Your guide to legally downloading high-def movies

You've heard the story about on-demand content? It goes something like this: once upon a time people had to wait until Christmas Day to see the "big movie" on the telly. After stuffing themselves silly whole families would huddle round to get their peepers on Bond, Star Wars or a Biblical epic. But those days are well behind us. A decades-long battering from VHS rental, the obsession in the UK with buying DVDs – second only to the US – and of course the massive growth in satellite television has meant that the film shown after the Queen’s speech is probably as familiar to us as mum’s turkey dinner.

And things continue to progress, with the addition to Sky’s movie line-up of two hi-def film channels, not to mention pay-per-view channels and a host of further goodness currently in development. This means you don’t need to invest in Blu-ray or HD DVD (see previous posts on this subject) for fine-looking movie action just yet – you can just turn on the TV and watch it. Here's some more advice for our comrades over on DVD Review magazine...

FOR VoD’S SAKE!

Video-on-demand is a fantastic idea. Fancy a film? Browse the listings, order it and it’s yours. Missed last night’s EastEnders? Just use a replay service and you can watch it right now. It’s the TV and movies you want to watch, exactly when you want to watch them. Here is the hot HD telly at your beck and call:

Virgin Media HD
www.virginmedia.com

Things have slowed down at the UK’s first HD service recently – we suppose everyone was occupied in the merger that brought about Virgin Media. But it seems to be kicking off again, with the news that the service will now offer all the Bond movies in glorious high-definition, including the brand spanking new Casino Royale. Here’s hoping for more from the renamed V+ box in its second year.

BT Vision
www.btvision.bt.com

Not content with dominating the world of broadband, BT now offers the service with the addition of a video-on-demand feature. You get a Sky+-alike box that lets you pause, record and rewind standard TV, complete with movies and TV that costs as little as 29p. That’s less than the price of a clothes peg.

Home Choice
www.homechoice.co.uk

Part of the Tiscali empire, Home Choice will serve up oodles of great movies and classic TV at the zap of an infra-red beam. A new set-top HD box, launching next month, will get this service ready for the latest on-demand hi-def.

Sky Anytime
www.sky.com

As well as banging out crisp HD on its broadcast service, you can also get movies, sport and Sky exclusives like 24 in both standard and high-definition, which is geared up for playback on your big screen TV, PC or even a mobile.

DOWNLOAD DREAMS

The information super web-net isn’t just for (ahem) naughty stuff – it’s a movie sensation in a cable too. Draining a movie from the internet used to take an age; nowadays, it can be ready before you’ve dimmed the lights and finished microwaving the popcorn. Bagging a movie over broadband means no queuing, and no talking to a spotty youth behind a counter.

The first movie downloads were shunned by most because of their stuttering sound or dodgy picture quality, but technology’s caught up. Download a movie today and you’ll treat your eyes to DVD-standard stun-o-vision, as well as some added benefits along the way. For a start, downloaded rentals are cheaper than their DVD brethren – some start at 99p, while others give you the option to keep the flick for as little as two quid more. Downloading to keep also comes with extras in most cases. Some stores throw in a version ready-formatted for your portable media player; others will send you a DVD version in the post, so you’ll never have to worry about backing up your downloads.

Dragging files from the internet’s speedy too. If your broadband’s of the 8MB variety you could even download a whole movie in under half an hour. And it's not just films. Several download stores now pack TV that's not been screened on any satellite station. There’s something for everyone – from amine to documentary, it’s a telly fan’s playground.

Whichever option you choose, your PC is the natural safe-haven for your favourite movies. Finding the films or TV you’ve bought is as easy as typing their name, and new streaming boxes mean you can beam purchases to a big screen in the lounge too. What’s more, HD is just around the corner. Currently trialling Stateside, it’s only a matter of time, and tech, before Blightly basks in HD download glory. So fire up your computer, settle back and open up your own digital multiplex. It’s what your broadband’s been waiting for.

Lovefilm
www.lovefilm.com

2,000 films, 99p rentals and DVDs accompanying purchases make Lovefilm the best movie download store around. It’s backed by the big studios, so the films aren’t crap, although its 1GB downloads are only just on a par with their DVD equivalents.

Movies Now
www.tiscali.co.uk/moviesnow

Newly launched and with over 500 titles available at the time of writing, Movies Now is a credible option for film fans. It’s also one of the few stores to offer different file sizes and lower pricing structures, for those with slower connections/less money.

Wippit
www.wippit.com

High-quality downloads are Wippit’s speciality. Movies weigh in at 1.2GB, so they’re crisp and sharp – and if you subscribe you’ll get classics such as Night Of The Living Dead for free. Choice is limited, though, with less on offer than other sites.

STREAM MACHINES

Watching a movie on your PC’s monitor is a far-from perfect situation. The natural home for a film is in the living room, on a big screen, with your big behind parked on the sofa in front of it. Luckily, there’s some clever kit to get it there. A video streamer will grab the video signal from your PC and feed it to your telly. Ranging from cheap and cheerful to outrageously expensive, there’s a model to suit every pocket. Most include remote controls, almost all can handle music and photos and in some cases they’ll even save a copy of the file so you needn’t leave your PC switched on while you watch.

Apple TV deserves an honourable mention as one of the slickest TV streamers around, and you can already take advantage of HD trailers and clips from the Apple website. When iTunes ramps up the video service in the UK later this year, movie lovers will have a wealth of goodies at the click of a mouse. In the meantime, check out these top-notch stream genies and get your movies back into the living room where they belong.

Linksys KiSS 1600
£200
www.linksys.com

The KiSS 1600 packs in an upscaling DVD player to make your discs near HD-quality, wireless connection to your PC for cable-free file-slinging and top-notch connections to all your other kit. It’ll even suck music and more from iPods, hard disks or anything else connected via USB before splashing it all over your telly. Media hubs don’t come much better featured than this.
YOU’LL LOVE IT BECAUSE: there’s a built-in DVD player and top-notch HDMI 1.2 output.

Pixelmagic HD MediaBox
£425
www.pixelmagicsystems.com

Connect this tiny box to your wireless router and TV to funnel films in eye-popping 1080p from your computer to the big screen. Add a hard disk and it will even hold your media collection too, so you can turn off the PC when watching a movie.
YOU’LL LOVE IT BECAUSE: it’ll cope with hard disks up to 500GB. That’s enough room to store over 100 full-HD films!

Philips SLM5500
£150
www.philips.co.uk

This format-friendly streamer delivers excellent results from virtually any video file. Unfortunately, there’s no HD output, but it’ll play nicely with multiple PCs on the same network and with the knockdown price you’ll have change for movie downloads!
YOU’LL LOVE IT BECAUSE: it offers trouble-free streaming that won’t wilt your wallet.

Information and advice in this guide originally came from our buddies over on sister magazine DVD Review magazine, so be sure to look them up. Remember, to keep up to date with what’s hot in SF and fantasy entertainment, read SFX every month for the latest film and DVD reviews.