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Microsoft first to bat with direct-to-television movie downloads

Microsoft Corp. said Monday it will begin selling television and movie downloads through its Xbox Live service later this month, beating rival Apple Computer to the punch as the first major player to offer a direct-to-television movie download experience.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant said it plans to offer over 1,000 hours of content by the end of the year, beginning Nov. 22 with standard and high-definition films such as "Mission Impossible III" and "Jackass: The Movie" from Paramount Pictures, as well as "Superman Returns" and "Batman Forever" from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Television shows will include CBS's "Survivor," VH1's "Hogan Knows Best" and COMEDY CENTRAL's "Chappelle's Show."

Unlike Apple's iTunes, which charges customers a flat fee to own movies they download, Microsoft's Xbox live will only offer film downloads for rent. Customers will have a window period of two weeks from the time they first purchase films to they expire. However, once a customer begins watching a flick, they'll have only 24 hours to finish.

TV shows downloads will function similar to Apple's iTunes, with customers being charged a flat fee for a single download which they can watch repeatedly.

Although Microsoft claims it has approximately 4 million subscribers to Xbox Live, the new video download service is only compatible with newer Xbox 360 gaming consoles with the 20GB hard disk attachment, requiring a total purchase of $399.

Apple will begin offering direct-to-television video downloads early next year through its existing iTunes service and a device called iTV —the codename for its wireless media set-top box projected to go on sale for $299 by the end of the first quarter.

Microsoft's has yet to announce its movie pricing structure. Apple's iTunes service charges $12.99 for new releases pre-ordered during their first week of availability, and $14.99 thereafter. Library titles cost just $9.99.