These are interesting times for the film industry. In spite of the economic uncertainties of the past nine months or so, Hollywood seems to be weathering the storm pretty convincingly.
Last year's films Mamma Mia and Quantum of Solace broke box office records, and with Watchmen and the upcoming release of Terminator: Salvation, 2009 seems to be shaping up nicely.
Movie downloads have yet to take off in quite the same way that music downloads have, however, and it's mostly due to the large file sizes of films compared to those of MP3s. But with broadband's ever-expanding customer base and the vast increases in internet speeds recently, your humble PC seems set to become the host of more and more films.
Indeed, Virgin Media's latest 50Mb broadband service is said to be capable of downloading whole movies in under three minutes. Websites such as LoveFilm and iTunes already offer video downloads too, although this market has yet to really get a foothold in the UK.
Of course, the other – albeit legally shady – method of obtaining films is downloading them via torrent sites such as The Pirate Bay. This 'free' method is extremely popular, and the ability to download movies that have yet to be given a cinematic release is unsurprisingly attractive.
Last year's The Dark Knight was the number one downloaded film from said torrent site, with seven million downloads. High-definition rips of films and television shows are also available, so it's no wonder Blu-ray sales seem to be suffering as a result.
There's still a crucial gap with video downloads, however, and that is how downloaded content usually has to be watched via a computer. People may have larger monitors or dedicated media centres connected to their televisions, but largely a home computer remains part of the home office. Laptops are obviously growing in popularity, but a popcorn-munching family gathering on the sofa to watch the latest release on a tiny netbook is probably not the most popular method of watching a movie.
Bridging the divide
Solutions to the digital chasm between the TV and the PC are varied. Both the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 games consoles feature high-definition movie playback, but the high price of the former and jet-like fan noise of the latter are not going to inspire people to ditch their DVD player just yet.
This brings us to the arduous process of burning films to disc. Compatibility issues, the sheer amount of time that it takes to burn video files and the fact that physical media seems to be on its last legs suggest that there's a niche market for a cheap, user-friendly go-between device.
Last year Iomega launched a media-playing portable hard disk drive. It functioned like any other portable hard disk, with one added advantage. Connecting the drive to a television enabled the user to browse video files stored on the disk and play them back. It's a truly brilliant concept, because the drive can be set as the de facto location for your downloaded movies and then whipped away from the computer and plugged into your television set for instantaneous viewing.
Now Iomega has launched a similar device, minus the built-in hard disk drive. The ScreenPlay TV Link (see what they did there?) instead features a USB port into which flash drives or portable hard disks can be plugged.
Read TechRadar's Iomega ScreenPlay TV Link review
Western Digital has also recently released a similar device, the WDTV.
Read TechRadar's Western Digital WDTV review
The idea is that many people already have portable hard disks or flash drives, and splashing out on yet more storage should be avoided. It certainly beats having to buy expensive new peripherals every few months...
Quite how we'll be playing our digital video downloads in the future is a matter of conjecture, but it's easy to see hardware like Iomega's TV Link being built directly into TVs, neatly crossing the digital divide and finally giving us an easy way to watch downloaded content on our TVs.
First published in PC Plus Issue 281
Why not read our review of the Iomega ScreenPlay TV Link?
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