Imagine. As of today you are able to burn a movie on your PC without worrying about it turning into a federal case.

The movie-download site CinemaNow has unveiled a new service that allows customers who buy films online to make a copy on disc that can be watched on TV sets via a standard-issue DVD player.

Studios and online distributors see the ability to watch movies on television--as opposed to a PC screen--as a key to making legal downloads a viable business model. Until now, however, studios were wary about permitting DVD-burning of downloaded films because copy-protection schemes weren't reliable.

"Today, our customers will experience a true innovation in home entertainment: the ability to obtain a DVD in the comfort of their living room," says Curt Marvis, CEO of CinemaNow.

The new service, a joint venture between CinemaNow and Disney, Sony, MGM, Universal and Lions Gate, features an initial offering of more than 100 big-name Hollywood flicks, including Barbershop, Charlie's Angles: Full Throttle, About a Boy, Scent of a Woman, Backdraft, Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Agent Cody Banks.

Customers must first download CinemaNow's Windows-only burning software (Mac fans are out of luck--at least for now, but more on that later) and then fork over $9 a pop for older titles to $15 for the fresher ones. The downloads include nearly all the bells and whistles of a DVD, including 5.1 digital surround sound, featurettes, commentary tracks and other bonus materials.

Marvis says the average download time will be about three hours--approximately the length of one Lords of the Rings installment.

One caveat: CinemaNow says that because the video is highly compressed to expedite downloading, the burned discs won't be as high-quality as commercial DVDs. But according to one studio executive, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

"We see the additive to the packaged media business, because functionally, retail can't carry every title," Benjamin S. Feingold, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment tells the Los Angeles Times. "I think that's good. If you can access My Beautiful Laundrette--that's the classic example of a picture at some point you'll be able to instantly download and make a copy for yourself. That's pro-consumer."

The same technology also prevents customers from burning more than one duplicate--a "feature" added to assuage piracy-shy studios that some pundits say is decidedly not pro-consumer.

CinemaNow will still offer rental downloads for $1.99 each.

The debut of CinemaNow's "Burn to DVD" service comes two days after rival MovieLink, which is jointly owned by Paramount, Universal, Warner Bros. and Sony, announced its intention to launch a similar online service by the middle of next year.

Meanwhile, speculation continues to mount that Apple's iTunes Music Store will soon be offering movie downloads, with an announcement coming as soon as the company's Worldwide Developers Conference next month.

According to the rumor site ThinkSecret.com, Apple has sealed deals with Universal, Disney, Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. to make the studios' films downloadable to Macs and iPods.

However, iTunes will reportedly be more akin to the rental model, with the downloaded film viewable for a certain period before before "turning off." Apple declined to comment on the report.