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My New Zealand Listener technology column this week looks at the (legal) options for Kiwis who want to venture online to download movies and TV shows at their leisure.

zuneThe options could generously be described as “patchy”. Consider this – for US$8 a month, about the cost of a glass of wine at a bar in central Auckland, a Netflix customer can stream as many movies a month as they like. For an additional US$2 a month, they can take advantage of a DVD mail out service that mirrors that provided by Sky TV’s Fatso service here.

Now the US has good quality broadband pervasive across the country and unmetered data plans mean users can log onto Neflix without fear of chewing through their monthly data cap. The quality of the broadband means streaming thousands of video simultaneously across the internet from Netflix servers is a viable option in the US.

Is the same type of service viable here? Technically yes – for many of us. But the infrastructure isn’t in place from any provider to offer up video streaming services on that scale, though TVNZ, Mediaworks and Sky with its iSky player are gaining valuable experience doing so.

The real stumbling point is the negotiations that would have to be concluded with movie studios in the US to allow a comprehensive library of movies to be offered up to subscribers.For a small market like New Zealand, there is really only one player that has pockets deep enough to secure the rights to offer a service as comprehensive as Netflix – Sky TV. And currently Sky has no real incentive to do so – its pay TV business is going gangbusters, its Fatso service scooped up all the rivals in the market and no other player is battering down the door to launch a movie download service in New Zealand.

So other than renting DVDs, using Sky’s limited movie on demand options or subscribing to their movie channels, the options for picking and choosing your movies and downloading them via the internet are at best 3 – 4 years behind the US and two years behind Australia.

Here are the legal options I came across in researching for the column…

Apple iTunes – a pretty decent service to use especially if you have invested in an Apple TV box ($169) which lets you stream video from your computer to your TV screen. Pricing is reasonable for movie rentals, but we don’t get the same library as the US market, so selection is limited.

Caspa OnDemand – The movie download service that comes with the TiVo personal video recorder is technically very good but hamstrung by a dire movie selection – barely 500 movies. I buy movies here from time to time – the quality and speed of the downloads is good, but Caspa really needs to up its game in the content stakes for this to work longterm. Plus, you currently need to be  TiVo PVR owner to take advantage of this – TVNZ recently wrote off its $10 million investment in TiVo which suggests the platform is withering and dying in New Zealand, which is a shame. The box itself is very intelligent and flexible (you can shuffle comtent to your computer and mobile devices), but it was too late to market behind Sky’s MySky box and woefully implemented.

Microsoft Zune Player – Don’t even go there. A token effort to flex Microsoft’s muscles in the content space that doesn’t really deliver for the New Zealand market. The Zune software itself is quite nice, but the movie selection is dire, the Microsoft credit system confusing and apparently my internet connection (even on Orcon’s highspeed unbundled service in Wellington) is too slow to stream some movies! Available on Xbox 360, PC and on Windows Phone 7 devices and credit can be shuffled between the two, one advantage of Microsoft having its fingers in several pies.

Playstation Mubi – I like what Sony is doing here – offering a curated library of around 300 art house movies to take you away from the mainstream and into creative cinema. But as a download service for those of us looking for a well-priced flick to watch on a Friday night it doesn’t deliver.

I may have left out some options, but the above services seemed to be the extent of the legal services I could find that allow downloads in the New Zealand market. Doing a Google search will bring up many more services, but BEWARE. Many of these services are illegal – they will take your credit card details and charge your card, but deliver up content they have procured illegally. There are many pirate download services masquerading as legitimate download services. If it sounds too good to be true, it definitely is.

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