As of November 22nd, Microsoft will sell you TV shows and let you rent movies, both in SD and HD formats, through XBOX Live. They have a bunch of content on tap, but I figured this line from the November 6th press release (which I missed till now) would appeal to ZDNet readers:
For the first time CBS will deliver high-definition download-to-own TV shows including “CSI,” “Jericho,” “Numb3rs” and remastered “Star Trek” episodes; gamers can buy them and watch them repeatedly.
Rock on. Personally, I'm a huge fan of the original Star Trek, possibly because their inability to create realistic effects forced them to emphasize story over glitz. Plus, you have to love Shatner as Captain Kirk.
Anyway, this is just one of those things that falls into the "really good idea" department. It also supports Bill Gates' claim that the new HD DVD format (whichever format won) would be the last physical disc format we'd care about. What is the point of the HD-DVD vs. BluRay war if people will start to download the content they want? Permanent storage may be one reason, but with drives getting ever smaller, the notion of carrying a single disc around with only one movie on it might seem as quaint as carrying around a single album on a CD instead of storing all your albums on a large drive contained in a portable music player.
Most people think of the PC when they imagine downloadable video, but that's hardly a natural form factor for couch potatos (though it does provide a more interactive experience, so I see it as a good parallel option provided seamless and simple home networking). Game consoles are a good start, though I can easily imagine this moving beyond the XBOX 360 to all the other living room devices in Microsoft's planned home ecosystem.
Will it ever be possible to buy a truly permanent copy of a movie or TV show through XBOX Live (correct me if I'm wrong, but I see no evidence that you can move the purchased TV show off the XBOX device). Possibly, once movie studios feel safe about allowing content to move beyond the controlled environment of a game console like the XBOX 360. I expect those assurances to happen - someday - and then the issue of which HD DVD format wins will become even less relevant.