We all know it's a fine games console, but the Xbox 360 also has a lot going for it as a media player. Since the release of the Elite and the HDMI-revamp for the other consoles the 360 has all the connectivity you need for HDTV sets and projectors, and it has more than enough processing power to cope with HD movie files. Plug in the MP3 player of your choice and the 360 will stream MP3, WMA and unprotected AAC files straight from it. Plug in a digital camera, and photos are no problem, either. And with the recent New Xbox Experience dashboard update, browsing through media is a far more pleasant experience, with the old and slightly dull lists and thumbnails replaced by larger, horizontally scrolling menus of album art and visual media.
Since December last year the Xbox 360 has also had its own movie rental download service, courtesy of the Xbox Live Video Marketplace. The majority of films are available in standard definition or HD formats, with standard definition titles coming in at 360 to 480 MSPoints (around £3 to £4) and HD versions for 540 to 600(£4.50 to £5). The selection isn't exactly huge and there's a definite bias towards the action/sci-fi/horror tastes of the console's hardcore audience, but among the sort of ageing back-catalogue efforts you'll already find regularly on Sky or Freeview you'll also find a smattering of recent blockbusters, making this a decent and relatively inexpensive way to enjoy them in HD.
Unsurprisingly, the files are DRMed: you can keep them on your 360's HDD for a set number days, and once you start playback you only have 24 hours in which to watch (though you're free to view as many times as you like in this time). From my experiences the image and sound quality is generally good to excellent, and now that Microsoft seems to have upgraded its server network you can start watching SD content within a minute or two of rental, instead of feeling like you need to decide what you're watching six hours in advance to accommodate the download times.