TOKYO (AFP) — Japan's top film rental chain Tsutaya on Thursday unveiled a download-on-demand broadband service, letting customers rent titles from home without going to the store.
The service by Tsutaya, which counts 27.2 million members at its 1,330 branches across Japan, is the latest sign of the growing market for high-definition television in Japan.
Tsutaya, part of the Culture Convenience Club (CCC) Group, will start the service Friday by allowing downloads of the first season of hit US television series such as "Heroes," "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives."
A customer can download a title and watch it over a 48-hour period using Actvila, a portal set for interactive services launched by Japan's major television makers.
Tsutaya plans to raise its catalogue of downloadable titles to 2,000 by the end of the year via agreements with four major Hollywood studios -- Paramount, Warner Brothers, Walt Disney and NBC Universal.
Renting a full-length movie through the service will cost 735 yen (seven dollars), with a lesser price for shorter films.
Use of the service requires high-speed fibre-optic connections, which are gradually replacing ADSL lines. Nearly 12 million of Japan's 48 million households have a fibre-optic Internet service.
Tsutaya hopes that the new service will pull in more customers with higher disposable incomes in the 40-50 age range.
Actvila was developed by Japan's major television makers -- Sharp, Sony, Matsushita, Toshiba and Hitachi -- and is compatible with several dozen models of plasma or liquid crystal display sets.
Prices of such high-definition televisions have been on the decline, creating a larger market of viewers.
Japan has been a leader in digital television broadcasts, which require advanced sets, and plans to end analogue broadcasts entirely in 2011.