Xbox Video is Microsoft's video offering and, as with Xbox Music, you don't need an Xbox 360 to use it. It's a video app for Windows 8 and Windows RT (as well as the Xbox 360) and doesn't work on earlier versions of Windows or on Windows Phone. (Users of earlier versions of Windows or of Windows Phone can instead use the Zune software client.) The service is straightforward for-pay --- you can buy or rent videos and TV shows that you watch on those devices. You have the choice of downloading them or streaming them. No physical videos are shipped.
Microsoft says that the service has 200,000 movies and TV shows, but I found its offerings to be quite limited. If you're interested in movies outside current Hollywood movies and popular indie movies, you will find yourself disappointed. For example, it has only a single movie directed by the great French director Francois Truffaut, and that is his American movie Fahrenheit 451. The service doesn't have many of the great older American movies, including classics like the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie Swing Time, or the great comedy You Can't Take it With You. You won't find what many people consider the greatest comedy of all time, Some Like It Hot. The TV selection, though, is better, and had all the popular programs I looked for.
Searching leaves much to be desired. When I searched for You Can't Take it With You, the primary result was, oddly enough, the Tom Cruise movie Top Gun. Other results included The Godfather, Inception, The Matrix and Shrek.
The upshot: Xbox Video is fine if your tastes mirror contemporary popular Hollywood fare. But if you want something beyond that, it's not for you. Amazon, in particular, has it beat with its excellent movie and TV selection and with its all-you-can-view Prime video services for a monthly fee.
The big ecosystems want your online dollars, not just for traditional forms of entertainment like music, books, games and video, but for whenever you buy anything online. Each wants to be your go-to place for placing orders on the Internet.
Some of their online shopping systems are works in progress, while others are state-of-the-art. Read on to see the winners and losers.
The words "Amazon" and "online shopping" have become almost synonymous -- with good reason. Whether you're looking to buy a dress, a power drill, wine, exercise equipment, computers, an air conditioner -- if you want to buy almost anything, you can buy it from Amazon. No other ecosystem comes close to its integrated shopping experience and the massive product availability, with warehouses spread out across the country. The company now even offers same-day delivery on certain items in certain locations through a service called Local Express Delivery.
And the ecosystem includes not just Amazon itself, but many partners, so that when you shop through Amazon you have the option of buying from other companies as well. But even when you buy from partners, the ecosystem stays Amazon's -- you pay for and manage all your purchases through your Amazon account.
Amazon leverages this ecosystem to expand its reach into books and video -- and, in fact, joins its regular shopping service with its streaming service via the Amazon Prime service. Join for $79/year, and you get free two-day shipping on anything you buy, as well as unlimited streaming of movies and TV episodes, and free borrowing from a selection of more than 300,000 e-books through the Kindle Owners' Lending Library service. (Note: The borrowing feature works only on Kindle devices and not on non-Kindle devices that use the Kindle reader app.)
What does all this mean? Simply that Amazon is not just the premier shopping site on the Web, but that the company is using that reach to try and extend its domination of books and online video as well.