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Eyes-On: The Xbox 360's Instant 1080p Streaming

Exactly how instant is "instant," anyway?


 New look, same marketplace.
Once you get past Facebook and Twitter, one of the big additions that comes with the latest Xbox 360 dashboard update is the Zune Marketplace and the new "instant-on" 1080p video streaming. On the former point, it's only worth noting that "Video Marketplace" now equals "Zune Marketplace." The old video-buyin' interface has simply been rebranded and skinned with Zune signage, with a few new sorting options mixed in. So in terms of both technology and appearance, this is really more of an upgrade to the existing service than a whole new platform.

Anyway, this instant 1080p business. It works quite well from my initial tests, though the name is misleading, because it doesn't instantly start in 1080p. Instead, it begins playing almost immediately in a much lower-quality mode, then buffers itself up to full quality as fast as your connection will allow. The video timeline has a handy connection meter showing what quality level you've buffered up to that sits in the upper right, as seen below. It's divided into three bars and then an "HD" indicator; as far as I can tell, once the HD icon lights up, you've hit full quality. That took around 10 seconds even over the 360 Wi-Fi adapter to our shared Internet connection in the office, so in most cases you're probably going to hit 1080p before you get through all the studio logos at the front of a movie.

Microsoft provided us with a 24-hour rental of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to test this feature out, and here's how the movie looked immediately after hitting Play from the Zune Marketplace. (Full-size version here. Right-click and Save as, if your browser doesn't display the full pic.) As you can see, the image is pretty rough, with a lot of visible compression artifacts at the outset. 


And here's what it looked like a few seconds later, at full quality. (Full-size pic.) At a normal viewing distance, the HD version looked nearly as good as a Blu-ray to my untrained eyes.


Unfortunately, this instant 1080p hasn't made me like the Harry Potter films any more than I did before.

You can skip between chapters just like on a DVD, which happens more or less instantly, though of course you have to buffer back to HD each time you do it. I wish there were some kind of way to see all the chapters broken out in a list, but what can you do? You can also seek forwards and backwards at up to 32x, which happens instantaneously, even into territory you haven't buffered yet. At the higher speeds, seeking will only display single frames as you go.

So the tech works great, but the pricing of these movies still sticks in my craw. You're looking at between $6 and 8 U.S. for a 24-hour rental of new releases, which is cheaper than going to the theater but seems like highway robbery next to a $20 Netflix account that offers Blu-rays in the mail and unlimited streaming on the same console. Netflix's streaming selection remains pretty limited, though, so I could see this service being cool for impulse-watching the latest flicks. It beats driving to Blockbuster, anyway. Who still does that?
 
Show of hands: who regularly rents or buys movies on their Xbox already? If you don't, will this new upgrade make you start? (If you want to see all the new features of this latest update, including the movie in motion, you could always watch our quick look.) 
 
EDIT: Upon inspection, the rentals I've found in the Marketplace actually range from around $4.50 to $6. I guess that means the Microsoft Points system is doing its job. Brad Shoemaker on Google+
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Posted by Brad

 New look, same marketplace.
Once you get past Facebook and Twitter, one of the big additions that comes with the latest Xbox 360 dashboard update is the Zune Marketplace and the new "instant-on" 1080p video streaming. On the former point, it's only worth noting that "Video Marketplace" now equals "Zune Marketplace." The old video-buyin' interface has simply been rebranded and skinned with Zune signage, with a few new sorting options mixed in. So in terms of both technology and appearance, this is really more of an upgrade to the existing service than a whole new platform.

Anyway, this instant 1080p business. It works quite well from my initial tests, though the name is misleading, because it doesn't instantly start in 1080p. Instead, it begins playing almost immediately in a much lower-quality mode, then buffers itself up to full quality as fast as your connection will allow. The video timeline has a handy connection meter showing what quality level you've buffered up to that sits in the upper right, as seen below. It's divided into three bars and then an "HD" indicator; as far as I can tell, once the HD icon lights up, you've hit full quality. That took around 10 seconds even over the 360 Wi-Fi adapter to our shared Internet connection in the office, so in most cases you're probably going to hit 1080p before you get through all the studio logos at the front of a movie.

