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YouTube beefs up its movie offerings

This week’s news that Google had struck deals with NBC Universal, Sony Pictures and Warner Brothers to offer thousands of full-length feature films through YouTube is another major step in converting the once goofy amateur video site into a serious online entertainment hub.

The deals effectively double YouTube’s movie offerings from 3,000 to 6,000, which will include recent blockbuster releases like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1, The Social Network, and Oscar winner The King’s Speech. These titles now headline YouTube’s refreshed movie page, which also features the Top 10 rentals along with selections from categories such as Action & Adventure, Drama, Comedy, and Family.

However, YouTube hasn’t completely forgotten its roots. Movies are also grouped under a number of quirky YouTube-only categories, such as Insanely Awesome Car Chases, Is She Really Worth It? and The Seedy Underbelly, which features “eye-opening documentaries.”

Hovering over a title will reveal a quick synopsis of the movie, together with its price, major stars, run time, and Rotten Tomatoes review percentage. Clicking on the title opens up a dedicated page with expanded information, extra video clips, user-generated content, and suggestions for similar movies.

Rentals start at $2.99, although most hit movies are $1 more, which is about what you would pay at the local Blockbuster. Movies are available anytime within 30 days of purchase, although they only stay available for 24 hours after you start watching. Unlike Netflix, streaming movies from YouTube doesn’t require a monthly subscription.

Once you have rented a movie, you can watch it from your YouTube account on any computer. Your movie will also play on Google TV, Android tablets with the Honeycomb operating system, and most Android phones. Movies can also be watched on an HDTV if you have the right audio/video output from your computer or other device.

Netflix currently dominates movie streaming, accounting for close to 60 percent of all downloads. Apple (iTunes) and Amazon also have dedicated movie streaming services. However, YouTube, with its huge dedicated fan base, could take the suddenly-crowded marketplace to an entirely new level.

Whatever the impact on the existing streaming services, YouTube’s announcement is yet another blow to the DVD, which is set to join the music CD in giving way to the all-conquering might of the Internet.

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