Amazon has launched its long-anticipated video downloading service, marking its entrance into the online TV and movie business.

Dubbed Amazon Unbox, the service will offer TV programmes from a wide range of broadcasters including MTV, the BBC, Fox, Nickelodeon and The History Channel.

The major movie studios participating include Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Sony, Universal Studios, Warner Bros., Lionsgate Entertainment and MGM. However, Walt Disney – owned by Apple, which is expected to launch an iTunes-based movie service shortly – has not got involved.

Amazon said TV shows would cost US$1.99 per episode – the same as Apple’s TV service, launched last year – while movies will cost between US$7.99 and US$14.99, or US$3.99 to rent.

Amazon said it would deliver content at 2.5 Mbits/s, and use progressive downloading, so that a “typical cable broadband customer” would have to wait five minutes to watch a film they have ordered.

Customers renting a movie can keep it for 30 days, but have only 24 hours after they start watching it.

The etailer certainly has the customer base and range of studio partnerships to make a serious play in the video downloading space – it’s main problem will be Apple.

In June, Apple said it had sold more than 30 million videos, and was selling them at a rate of around 1 million a week. It is expected to announce its movie downloading service next week, but it is yet to emerge whether it has the support of as many studios as Amazon.