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Toshiba tools up for movie download future

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Erstwhile HD DVD heavyweight Toshiba has forecast the end of consumer optical media, and is to develop a series of set-top boxes and portable players all fed with digital content sold on SD card instead.

The scheme follows the Japanese giant's decision to invest $20m in US digital content deliver specialist MOD Systems in addition to the $4m it's already pumped into the company.

MOD focuses on providing retailers with kit to sell songs, videos, TV shows and movies through kiosks fed from its servers. Punters buy the shows they want in store, and the kiosks issue an SD card containing the downloads they've purchased.

MOD's system currently delivers music only, but it wants to extend the service to films and TV programming. It's in talks with content providers, Toshiba said, with a view to rolling out the expanded service in the spring of 2009.

Enter at this point Toshiba with players capable of taking said SD cards and displaying the downloads on the move. It also said it would develop a set-top box capable of showing the cards' contents on HD TVs. Toshiba will also make high-capacity SD cards for the system.

All of which may go some way to explain why, having killed off HD DVD back in February, Toshiba never rushed to join the rival Blu-ray Disc camp. Of course, honour plays a part, but most observers assumed Toshiba would go Blu eventually.

Here's how Toshiba rationalises it all:

"Most video content is today distributed on optical discs. The expansion of broadband infrastructure points to rapid growth in downloads of digital content for consumption in the home. However, high speed downloads of large data sources such as movies require a high-speed connection able to handle high bandwidth.

"A successful business model delivering value to all parties involved demands technology for copyright protection and secure delivery. Direct download in retail environments fully answers these concerns. Downloading video content at high speed to an SD Card will offer consumers a quick and simple means to access video entertainment."

The announcement comes days after SanDisk launched a new brand of Micro SD card that indicates a unit comes pre-loaded with music.

And bear in mind that this download-to-SDHC future is what the THX Chief Scientist Laurie Fincham forecast back in March this year.

There will come a time when home broadband is ready for reasonably rapid movie downloads, at which point Toshiba will be well poised to capitalise upon the trend and cock a snook at all those rivals who placed their bets on optical technology.

Assuming, of course, Toshiba itself is not too late. Apple, for one, is already selling HD movie downloads into the home, albeit in a small way, through its Apple TV set-top box. Online video suppliers like Netflix are planning to do the same - Netflix in particular through an LG set-top box and through the Xbox 360. Sony PlayStation 3 owners can download movies too.

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