Studio joins video download service

New Line is the latest studio to join Microsoft’s Xbox Live video download service, while existing partner Paramount is going high-def.

Mini-major will provide new-release and library titles for digital rental via the service, which allows gamers with an Xbox 360 console to download movies and watch them on their TVs. Par movies, which have been available in standard def since the Xbox Live Video Marketplace launched in November, will be offered in high definition for the first time.

Xbox Live is the only digital moviestore that offers HD downloads. That has helped it hit No. 2 in the space behind iTunes.

Warner Bros. has offered pics in HD since the service launched, while Lionsgate joined in January with hi-def.

New Line pics will be available in HD and standard def. Studio was a late entrant to the digital download game but just in the past two months started putting some of its films on Movielink and CinemaNow.

“There were international rights, music rights and security issues, but we’re now past them all and moving full speed ahead,” said New Line Television prexy Jim Rosenthal. His studio is now talking to all major online moviestores, including Apple iTunes.

He added that issues related to the films’ release windows prevented New Line from making the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which would surely be a hit among digital downloaders, available online currently.

A&E is also joining this week with digital downloads of its TV shows, including “Dog the Bounty Hunter.” Shows from CBS, MTV Networks, WB and Paramount TV are already on Xbox Live, with many available in high-def.

Starting this week, Warner will add some of its direct-to-video films to Xbox Live in HD.

Action sports company TotalVid and Japanese anime distrib ADV Films have also signed onto the service.

Microsoft launched the Xbox Live Marketplace in 2005 to let users purchase and download casual arcade-style games. It has been a big success, and the tech giant added movies and TV shows late last year as part of an expanding plan to turn the Xbox 360 console into a complete entertainment device for the living room.

In the still nascent video download market, studio insiders say Xbox Live has been one of the few success stories due to its high-def content, direct connection to the TV and access to a mostly young male aud.

“We have seen a huge amount of video activity since we launched in November,” said Albert Penello, director of global platform marketing for Xbox. “There has been an almost four-times increase in downloading activity.”

Microsoft also confirmed that it will be releasing in April a version of its console dubbed the Xbox 360 Elite.

As several videogame blogs and Game Informer magazine have already reported, device will have a 120 gigabyte hard drive — significantly bigger than the 20 gig drive on Xbox 360.

The 360 Elite, which will cost $479, should enable high-end customers to download and store huge numbers of games, movies and TV shows. It could also prove useful as Microsoft starts testing the console as a set-top box for IPTV services.

For existing 360 owners with a 20 gig hard drive, Microsoft will offer a 120 gig hard drive for $179. Buyers will be able to easily transfer content from their old 20 gig hard drive.

New version of the 360 will compete more directly with Sony’s PlayStation 3. Hard drive is twice as big as that on the $599 PS3 and comes with an HDMI output, like the PS3.

Only remaining difference will be the PS3’s Blu-ray drive; Xbox 360 owners who want to watch high-def discs have to purchase an HD DVD add-on drive for $199.

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