Movielink, the first internet video-on-demand (VoD) system backed by the Hollywood studios, got off to a "soft launch" yesterday.

The service, which is available to US-based broadband homes, starts life with 170 films provided by its five studio backers, MGM, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal and Warner Bros. It will be modified in response to customer feedback and eventually expanded.

"With more than 25 million broadband residences, we believe the market is now ready for the launch of a new Internet movie rental service," Movielink CEO Jim Ramo said. "We are combining cutting edge technology with the best in motion picture entertainment to offer consumers an exciting entertainment experience."

The service will work through a system of downloads - of approximately 500Mb - valid for up to 30 days and with 24 hours of playability. VCR functions such as pause, rewind and forward are possible and it is compatible with both RealNetworks RealPlayer 8.0 and Microsoft's Windows Media Player. Customers need to register for the service and then, without membership or subscription fees, pay for each use with a credit card.

Studios get to set their own windows and Movielink says it expects that new releases will be available at the same time as they are offered on pay-per-view and video-on-demand services. Each supplier will provide content on a non-exclusive basis, and Movielink also expects to offer content from third-party providers.

The technology needed for internet-based VoD has been available for some time. But many in the film industry have been reluctant to deploy it because of pricing and commercial uncertainties, the issue of whether cable or internet is the most appropriate medium and the threat of piracy similar to that which has hit music industry. The launch by the studios is in part a pre-emptive move and partly a reflection of the foothold that VoD has established in other countries.

Selection of titles available at launch
Air Force One
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
The Affair Of The Necklace
A League Of Their Own
The Majestic
A Beautiful Mind
Mars Attacks
Benny & Joon
Blazing Saddles
Men In Black
Blue Velvet
Much Ado About Nothing
My Best Friend's Wedding
Breakfast At Tiffany's
The New Guy
Changing Lanes
Ocean's Eleven
Patriot Games
Collateral Damage
Deuces Wild
Queen Of The Damned
Erin Brockovich
Resident Evil
The River's Edge
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone
Hart's War
The Russia House
Hunt For Red October
Sleepless In Seattle
The Jackal
The Sweetest Thing
Jerry Maguire
We Were Soldiers