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Xbox Live Video Marketplace review

John Archer



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While chewing the fat around the office recently, we got to talking about how we all go about watching films on those rare - oh so rare - occasions where we suddenly find ourselves with a couple of hours to spare.

And the surprising diversity of film-watching habits to emerge from this conversation suddenly made us realise that while we regularly review Blu-ray players, we've never really done in-depth investigations from a movie perspective of film-offering alternatives like the Xbox 360 Video Marketplace, BT Vision service and Sky HD receiver.

This seems particularly remiss of us given how people like to bleat on right now about how Blu-ray's window of opportunity is already getting closed by alternative downloading and broadcasting services.

So today we're starting to put this sorry state of affairs right, with the first part of what will ultimately be an intermittent trilogy of linked reviews of 'alternative' film sources. Starting with Microsoft's Xbox Live Video Marketplace.

The Xbox 360 is, of course, first and foremost a games console. Indeed, when the console first launched, its potential for offering a film service was nothing more than a twinkle in Bill Gates' eye, hinted at by the fact that you could download trailers for upcoming games and a few music videos.

Yet on November 22nd 2006, US Xbox 360 owners suddenly found they could download full TV programmes and films via their Xbox Live accounts. And the same service finally went fully live in the UK in time for Christmas 2007.

Since then the volume of downloadable film content has grown exponentially, as new deals have been struck with different content providers (the most recent being Universal in February this year). To date, the number of films available via Xbox in the UK stands at around 200.

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March 25, 2009, 9:13 pm

Great review! Funnily enough i'm looking at all the options out there for downloading movies, just to see if it would be a better option than using Lovefilm. I have an xbox 360 and have tried a few downloads and so far ive been happy with how it all works (tho the noise from the xbox is slightly offputting in quiet scenes). As you mentioned the wait before you can start to watch the film is a bit annoying but im on a 1-2mb line and usually its ready to start watching (as it streams the rest of the film) within 15 mins or so, plenty of time to get the popcorn ready :-)

As you didnt mention it at the start of the articel will you also be looking into itunes rentals? Some kind of comparison with the number of films each source has available would also be useful to know.


March 25, 2009, 9:25 pm

While I do have access to an XBox, I don't have a live account and don't think the infrastructure is here to regularly download movies in this way. Aside from the cost and download time, don't most Broadband ISPs still have data limit caps that could impose on the 4-7Gb download for anything more that one or two movies each month?

With a 1080p TV and Blu-Ray player (courtesy of the PlayStation 3) the use of Internet DVD Rental companies via post is far more appealing to me. The cost per movie is far less, I get a 1080p disc with HD Audio and can view and keep the disc for as long as I like before returning it.

Matthew Bunton

March 25, 2009, 11:00 pm

Downloading HD movies on Live is very quick and easy you can usually start watching the movie after a few seconds and the download continues in the background. My only gripes are related to the costs which imo are too high and the fact that most of the movies are pretty old.


March 26, 2009, 7:15 pm

I do not understand why TR is comparing Blu-Ray to HD Downloads. Movies on Live are convenient and they also are affordable for most pockets. If you have the money, than yes, invest in Blu-Ray films and let your eyes melt in HD glory. But I thought the review was about the Live Movie Rental service not how good Blu-Ray really is? Are you guys paid by Sony? *hides behind the couch*


March 26, 2009, 11:47 pm

@Wilfried - So you’re basically saying that we should have evaluated a service that delivers high definition movies without talking about the image and audio quality of those movies? I don’t really see how the article could have been written without comparing to Blu-ray. And if HD DVD had won the fight, we would have compared to that.


March 27, 2009, 1:54 am

@Riyad - I never said that you should have evaluated a service that delivers high definition movies without talking about the image and audio quality of those movies, you're kind of putting words in my mouth now (without my permission now, behave). Reading your article, it felt more like a Blu-Ray showcase than a review of the movie download service (standard or HD) Live has to offer. Had HD DVD won the fight, I would have still said the same. In my opinion, the review should have been about the pros and cons of the service, end of discussion. Why do you need a comparison? Yes Blu-Ray can store up to 50GB of storage on one disc, which gives the opportunity to add more content to a title. Considering movie downloads are only just properly emerging, considering that not everyone has a limitless download limit from their internet provider, and considering not everyone can afford larger than life screens, it is kind of obvious why Live (in particular) is only offering a max of 720p for HD movies. To a lot of people out there that can download HD content on an average screen, the quality of those films will seem the same as what they see on Blu-Ray. To me, the comparison is unfair and sending people the wrong message.


