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Blockbuster Unwraps Internet Set-Top Box

Blockbuster, trying to keep pace with movie-rental rival Netflix, on Tuesday began taking orders for a set-top box that will let consumers download movies over broadband connections and watch them on HDTV sets.

For a limited time, Blockbuster is selling the set-top plus an advance rental of 25 movies for $99 through its Web site. The company said the players will begin shipping in time for the holiday season. The MediaPoint set-top is supplied by 2Wire, a provider of broadband and telecommunications access equipment.

Blockbuster didn't say how many movies will be available in its digital library. Titles are to include Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Smart, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, The Strangers, and The Love Guru

"We are bringing Blockbuster, and the thousands of movies in our digital library, straight to customers' televisions," CEO Jim Keyes said in a statement.

Netflix, Blockbuster's chief competitor, is farther ahead on the Internet set-top front. Netflix offers more than 12,000 titles through its Net-streaming service, and has cut deals with TiVo, Microsoft Xbox 360, Samsung, LG Electronics and others to embed the ability to access its service.

With the Blockbuster OnDemand service, the company is emphasizing its a la carte pricing model in contrast with Netflix's fixed-rate fees, with Keyes noting there is "no monthly subscription commitment." After the initial 25 rentals included in the $99 purchase price, movies will be available starting at $1.99 each. Blockbuster also is promising "hot new releases, many available within weeks of leaving theaters" with the new service.

As the foundation for the service, Blockbuster in August 2007 acquired Movielink, an online movie-rental and download company that was a joint venture of five movie studios: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. Studios.

Through Movielink, Blockbuster has Internet distribution rights to a library of thousands of movies and TV shows from the five member studios and 30 other studios. In addition, Blockbuster this July hired former Warner Bros. pay-TV executive Jeffrey Calman as vice president of studio relations and new media in charge of acquiring digital content.

The MediaPoint digital media player (8" x 8" x 1") connects to a broadband connection via built-in Wi-Fi or Ethernet cable. The box supports composite video, component video and HDMI outputs.

While the player supports HD video content, Blockbuster did not specify whether it will offer any high-definition titles initially.