Home Box Office, the premium television programmer, is set to launch a new broadband service tomorrow.
Available initially only to cable customers served by the Wisconsin Division of Time Warner Cable, the new service - called HBO on Broadband - will make over 600 HBO movies and shows available each month for downloading directly to computers in subscribers' homes. The service is being offered at no charge to HBO customers, who must also have HBO On Demand and Time Warner's Road Runner high speed online service in their homes, in order to be able to use this new product enhancement.
HBO on Broadband offers unlimited downloads of HBO shows and movies and has the largest collection of HBO programing available from any source. It gives users the freedom to enjoy HBO whenever they want and wherever they go... HBO subscribers can download and watch as much as they like as often as they like, with no per-program fees or additional charges. If you have a PC laptop, you can take the shows with you and watch anywhere you go (although programs can not be transferred to an iPod, Zune or other portable device nor burned to a DVD).
Available for downloading this month will be select episodes from many of HBO's original series, including the current (and final) season of "The Wire" and the debut season of "In Treatment," plus "Rusell Simmons' Def Comedy Jam" and "Real Time with Bill Maher," as well as past seasons of "The Sopranos," "Sex and the City," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Entourage," "Six Feet Under," "Big Love," "Deadwood," "Flight of the Conchords" and more. One HBO original series each month will have all episodes from all its seasons available on the service.
Films offered for download each month will include most of the titles currently airing on HBO, plus many from their extensive library. Among the films available in January are "We Are Marshall," "Norbit," "Breach," "Smokin' Aces," "The Devil Wears Prada," "Superman Returns," "The Last King of Scotland" and the documentary "Baghdad Hospital: Inside The Red Zone."
Individual titles will be available on the service for 4 - 12 weeks, with episodes of HBO original series generally available for longer periods than theatrical films. When a title reaches its "expiration date," it will automatically be deleted from your computer.
In addition to the movies and shows offered as downloads, HBO on Broadband will provide streaming video of the East Coast HBO feed, so you can watch the main HBO channel "live" at the very same time the program is being shown on TV.
Boxing and other sports programming will also be available, although HBO does not own the broadband rights for the footage shown on "Inside the NFL," so that program - the longest running series on cable television - is one that subscribers will not be able to view online or download.
HBO on Broadband features a user-friendly proprietary media player developed in-house, with all the features you've come to expect from such things, including a personal library, a recommendation engine and a resizable viewing window that either sits on your desktop while you work in other applications, or can be blown up to fill the entire computer screen, for a more TV-like experience.
The "progressive download" feature lets you begin watching while you're still downloading and the "series pass" function allows you to sign up so that new episodes of current HBO shows will be automatically downloaded as soon as they become available (usually about five or ten minutes after they conclude their first cablecast).
You can register as many as five computers to your account and have as many as five different users per household. A parental control feature is available so you can watch "Sex and the City" and "Cathouse," while restricting your children's viewing options to more appropriate fare.
HBO on Broadband is not a standalone service; one must have digital cable service (including HBO and HBO On Demand), along with Road Runner, in order to take advantage of this free enhancement to your HBO subscription. In fact, you must be connected via Road Runner in order to download new movies and shows (although you can watch previously downloaded content anywhere).
The service has been designed to work on PCs running a 32-bit version of Windows Vista or Windows XP with Service Pack 2. If you're running Windows XP Media Center Edition, you'll need the 2005 Edition with Update Rollup 2. Minimum system requirements include a 700 MHZ Intel Pentium Processor, 2 GB free hard drive space and 256 MB RAM.
Macintosh computers are not supported natively, but if you're running Windows on an Intel-based Mac, the service will indeed work. HBO is working on a Mac version, but no release date has yet been announced.
Download times will vary, depending on the speed of your connection. (Time Warner Cable in Wisconsin offers four different speeds for its Road Runner high speed online service.) File size is approximately 1.2 GB for a two hour movie, while a one hour show runs about 600 MB and a thirty minute show is around 300 MB.
Television commercials breaking this week will inform viewers that with HBO on Broadband, "you'll never look at HBO the same way again."
That may well be true... provided, of course, that you live in Wisconsin.
Truth in Blogging: I think HBO on Broadband is swell and I'd be writing about it even if I wasn't closely involved with the launch. But in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I am a twenty year veteran of Time Warner, having worked as an employee in the cable division, as well as on the programming side (most recently at Home Box Office). In my current work as a consultant, I have been involved with HBO on Broadband for over a year (in a non-technical capacity) and participated in the launch of the new service in Wisconsin this month. This blog post is being made with the knowledge and approval of HBO executives close to the project.
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