Microsoft provided us with a 24-hour rental of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to test this feature out, and here's how the movie looked immediately after hitting Play from the Zune Marketplace. (Full-size version here. Right-click and Save as, if your browser doesn't display the full pic.) As you can see, the image is pretty rough, with a lot of visible compression artifacts at the outset. 


And here's what it looked like a few seconds later, at full quality. (Full-size pic.) At a normal viewing distance, the HD version looked nearly as good as a Blu-ray to my untrained eyes.


Unfortunately, this instant 1080p hasn't made me like the Harry Potter films any more than I did before.

You can skip between chapters just like on a DVD, which happens more or less instantly, though of course you have to buffer back to HD each time you do it. I wish there were some kind of way to see all the chapters broken out in a list, but what can you do? You can also seek forwards and backwards at up to 32x, which happens instantaneously, even into territory you haven't buffered yet. At the higher speeds, seeking will only display single frames as you go.

So the tech works great, but the pricing of these movies still sticks in my craw. You're looking at between $6 and 8 U.S. for a 24-hour rental of new releases, which is cheaper than going to the theater but seems like highway robbery next to a $20 Netflix account that offers Blu-rays in the mail and unlimited streaming on the same console. Netflix's streaming selection remains pretty limited, though, so I could see this service being cool for impulse-watching the latest flicks. It beats driving to Blockbuster, anyway. Who still does that?
 
Show of hands: who regularly rents or buys movies on their Xbox already? If you don't, will this new upgrade make you start? (If you want to see all the new features of this latest update, including the movie in motion, you could always watch our quick look.) 
 
EDIT: Upon inspection, the rentals I've found in the Marketplace actually range from around $4.50 to $6. I guess that means the Microsoft Points system is doing its job.
Posted by Chewii101

Sounds great. Cept for the Zune branding.

Posted by Venatio

Will this be for European 360 users aswell? Specifically Sweden

Posted by Sanj

Get on it Sony.
Posted by DanielJW

I still go to Blockbuster, thank you very much!

Posted by eroticfishcake

Looks interesting. Come on Sony, let's do something with that little black box of yours. Chop chop!

Posted by slint

We need Netflix in Canada.  The fact that we don't is completely retarded.
Online
Posted by MjHealy

I loved how they watched Harry Potter.
 
Also, Europeans maybe?

Posted by Hitchenson

Seems pretty cool, although I doubt I'd ever use it myself.

Posted by FlipperDesert
@DanielJW said:
" I still go to Blockbuster, thank you very much! "
Me too! There isn't much of a choice in the UK.
Posted by Vonocourt

You want to show the quality of the streaming so you give us JPEGs? Seems kinda counter-productive.

Posted by MeatSim

I wish they would expand Netflix's streaming selection. 

Posted by PLWolf

I still get movies or TV Shows off the Video Marketplace. Mostly TV shows, though. I also do that on PSN as I can load them up on my PSP and watch during my morning commutes.

Posted by pepper

Nope. Even if it looks nice, it doesn't make up for the lack of interesting movies you are able to watch.

Posted by MetalGearSunny

Is it the same for the Netflix video streaming?

Posted by MaddProdigy

im down

Posted by dexterslu

I've only bought episodes of South Park, sparingly before they were online for free. Now that Netflix instant streaming is available and has so many different options, there is NO WAY IN HELL I will ever rent anything/buy anything from Marketplace.

Posted by Dryker

My biggest gripe concerning downloadable movies is the lack of 5.1 surround sound. That is a big deal for me. I don't need it for "quirky" movies: low-budget comedies, indie movies, and the like; but for most others it definitely depreciates the viewing experience. So, in short, no, I have no intention to pay for downloadable movies above and beyond my Netflix account. I don't have enough time to watch the Blu-rays that are sitting on my shelf from Netflix, let alone pay for a 1080p movie. And with the Holiday line-up of games in full-effect, I'm seriously considering canceling my Netflix account to give me more time to play all the awesome games. Then, when I come back to Netflix early next year, I'll have a huge back log of rentals to fill my free time with (without the occasional "filler" movie!).
Posted by Nei

I weekly check to see what Marketplace has to offer... be it Movies or TV Shows. I pretty much have every HD episode of South Park. :)
I wonder though, the movie rental, is it going to be Streaming only or I will have an option to download and play of the HD. 'cause, I can't stream with my connection, which is one of the reason I can't use the Netflix on 360. My Cable pretty much hits Dial-Up territory between 6pm-1am. :( So I usually set things to download over night and while I'm at work.

