One day soon, kids won't even know what a video store is. All videos and movies will be downloaded, making a trip to the video store an anachronism. Don't laugh. The next time you ask a kid to roll down the windows, and they ask why people say that, you'll know what I mean. They'll soon think the same way about going to rent a movie.
The advantages for the consumer are huge, especially in this day and age of high gas prices and terrible traffic. Who wants to drive anywhere to go get their video content when it can simply be downloaded? A mouse click is so much more convenient. As more people view their computer as the center of their entertainment system, the days of the video store are numbered. With the release of Microsoft's Vista operating system, which has tremendous integrated video and entertainment capabilities, the consumer took another giant step toward adopting their computer as the center of their entertainment universe.
As millions of people purchased iPODs and to a lesser extent Microsoft Zunes for mobile video viewing, they have become accustom to having their content downloaded, as opposed to actually waiting for it to be delivered or driving to get it themselves. The 5th generation of the iPOD and the release of the Zune in the last quarter of 2006 have proved incredibly successful. The release of the video capable online video downloader iPOD helped apple sell 14 million units in the 4th quarter of 2005 alone. The Zune has experienced somewhat slower sales, despite a larger, brighter full-color screen and WiFi networking capability, two features that should have helped Microsoft close the gap with Apple.
Many of the reasons why the Zune has failed to sell on a par with the iPOD are due to Microsoft's marketing strategy for the player. For instance, although the Zune comes in many colors, Microsoft has failed to adequately communicate this fact to the buying public. A second reason for the Zune's slow sales has to do with Microsoft's propensity to describe the Zune with marketingspeak, instead of clearly explaining to consumers why they want one. Here's Microsoft talking about the Zune: "It's actually not a device. It's an entrant into the new connected entertainment market for creating new shared and social experiences based around content" Huh???
In May of 2007, Microsoft tried to reverse their previous failure to capture the imagination of consumers with the introduction of the Halo 3 edition of the Zune. This special edition is loaded with special Halo audio and video content, including Halo soundtracks, theatrical trailers, and a special episode of Red vs Blue only available for the Zune. It's also emblazoned with Halo 3 graphics. At press time, the Halo 3 edition of the Zune is only available at Game Stop.
There are fewer technical reasons why the Zune has failed to topple the iPOD in the portable video player marketplace. Perhaps the main one has to do with their inexplicable decision to exclude a scroll wheel form the Zune's feature set. While it has a control that looks for all the world like a scroll wheel, it's actually a 4-way cursor button, like on a TV remote control. A 4-way cursor is not how many consumers want to control their portable video players, so they have voted with their dollars in favor of the iPOD. That being said, the Zune is really a fantastic player, and the video quality is great for a small portable. For those consumers who have bought their units with that in mind, they have the ability to download and enjoy all sorts of videos, TV shows and movies on a very nice, portable platform.
The iPOD will allow the use of Apple's AAC codec, MP3, Apple Lossless, AIF, or WAV formats for audio downloads. Video content is supported in H.264, which is also known as MPEG-4 part 10. This is a standard for high quality, compressed video. The Zune uses, one guess here, Microsoft's WMA and WMV formats for audio and video respectively. The Zune also supports H.264 for video and MP3 or AAC for audio. Both players will allow JPEG picture formats. There are many file format converters available for use with both players to enable video in other formats and resolutions to be converted and optimized for storage and use with the portable players.
There are many places to get downloadable video content for both the iPOD and the Zune. If you're an iPOD user, there's obviously iTunes, which offers music for $.99 per downloaded song. While this is convenient and offers a tremendous variety of available content, consumers should be prepared to spend significant amounts of money filling up a player. You can also fill your iPOD or Zune with MP3 files ripped from CDs or downloaded from other online music providers.
Microsoft offers the Zune Marketplace, a subscription service with unlimited downloads for $14.99/ month as this is written. The unlimited option is termed the "Zune Pass" by Microsoft. Zune users are able to download individual songs or complete albums. In June of 2007, Microsoft began partnering with various artists to promote their both their download service and the Zune player itself.
A popular option chosen by many consumers is one of several unlimited video download services. With these services, you pay a one time fee, usually between $30 and $75, and are then able to download an unlimited amount of music and video content. Obviously, many consumers feel that it makes more economic sense to pursue this approach, instead of the subscription based download model. Some of these networks have a tremendous amount of content available, and include TV shows and movies, in addition to music and music videos.
With most of these services, once the content is downloaded it's permanently available for use. With some of the subscription based unlimited download services when the subscription is terminated, access to previously downloaded content is denied. Only time will tell if the powers that be crack down on services using this business model.