Making Sense of Movie Downloading

First there were Movie Theaters then came Multiplexes and then home cinema arrived. From Betamax through VHS. From VHS onto DVD. And now digital and HDTV! We all know the story so far - but may find it confusing! Are you up to date with the latest developments? Are you new to the Internet and totally bemused by all the jargon? Do you know your P2P from your DVD? Do you confuse your MP3 and MPEG4? Have you got your codecs and plug-ins set up correctly and not exceeded your bandwidth? What does it all mean and does it matter if all you want to do is watch some movies? The terms get longer, the speed of change is faster, the confusion increases.

Whilst I watch a downloadable film on my laptop my uncle needs to help to program his old VHS recorder! This speed of change is opening up a huge gulf between different users and this gap seems to continue to grow. You can now easily download movies to watch when you want, with perfect digital quality. You can even watch them where you want - perhaps download movies to you ipod or burn movies to DVD and watch on any laptop or on the TV as normal. But to do so it helps to learn the new language and if you are interested in joining in the movie downloading then some basic knowledge of the essential terminology will help. So where to start? Let's start with something we think we know: DVD: "Digital Versatile Disc" or "Digital Video Disc" - these discs look like CDs (compact discs) but hold more data and are now used for storing digital movies. A rewriteable DVD can also be used for storing your music and computer files.

There is no space here to explain the difference between all these permutations - DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R and the rest - that would be a separate article in itself! Clearly when a movie is downloaded you are not downloading an actual DVD! So when you download a movie what do you actually download? It is quite simply a computer file - but of course they come in many types! Here are the main bits of movie file jargon you may come across. MPEG-4: this is a standard for a file for video and audio, compiled by the "Moving Picture Experts Group" (hence MPEG) and it is their 4th version of the standard. So you can now download movies in MPEG-4 format - but this can take time as the files are so large! DivX: developed by DivXNetworks, this is a file that enables fast movie downloads without losing any picture quality - and DivX is also based on the MPEG-4 video file standard that we mentioned above. Codec: although it sounds mysterious, this is a piece of software that enables file COmpression and DECompression to transfer it across the internet.

MP3: short for "MPEG Audio Layer 3" - from MPEG again. This is for digital audio only, it uses a compression method that means smaller file sizes. You lose some information but most people can't hear the reduction in quality.

So it's great for music downloading and playing audio on an MP3 player. But this is only for music, not for movies. P2P: short for peer to peer. This is one popular method of sharing and downloading millions of movie and music files. Peer-to-peer is a form of computer network that does not rely on a server and client, but each computer is a peer or equal - great for downloading and sharing home video and audio content. Even with compressed files it can take time and sharing the load amongst several computers is a clever way to harness the power of the internet.

So when you've downloaded the files - how do you watch them? On Windows PCs these files will usually play without a problem on the standard Windows Media Player, particularly if you have the latest version. For Apple Macs QuickTime is both a file format and a player. Designed by Apple Computers QuickTime has been around a while. You can download the player from the Apple website and you can run it on a windows PC.

Having mentioned Apple it would be difficult not to mention the iPod. But playing movies on iPods and other portable players is another topic entirely! 2006

Andrew Castlewood is content editor at and an impatient movie viewer! He monitors technology to make movie-viewing as fun as it should be! Andrew can provide you with more information about movie downloads at What Movie Download

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