Posted by 88Fingers

Impressive.
Doesn't this kinda' make BluRay obsolete? 
 
It makes me wonder about Microsofts next console....
I doubt it will have BluRay if it can stream 1080p.
The only benefit from BluRay would be larger space on a disc. 
But so far, games on a dual layer HD DVD seem to be enough space.
In other words, there's no benefit of putting BORDERLANDS on a BluRay.
 50Gbytes of space, yet only 10 percent seems to be needed....in most games.
The only game to "supposedly" use an entire BluRay is Metal Gear IV.
I don't understand why though. It's a 4 hour game if you remove the cut scenes.
I think they probably just un-compressed it as much as possible to fill it up.
That's why there are 20+ minute load times. (installs)
I still say streaming this well in 1080p is another reason why
the next consoles will be drive-less and digital downloads only.
 
And I welcome it with open arms.

Posted by samsaturday

I've never used the Video Marketplace since I have Netflix. And I still see no reason to do so.

Posted by BD_Mr_Bubbles

Still won't rent from them, unless for some reason I can't get the Blu-Ray.
Posted by killdave
@FlipperDesert said:
" @DanielJW said:
" I still go to Blockbuster, thank you very much! "
Me too! There isn't much of a choice in the UK. "
Lovefilm,    with talks of a netflicks buyout on the net
Posted by Jiggah
@88Fingers said:
" Impressive. Doesn't this kinda' make BluRay obsolete?   It makes me wonder about Microsofts next console.... I doubt it will have BluRay if it can stream 1080p. The only benefit from BluRay would be larger space on a disc.  But so far, games on a dual layer HD DVD seem to be enough space. In other words, there's no benefit of putting BORDERLANDS on a BluRay.  50Gbytes of space, yet only 10 percent seems to be needed....in most games. The only game to "supposedly" use an entire BluRay is Metal Gear IV. I don't understand why though. It's a 4 hour game if you remove the cut scenes. I think they probably just un-compressed it as much as possible to fill it up. That's why there are 20+ minute load times. (installs) I still say streaming this well in 1080p is another reason why the next consoles will be drive-less and digital downloads only.  And I welcome it with open arms. "
No.  The 1080p is still compressed beyond all hell.  It artifacts, too.  If you want seamless 1080p, you get blu-ray.  If you're the average user who doesn't care about quality then stick with this or...why even bother with high def anyway.
Posted by PS3RG

Anyone know what kind of Down speed you need to stream this quality of video? As for this replacing Blu Ray, I highly doubt it. Not everyone has the bandwidth to stream this quality annnnd does the streaming 1080p video also include HD audio as well? I do hope though, that broadband infrastructure will one day be high enough and widely available enough so that everyone can have the option of seamless streaming 1080p and one step closer to a disc-less world.

Posted by Hamst3r
@Jiggah said:
"No.  The 1080p is still compressed beyond all hell.  It artifacts, too.  If you want seamless 1080p, you get blu-ray.  If you're the average user who doesn't care about quality then stick with this or...why even bother with high def anyway. "

Come on, you know people don't give a shit about quality, they just like to say they do.
Posted by stinky

i did a movie once through the xbox, to try out the novelty of it. 
 
while the tech looks promising, it's not going to win over any more rentals from me. 

Posted by PandaShake
@88Fingers: 
 
Nice theory, but I highly doubt the next console will be drive-less. You know why? Because that means every household will need wifi or router set up + the knowledge of knowing how to connect to console on the internet. It's very simple set up, but I bet you a lot of people wouldn't want to fool with it. Also, every game/video purchase may require some sort online account or credit card, making teens, and younger, have a hard time purchasing.
Posted by Zeouterlimits

Depending on how it works here in Ireland I'll see. 
 Right now they have a small full download before watch rental system.

Posted by ethan

I use my Roku box instead of my 360 to watch Netflix.  The fan noise of the 360 is just too much.

Posted by Kohe321

Price is a little steep, but it beats leaving your house to rent the movie. The convenience factor wins here IMO. This is a great new feature for the xbox 360.

