E3 2009 had tons of surprises, but one that appears to have been truly over looked, has to be the so called 1080p HD technology Xbox Live has introduced through their new Zune video store. Folks at E3 witnessed Microsoft instantly fast forward a streamed 1080p movie right at start up. But how could this be possible? How can a streamed 1080p movie have instant access to every point of the movie? Doesn’t it need to buffer that huge file? After seeing this at E3, we here at TQcast have been really eager to learned more about this 1080p instant streaming. Could this be Blu-Ray’s true competitor? Or perhaps the beginning of the end for Blu-Ray? Let’s face it, why can’t Microsoft sell this same technology to other content distributors, such as Netflix. Or better yet, collaborate with them to create the biggest HD streaming option for consumers, while having the biggest movie library.
TQcast recently interviewed Michael Wolf, Senior Marketing Manager at Microsoft, about the upcoming Zune Video on Xbox Live.
Q: What is the name of the new HD streaming technology?
A: The name of the feature is Zune video on Xbox LIVE, which is built on top of Smooth Streaming. Smooth Streaming is a feature of IIS Media Services, a state-of-the-art video delivery platform which enables amazing high quality video experiences that are instant on.
Q: Exactly how is this 1080p HD experience working? 1080p video would be huge files, requiring large amounts of bandwidth, how will this work without buffering timeouts?
A: Zune video offers entertainment content available in the Xbox LIVE Marketplace in instant on 1080p video and 5.1 channel surround sound. Zune video on Xbox LIVE was built from the ground-up for Xbox 360 to take full advantage of the Xbox platform. It features a state-of-the-art encoder for the highest level of fidelity and a high performance decoder capable of full-framerate 1080p playback, which enables Smooth Streaming playback, smooth fast-forward and smooth rewind functionality. Instant on 1080p offers a level of quality and performance only previously seen with downloadable or physical media.
Q: Moving to any part of the movie, as forward, back, how is this possible if the movie has not completely buffered?
A: This is possible because of the proprietary technology developed by Microsoft. The state-of-the-art encoder allows for the highest level of fidelity and a high performance decoder enables full-framerate 1080p playback, which results in Smooth Streaming playback, smooth fast-forward and smooth rewind functionality.
Q: Will 360 owners need the fastest internet connection possible? Will this work on a slower broadband connection such as a “1.5Mbps DL” connection?
A: The beauty of the experience is movies and TV shows on Zune video will automatically scale to the best possible resolution based on the speed of your connection. For example, if you have a 6 Mbps connection, you’ll still get 1080p and a great audio experience, but may not get 5.1. And as a back-up, anyone can have a 1080p/5.1 experience, but they may be required to download the content instead of streaming it if they don’t have an 8 – 10 Mbps broadband connection.
Q: Pricing. Will the consumers be able to purchase and then access the movies at anytime directly from Zune video? Or will it only be a one-time rent, and if so, what will the prices be?
A: With the launch of Zune video, you’ll have the option to rent a broad selection of content how and when you want: either instant streaming or download to rent, so you can watch even when you aren’t connected to the internet. Prices vary by region, but will be competitive in each market.
Although it would be a shame to think that Blu-Ray may be in deep trouble, let’s face it. If the pricing is as competitive as they state it will be, perhaps per monthly plan to match or even beat those of netflix, or even a single rent price to match that of red box’s $1 price. We could be seeing a huge lean towards 1080p streaming in the near future. And perhaps the nail to the coffin of HD physical Media. All we can hope for now, is a Blu-Ray universal price cut ASAP.