I first reported on XStremeHD just a few weeks ago, when they dropped a press release which was sparse on details. There still isn’t a lot to go on, as they’re holding their cards close to the vest in anticipation of making announcements at CES next month. Some details are starting to trickle out however. From their CES page we can glean that they’re using Seagate hard drives, and that they’re using DTS to encode their 7.1 audio.
An article in PC Magazine sheds a little more light. XStremeHD will have a ‘server’ in the home, which receives the content from the satellite. There will be three models of server, with capacities ranging from 500GB to 2TB, with the low end storing 30 to 70 titles, and the high end up to 280. (I’m guessing the third, unmentioned size is 1TB.) The server can distribute content to media receivers around the home.
XStremeHD will used leased transponder capacity to delivery content to a small dish at the home. Which satellites will be used is unknown, but it is known that they will not be using DirecTV or DISH Network birds. Users will be able to self-install the dish, or they can utilize an installer to set everything up. Content will be distributed in MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 formats in full 1080p, with audio up to 7.1 channels. That compares favorably with Blu-ray or HD DVD for movies.
What isn’t clear is the way the content will be distributed. Will be a pre-downloaded, as Moviebeam used to do, so that users can only watch the films already stored locally? Or will it use on-demand streaming to provide a wider assortment of content, like VUDU does? Or some combination, say where the first X minutes of a number of programs are stored locally and the rest is pulled down dynamically, to allow immediate viewing while giving the system time to download more? The article doesn’t really clarify that at all. It opens with this:
A new service that will fill a set-top box with high-definition, pre-downloaded movies will launch early next year…
But it later states:
The technology will apparently use streaming; Gonzalez claimed that consumers will be able to watch movies within five minutes.
So which is it? I guess we’ll find out at CES.
The same article has some info on VUDU. While the MSRP is $399, it seems VUDU also sells the boxes for just $99 to “evangelists”. It sounds like they’re seeding boxes with users willing to talk them up online:
However, Cosson also confirmed a report by blogger and former Wall Street analyst Henry Blodget that VUDU offers discounts to “evangelists”. Although the VUDU boxes are normally $399, VUDU offers evangelists the option of buying the box for $99, together with an additional $99 worth of movie credits.
“There is no quid pro quo,” Cosson said. “We are just giving them suggestions to what they should do as an evangelist.”
According to an e-mail Blodget said he received, VUDU suggested that evangelists “educate others about the benefits of getting movies delivered over the Internet and directly to the TV,” “respond to third-party blog postings,” “participate in online surveys and help us shape the product’s evolution,” “present the product to friends and acquaintances by hosting movie parties,” and “be [VUDU's] eyes and ears in the marketplace.”
Heck, for $200 (box and movie credits), I’d probably check it out too. While I don’t like the idea of Yet Another STB in my entertainment center, it would be easier to swallow if the costs weren’t so high. $400 buys a TiVo HD and a decent service period, and then you can use Amazon Unbox for movies. While Unbox is still SD only, it is expected that TiVo will be adding HD downloads (maybe we’ll hear something at CES). And right now VUDU is still really SD, the handful of HD content is more a demo/trial at this point. If VUDU could find a way to drop the acquisition costs and make their money on the content, I think they could shift some more boxes.