Posted by hgill88
@88Fingers said:
" Impressive. Doesn't this kinda' make BluRay obsolete?   It makes me wonder about Microsofts next console.... I doubt it will have BluRay if it can stream 1080p. The only benefit from BluRay would be larger space on a disc.  But so far, games on a dual layer HD DVD seem to be enough space. In other words, there's no benefit of putting BORDERLANDS on a BluRay.  50Gbytes of space, yet only 10 percent seems to be needed....in most games. The only game to "supposedly" use an entire BluRay is Metal Gear IV. I don't understand why though. It's a 4 hour game if you remove the cut scenes. I think they probably just un-compressed it as much as possible to fill it up. That's why there are 20+ minute load times. (installs) I still say streaming this well in 1080p is another reason why the next consoles will be drive-less and digital downloads only.  And I welcome it with open arms. "
speaking of obsolete, has there ever even been a game on an HD DVD? Blu-ray is great for ppl who want to have the best video and audio quality, this instant on 1080p streaming seems like the equivalent of a dvdrip to a retail dvd, compressed video and low quality audio when put next to a retail blu-ray, but most people couldn't even tell the difference so it's still a great feature for them
Posted by KinjiroSSD

Good step in the right direction but I'll stick with bluray till the infrastructure is right.

Posted by Tomeh

I probably would rent movies if it was a vailiable outside the US : \
Posted by SlantedRoom

i am just completely confused of why they have both this and netflix. i do understand that there are people out there that don't have netflix, but it just seems like they have two features that do almost the exact same thing. and from microsofts point, it might make them more money to dump netflix so more people would buy there $8 dollar movies more. 
to answer the question though, i use to occasionally download movies and such from the marketplace until netflix came around, haven't done it since. and even if i didn't have netflix i don't think 1080p would convince me too more often.
Posted by Giantsquirrel

Yay for BSG on the thumbnail.

Posted by Mars_Cleric

I can honestly say I will never use this service 
Mostly because we don't have a lot of downloads a waste and because the internet is so damn slow here 
Damn you Kevin Rudd!
Posted by 88Fingers
@hgill88 said:
" @88Fingers said:
" Impressive. Doesn't this kinda' make BluRay obsolete?   It makes me wonder about Microsofts next console.... I doubt it will have BluRay if it can stream 1080p. The only benefit from BluRay would be larger space on a disc.  But so far, games on a dual layer HD DVD seem to be enough space. In other words, there's no benefit of putting BORDERLANDS on a BluRay.  50Gbytes of space, yet only 10 percent seems to be needed....in most games. The only game to "supposedly" use an entire BluRay is Metal Gear IV. I don't understand why though. It's a 4 hour game if you remove the cut scenes. I think they probably just un-compressed it as much as possible to fill it up. That's why there are 20+ minute load times. (installs) I still say streaming this well in 1080p is another reason why the next consoles will be drive-less and digital downloads only.  And I welcome it with open arms. "
speaking of obsolete, has there ever even been a game on an HD DVD? Blu-ray is great for ppl who want to have the best video and audio quality, this instant on 1080p streaming seems like the equivalent of a dvdrip to a retail dvd, compressed video and low quality audio when put next to a retail blu-ray, but most people couldn't even tell the difference so it's still a great feature for them "
Ummm, am I mis-informed? I thought all games on 360 were HD.  Some play at 720p but most are 1080p....
I don't think you can get an HD game from a regular DVD. Or am I wrong?
Posted by DavidSnakes

I HATE HATE HATE the Microsoft Point system.  Right now I have 140 worthless points, which will never get spent unless I want some shitty gamer pictures.  I can only buy them in MS's specified intervals, none of which are the exact prices of games.

