Amazon launches video-on-demand service

Amazon has announced a video-on-demand streaming service as internet and consumer electronics companies strive to match the capabilities of US cable and satellite providers.

The internet retailer said advertising-free movies and television shows could be watched instantly within a web browser or streamed directly on to Sony televisions equipped with an internet video link.

Its Amazon Video On Demand is the new name for Amazon Unbox, launched two years ago.

Unbox was confined to selling digital downloads of movies and TV shows, but the new service puts the accent on paid-for streaming.

"The ability to watch content instantly without downloading first was among the most requested features of our customers, and now it's live," said Roy Price, director of the service.

Since Unbox was launched, a plethora of devices, technologies and services have appeared to challenge US cable and satellite providers in providing programming on demand to the living-room television.

Amazon's service can also be displayed through a Tivo digital video recorder and a Microsoft Xbox 360 games console linked to a TV.

The deal with Sony is significant. The consumer electronics group has been working on new ways of controlling the content it produces in its film studios through to its display on its TVs.

In July, it announced that the Sony Pictures film Hancock would be streamed ahead of its DVD release into the homes of Bravia TV owners who had bought its $299 Internet Video Link accessory and paid a fee.

The movie was to be streamed in standard rather than high definition due to concerns about broadband speeds.

Sony also struck a deal with cable operators in May in sharing the television screen in future through a technology called tru2way. Sony's content would be offered alongside the video-on-demand offerings of cable in a shared interface built into TV sets.

Other internet services that are offering streaming video include Apple TV and the Netflix DVD rental service. It launched a box to connect to the TV and deliver videos over the internet this year.

In July, it announced that the same service would be available over the Xbox 360.

A number of start-ups have also tried to break into the market with mixed success to date, including Akimbo, Sezmi and Vudu.

Broadcasters have entered the fray by creating their own websites with free, advertising-supported streaming of programming.

By Chris Nuttall

No responsibility can be taken for content from external internet sources.

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