Microsoft may be behind in a lot of ways but they are fast on the heels of iTunes (sort of) in terms of downloading.

In a story from Variety, apparently Microsoft's Xbox Live is having better luck than most in penetrating this new ancillary avenue.

It looks like "the success of video downloads on Microsoft's Xbox Live and the disappointment of Amazon.com's Unbox point to two factors that differentiate Xbox from Amazon and its many other competitors -- consumers who download a movie want a simple way to watch it on their TV, and those with high-def TVs want high-def content."

Due to "Xbox 360's direct connection to a TV and the console's focus on HD content, Microsoft can deliver both. Though exact sales figures aren't available from any Web site or studio, insiders agree that it's the most, and maybe only, positive story in digital movie downloads this year."

It seems that the problems that most of those downloading portals are having (CinemaNow, Amazon Unbox, etc.) is that "it's difficult for consumers to burn downloads onto DVD (save for a few titles on CinemaNow), and it's tricky for all but the most tech-savvy to watch downloads on a TV."

"We think, and our customers think, that Unbox is another great way (in addition to our DVD store) to find, discover and buy video," said Bill Carr, Amazon VP of digital. "It is day one for digital video, and Amazon will continue to invest in the Unbox customer experience."

According to the the numbers "there are fewer than 3.5 million 360s in the U.S. by last count, movies available from Warner and Paramount, as well as content from CBS and MTV on the TV side, are doing at least as well and, in some cases, better than on competing Web sites, which are available to anyone with a PC and high-speed Internet connection."

Some credit this to Xbox 360 owners being a "tech-savvy and media-hungry bunch... but the relatively strong start for video downloads on the console show that there is a market when watching a download is as easy as pushing a few buttons."

In addition to this, "HD has proved particularly popular with Xbox 360 owners, many of whom already use the console to play vidgames in high-def."

According to Warner Bros. "consumers are consistently downloading more copies of a pic in high-def than in standard def when both are offered, even though it takes several extra hours to get the HD version."

So it seems that in addition to the format war on the home video front, Microsoft and Apple are starting to compete in what can best be called, the downloading war.

Evan Jacobs