Posted by hgill88
@88Fingers said:
" @hgill88 said:
" @88Fingers said:
" Impressive. Doesn't this kinda' make BluRay obsolete?   It makes me wonder about Microsofts next console.... I doubt it will have BluRay if it can stream 1080p. The only benefit from BluRay would be larger space on a disc.  But so far, games on a dual layer HD DVD seem to be enough space. In other words, there's no benefit of putting BORDERLANDS on a BluRay.  50Gbytes of space, yet only 10 percent seems to be needed....in most games. The only game to "supposedly" use an entire BluRay is Metal Gear IV. I don't understand why though. It's a 4 hour game if you remove the cut scenes. I think they probably just un-compressed it as much as possible to fill it up. That's why there are 20+ minute load times. (installs) I still say streaming this well in 1080p is another reason why the next consoles will be drive-less and digital downloads only.  And I welcome it with open arms. "
speaking of obsolete, has there ever even been a game on an HD DVD? Blu-ray is great for ppl who want to have the best video and audio quality, this instant on 1080p streaming seems like the equivalent of a dvdrip to a retail dvd, compressed video and low quality audio when put next to a retail blu-ray, but most people couldn't even tell the difference so it's still a great feature for them "
Ummm, am I mis-informed? I thought all games on 360 were HD.  Some play at 720p but most are 1080p.... I don't think you can get an HD game from a regular DVD. Or am I wrong? "
yeah your misinformed, 360 games are on regular dual layer dvds, same as dvd movies, they are just made in 720p or similar resolution, rarely in 1080p i believe
Posted by Death_Unicorn
@Kohe321: I concur.
Posted by Branthog

Most providers limit your monthly bandwidth. Even at 250gb, that can go by awfully fast for Comcast customers when you are streaming audio and video and podcasts and HD content and downloading entire 6gb video games. Why would I want to pay as much or more for a rental as it would cost to see the movie in the theater outside of night time hours and consume my precious bandwidth?
 
At least with BT, I only consume my bandwidth. And I get to keep the content as long as I like.

Posted by Teirdome

Netflix yos, Netflix.
 
Only thing I've ever bought is the South Park episode Guitar Queer-o before Netflix was a part of the service.  I don't plan on it anytime soon and I even have a Zune HD.

Posted by Poki3
@88Fingers said:
" Impressive. Doesn't this kinda' make BluRay obsolete?   It makes me wonder about Microsofts next console.... I doubt it will have BluRay if it can stream 1080p. The only benefit from BluRay would be larger space on a disc.  But so far, games on a dual layer HD DVD seem to be enough space. In other words, there's no benefit of putting BORDERLANDS on a BluRay.  50Gbytes of space, yet only 10 percent seems to be needed....in most games. The only game to "supposedly" use an entire BluRay is Metal Gear IV. I don't understand why though. It's a 4 hour game if you remove the cut scenes. I think they probably just un-compressed it as much as possible to fill it up. That's why there are 20+ minute load times. (installs) I still say streaming this well in 1080p is another reason why the next consoles will be drive-less and digital downloads only.  And I welcome it with open arms. "
Yeah, BluRay Discs also dissolve into nothingness 24 hours after purchase and require an expensive Internet connection to play fluidly.
And the 360 doesn't play games on HD DVD, but regular DVD. It's never bad to have more storage space. One of the problems with the N64 back in the day was the lack of storage space on the cartridges for instance.
You probably never played on the PS3 or the PC for that matter if a one time install bothers you THAT MUCH, and for all that Sony dislike, you sound like someone who would actually dig the PSP GO :D
Posted by GoodKn1ght

i've done it alot  nad it is actually quite handy, yes i have netflix but the streaming quality for my connection isn't very good so i find its better to just rent it from the marketplace. thats only for impulse buys though, much rather just wait and get a dvd for free but what can you do sometimes?

Posted by Lozz
@DavidSnakes said:
" I HATE HATE HATE the Microsoft Point system.  Right now I have 140 worthless points, which will never get spent unless I want some shitty gamer pictures.  I can only buy them in MS's specified intervals, none of which are the exact prices of games. "
Dude, I totally agree. What's wrong with real money?
Posted by Mordi

I will never use this service. 
 
But that is only because it isn't available here in Norway!

Posted by JFiveJ5
@Lozz said:
" @DavidSnakes said:
" I HATE HATE HATE the Microsoft Point system.  Right now I have 140 worthless points, which will never get spent unless I want some shitty gamer pictures.  I can only buy them in MS's specified intervals, none of which are the exact prices of games. "
Dude, I totally agree. What's wrong with real money? "
It is Microsoft's nonchalant way of ripping you off. I hate it so much, but there really isn't anything we can do about it.
Posted by ch3burashka

I'm sure that, had MS given the GB Crank 2 instead of Harry Potter, the 'review' would've been much more gushing.
 
That movie was fucking crazy.

Posted by Koobz

It's nice to know streaming technology is chugging along, but I am not paying $6-8 for that crap.

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