I hope you're kidding!

        There are ways around blowing your limit - you just need to be smart about it. But going forward, we've got the NBN and the PPC-1 pipe looking to increase data capacities for everyone. Just because Telstra like to clench data like their sphincter in a prison shower doesn't mean we should go on being a technologically backwards country without a decent video on demand solution...

    Everyone probably knows but AAPT is offering ADSL 2+ Unlimited downloads between 8pm & 8am for $89.95 inc line rental. (don't know how reliable their service is but it's a pretty sweet deal if you generally watch movies etc after 8pm)
    http://aapt.com.au/services/personal-small-business/personal/unlimited-broadband-internet

    So microsoft, can we also have the zune hd device? The zune software in genral is awesome, but i see the lack of the hd device in australia as a roadblock to a total empire of cross platform adoption. said like that, it might be a good thing..

    hopefully iinet gets onto updating their plans/sorts out a deal with microsoft to allow quota free movies. I would see myself usign the service ALOT, but if its gonna be blowing my quote.. its not really worth it then, is it.

    What TV is that there? Is that the new Panasonic V10? What's your thoughts?

      It's last generation Panny plasma. PZ850A. It's awesome, but chunky compared to this years' range...

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