March 27, 2009, 2:32 am

@Wilfried - Sorry, I disagree completely. To me, any evaluation of HD content would be completely pointless without comparison to other HD material. The comparison is not unfair, and is most definitely not sending the wrong message. If I’m paying for the privilege of downloading a high definition movie, I would like to know how the quality compares to other options.

And let’s not forget that if you don’t want to buy Blu-ray discs, you have the option of services like LoveFilm, where you can pay a monthly fee and rent as many as you like. That option will net you a low cost model without having to compromise on quality.

Add to that the ludicrous way that you only have 24 hours to watch a movie once you’ve downloaded it on Xbox Live. Personally I think that if you’ve rented a film for 14 days, you should be able to watch it for 14 days.

That aside, I am genuinely puzzled at how you can assert that comparing paid for, downloaded high definition movies to paid for, high definition movies on disc is unfair. Honestly, I just can’t figure out where the logic in your argument is hiding.


March 27, 2009, 2:44 am

@Wilfried: "Reading your article, it felt more like a Blu-Ray showcase than a review of the movie download service (standard or HD) Live has to offer."

Well you obviously didn't read the whole article properly then because it quite clearly spends a number of pages discussing the pros and cons of the service in terms of ease of use, movie selection, cost, download time, etc before even mentioning video and sound quality. The latter being something that absolutely needs to be discussed and the obvious contender here is the best quality HD source available, Blu-ray.

Also, you blather on about why it's justified that Live is only offering 720p as though we'd absolutely slated it, yet all John says is "Which immediately gives us cause for concern, actually. For while 720p is very much an HD format, more and more TVs in the UK are turning towards a Full HD resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. So for these screens to show a 720p film, some sort of video scaling processing is going to have to take place, with a potentially negative impact on the final picture quality." Hardly a lambasting.

Take a step back and re-read the article with a level head before reading too much into what you think it says.

@Orinj: Most half decent ISP packages only have download caps during peak hours so you could easily download overnight without harming your usage. Also, if you're the kind of person that would think of using a service like this then you'd probably also stretch to spending the extra fiver or so a month that an 'unlimited' service costs.

As for the cost per film. Well, if you regularly use a service like iLovefilm then Live doesn't compare well. However, it only takes a couple of months of neglecting the service before the cost would even out quite considerably. Also, to some degree you're paying for the convenience as well. That said, considering these downloads aren't the best quality and the selection is limited I think Microsoft would find itself with a lot more business if prices were just standardised at a couple of pounds.


March 27, 2009, 5:47 pm

Viva the freedom of lightly commenting on a subject in your "comment" section for being attacked on all fronts by the TR gang. Maybe you should let John speak for himself. I do not appreciate that it takes two of you to hammer my opinion down, whilst you maybe reading this thinking "who cares", maybe you should re-consider having the comments section altogether?

@Riyad - Ok, maybe you should have used a fairer comparison then. It would only be fair to compare other HD download services. That is what I am saying. Your comparison of Live HD downloads to Blu-Ray feels the same as if you were to compare a Live orchestra to their CD recordings, to me, not the same.

@Ed - Well you obviously didn't read my whole comment properly because it said "In my opinion, the review should have been about the pros and cons of the service, end of discussion", the "end of discussion" bit meant you should have stopped after listing pros and cons. Take a step back and re-read my comment with a level head before reading too much into what you think it says.

I do not know what "triggered" your sharp responses when I was only voicing my opinion lightly. Had any breakfast lately?


March 27, 2009, 6:15 pm

You're inaccurate findings and accusatory tone of commentary triggered our response. The reason both Riyad and I responded was because we unknowingly were both writing our responses at the same time. Had either of us seen one or other of our responses we wouldn't have bothered replying as well.

