Companies to test on computer memory cards

With the home entertainment rental market still strong, two companies will begin testing digital downloads on computer memory cards.

This week, kiosk players NCR Corp. and MOD Systems will launch digital movie rental kiosks via downloads to SD cards — the same memory cards used in digital cameras.

Customers of two Dallas-area Blockbusters and four Hollywood Video stores in Seattle and Portland will be able to rent new release and catalog movies from Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures and Anchor Bay through the kiosks.

The kiosks will be loaded with 1,000 films at launch including some of the biggest fourth-quarter DVD releases, such as “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” MOD expects to offer more than 1,500 films by early next year, and CEO Anthony Bay said the company is in talks with other studios to broaden the available content.

Viewers will have 30 days to watch the movie once they download it; once they begin playing the film, they have 48 hours to watch before it times out and is unplayable. The films are expected to be available day-and-date with their DVD release.

The format’s potential is unclear, since there aren’t yet many devices on the market that securely play back video content on SD cards. The stores will offer renters set-top devices with secure SD slots that customers can hook up to their TVs for playback. Stores are expected to offer SD cards and the set-tops for rent or possibly for free to customers, following a model used by some retailers in the early days of DVD.

While physical kiosks have taken off with consumers by offering $1 a night rentals (incurring the wrath of some studios), digital rentals will be priced higher.

“You’re not going to see $1 downloads,” Bay said.

In the coming months, Toshiba is expected to introduce devices with secure SD card slots, enabling more customers to easily play back digital content stored on SD cards. Future versions of the kiosks may also allow consumers to move content from SD cards to laptops and portable devices.

MOD, a member of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, will also incorporate whatever standard digital format the group adopts, which would potentially enable customers to access digital movie purchases on other devices in their home.

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