Consumers can pay $3.99 to watch newer releases over 24 hours.

YouTube has officially begun offering online consumers the chance to rent movies and watch them via the streaming video service owned by Google Inc. The new rental service, launched more than year after YouTube experimented with paid rentals of movies affiliated with the Sundance Movie Festival, includes some 3,000 titles from such studios as Sony, Warner Bros. and Universal. Though the number of offerings remains relatively small, the move puts YouTube into direct competition with such online entertainment retailers as Netflix Inc. and Blockbuster Inc., as well as with Apple Inc., which sells filmed content through iTunes.

Consumers can pay $3.99 to view newer releases such as “The King’s Speech,” which won this year’s Academy Award for best picture. Older movies cost $2.99. Paying the fee allows access to the movie for 24 hours. Consumers can watch a movie an unlimited number of times during that period, though consumers must be logged into their YouTube or Google accounts. Consumers need a broadband Internet connection to watch the rented content, and can watch movies on only one device at a time, YouTube says.

“In the coming year, we’ll bring even more content to YouTube,” writes Salar Kamangar, head of YouTube, in a blog posting. “We’ll help catalyze the creation of content by devoting even more resources to creators who you’ll know from TV or Hollywood, and to existing YouTube partners who have already built loyal audiences on the site. Look out for more details on this in the coming months.”

In early 2010, YouTube attracted 2,684 paid rentals of five independent Sundance films over a 10-day period. The rentals were priced at $3.99 each and lasted for 48 hours.

Sreeram Ramachandran, senior software engineer at Google, will speak at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition 2011 in a session entitled “Do your web pages need a new fitness regimen?