By the by, you've got to be prepared to withstand a backlash against your comments because you're directly accusing us of a variety of things. Other publications may let comments sit unresponded to but we stand by our content and take great pride in what we do. Letting an accusation such as yours sit there for all to see without responding does us a disservice.


March 27, 2009, 7:17 pm

@Wilfried - At no point was I attempting to attack you, I was actually defending the article. When you write things like…

“Reading your article, it felt more like a Blu-Ray showcase than a review of the movie download service” and “Are you guys paid by Sony?” you’ve surely got to expect a response :)

I welcome feedback on articles, but I simply didn’t understand your displeasure with comparing the quality of one high definition movie format to another. As I’ll always say, I may not agree with your opinion, but I’ll fight for your right to have it - hence the comments section. In this case though, it wasn’t so much me disagreeing as simply not understanding why you would think that people wouldn’t want an idea of picture and sound quality from an HD movie service.

Anyway, if Ed or I came across too aggressive I apologise - that wasn’t the intention. And I wouldn’t want you to think twice about voicing your opinion next time.

Oh, and it's not like comparing a live orchestra to a CD recording, because John was comparing two recorded formats and pointing out the differences in the quality of those recordings :)


March 27, 2009, 8:56 pm

@Riyad - I fully appreciate what you are saying and respect your comments. I apologise if my first comment came accross the wrong way. I did put, however, the *hide behind the couch" comment at the end to highlight my sarcasm, at no point was I intending for it to be taken seriously. I know it's not an excuse (although it keeps on cropping up) but english is not my first language and I see where I could have been misunderstood or simply not expressed myself the right way. I certainly did not mean for you to think that I said people wouldn't want an idea of picture and sound quality from an HD movie service because it is not what I meant, I only meant to say that the article should have been restricted to the pros and cons without adding Blu-Ray to the equation. But considering there are other HD download services out there, I was more expecting a comparison between those services rather than a comparison to Blu-Ray. But anyway, I hope you can appreciate that I was only being sarcastic in my first comment, I certainly did not intend to sound as if I had an accusatory tone.

PS: Considering that Blu-Ray currently is the top dog in high definition format, it could easily be the live orchestra and considering... *runs away with his tail between his legs* ;-)


April 4, 2009, 11:10 pm

Can I just throw something into the mix here? Virgin Media...

I have a Virgin Media V+ HD box. Now I appreciate that Virgin don't currently have the range of HD channels that Sky have (by that I mean, er, one!), as far as I am aware, they are the only people that offer a 'proper' movies on demand service.

As in, a library of films, with lots in HD, that you can start watching immediately, rather than having to wait for anything to download. None of this waiting around, just click and watch without needing any software or additional products.

I haven't got Sky, but I was under the impression that even with Sky Box Office, you still have to wait as the films are on multiple channels, starting at different times.

So Virgin Media should at least be in the running...


April 20, 2009, 11:03 pm

Radioegg - I have Sky HD, Virgin Media V+HD, and Xbox 360 and watch a lot of movies.

For what its worth my 10 second summary would be :

Sky HD - Great for most of your movie watching. You can store on your SKY+ and watch unlimited times. Box office is best left alone as you have to wait for the slot, and the recording of box office is flakey.

Virgin Media - Best for TV back catalogue like catching up with missed episodes of Doctor Who / The Office / Green Wing when you have a spare half hour to kill. Very poor and expensive movie renting. HDMI cable only for rentals(!?). HD quality is not up to SKY.

Xbox - Great for the convenience factor. Often has several hit movies that SKY does not. (eg. Wanted / Tropic Thunder). With a good broadband (Virgin Media XL 20mb) you only need to wait 1-2mins before playing. Quality appears same as SKY HD as on my 720p plasma.

Don't be fooled into thinking Virgin Media will provide 'instant on' HD movies. It can't be as any service that uses the internet will need to buffer content to prevent the risk of play stopping. Any saving in time here vs the xbox will only increase this risk which will ruin your enjoyment of the movie. As said above the xbox is less than 5 minutes before you can play - about the same amount of time it would take to unwrap the envelope on a LoveFilm rental and power up your blu-ray player.... ;-)

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