This is a good time to be a stay-at-home movie buff. Not only are hit flicks available in rental stores and via mail services like Netflix(Nasdaq: NFLX), but they can also be downloaded off the Internet. Today, the Web offerings got a lot better with the launch of a new service.

Movielink is the joint venture of five major studios: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer(NYSE: MGM), Paramount Pictures(NYSE: VIA), Sony Pictures Entertainment(NYSE: SNE), Universal(NYSE: V), and Warner Bros.(NYSE: AOL). Some 200 titles are currently available, and Movielink plans to add many more.

Users pay a fee ranging from $1.99 to $4.95 to download a movie. Because the files are large, broadband is a must, and even then, transfers take about 90 minutes. Although the movies are available for 30 days after purchase, once a user plays one, he can access it for only 24 hours thereafter. They can be viewed only via computer and cannot be transferred to DVD.

Considering those limitations, the service will appeal to only a small segment of videophiles, initially. But the filmmakers are pouring resources into the venture to head off an explosion of illegal file swapping through peer-to-peer services -- thereby avoiding the problems now facing the music industry. Many pirated movie files are of uneven quality and completeness, so the studios are hoping high-quality offerings at a low price satisfy the pent-up demand as technology evolves.

Web-delivered movies will be available to burn onto DVDs or played directly on a television set at some point in the future. So while the venture may not reap significant revenue now, it has great potential.