Microsoft announced today it has set up a partnership with Universal Pictures to distribute a selection of the studio's movies through Xbox Live.
Universal joins a growing roster of film studios – including Warner, MGM and Paramount – who are using the service to distribute movies, both old and new, online in the UK.
TechRadar was at the launch and spoke to Neil Thompson, Head of UK Xbox, about what the partnership means for Microsoft.
"The thing about Xbox Live is that we offer compelling content online," explained Thomspon. "The Xbox has always been seen as 360 degree entertainment experience, and this is really coming to fruition with Xbox Live and adding Universal's content to the service strengthens this."
So far, 30 movies from Universal have been made available to rent on Xbox Live, with more to come. The titles chosen range from retro releases like Animal House to newer ones such as Wanted. Thompson revealed that there was no real science behind choosing the list: "There are obvious movies that we don't allow on Xbox Live due to their content," he revealed. "But it really is trial and error.
"There are some films in there that will obviously do well, such as Shaun Of The Dead, which I love, and we will just have to see about the others."
No TV plans
With the announcement that Microsoft has strengthened its movie output, it seems inevitable that television shows will be next on the list for the Xbox, but Thompson doesn't think this will be the case just yet.
"Our focus is very much on movies at the moment. We are trying to make this service as good as possible before we even think about adding TV shows.
"We will speak to consumers and if we think that TV shows is what they want, then it will certainly be something to look into in the future."
As for the iPlayer, despite much call for the BBC's media player on Xbox Live from consumers, Thompson is still weary about utilising the service.
"We have to look at what will make the Xbox Live a unique experience for its users, so because of this we have no plans to integrate the iPlayer at the moment – unless we can find away to differentiate it from what other people offer. Most people are happy to access it from the laptops."
When we point out that some people may want it on their big-screen TVs, he noted: "Well you can stream it from your laptop to your Xbox 360 if you really want to."
Microsoft's primary focus on movie downloads does make the idea that there will be a 'Blu-ray' Xbox increasingly unlikely, with Thompson adamant that "there are certainly no plans for a Blu-ray Xbox. At the moment we are focusing all our efforts on creating and making available compelling content online."
This doesn't mean that solid-state media is dead, but when it comes to movies there's a sea change occurring, explains Thompson. "I think there definitely is a generational skip when it comes to DVDs and downloading content. The thing about downloads are that they are already in your home – you don't need to leave the couch to go and purchase a movie."
As for games, even with the upsurge of DLC on Xbox Live, Thompson thinks that boxed games are here to stay: "It's different for games. A game is so much more complex, that box copies will remain for a long time.
"Obviously you can now get new content for games online but buying discs for games will definitely remain."
Downloadable content is a huge thing for the games industry at the moment and the release of Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost And The Damned reiterates the importance of expanding the universe of the games you buy.
"Gamers are getting much more sophisticated now, and expect the life of a game to expand long after they've completed the box copy," says Thompson.
"Xbox Live allows them to do that – that's why new content for GTA IV is so great for the Xbox."
Xbox Live ran into some controversy recently, with news that some accounts were being hacked. Thompson was quick to clear up some rumours, but did say that anyone caught would be punished: "The hack didn't just affect Xbox Live, it was to do with people hacking into IP addresses, so anything connected via Wi-Fi to the web was affected.
"We're Microsoft so we are very serious in combating things like hacking. If we find out that any member of the Xbox Live community is using their subscription unlawfully or maliciously, then we will ban them from the service.
"We are always making a concerted effort to work with IP providers to stamp out this sort of behaviour."
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