Sunday, April 8, 2007

Renting Online Beats Going to Blockbuster

The other night I was bored. My wife was working on a grant proposal and there was nothing on TV. I felt like watching a movie, but wasn’t up to getting in the car and going to Blockbuster. Instead I decided to try renting a movie on the Internet.

I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve downloaded pirated TV programs before through services like BitTorrent. In fact I watched whole seasons of TV shows that way. When iTunes started making shows available to download it was much easier to cough up the $2.99 to get Battlestar Galactica than waiting hours and a slow connection to a dubious copy of the show.

I had heard of sites like Movielink and CinemaNow that made video rentals available over the Net and decided to give it a try.

Here are some advantages renting online:

  • You don’t have to leave your house to get the movie you want.
  • Sometimes the video store doesn’t have the movie you want available
  • Watching a movie on a week night is an impulse/spur-of-the-moment decision. With NetFlixx you have to plan in advance.

As I discovered there are some disadvantages:

  • The selection is not comprehensive
  • You have to have a fast connection to the Internet so that the download time is less than 30 minutes.
  • You may not like watching movies on the PC (Some services have the option of buying and burning your purchase onto a DVD)

On the night in question I had the desire to watch The Prestige. I had already seen The Illusionist and heard The Prestige involved stage magic as well. For some reason I started using CinemaNow. Fortunately they were renting The Prestige. Setting up an account was fairly easy and the service accepted PayPal so I could pay quite easily too. It cost $3.99 to rent the movie which was about the same price as it would to rent the movie from BlockBuster.

I was a bit surprised however that I had to use Windows IE to properly surf the site rather than FireFox. This apparently is the case with MovieLink as well. I was also surprised that I had to download a proprietary video player in order to start the download process. This was an extra step that I wasn’t prepared for. As I later learned the system uses Microsoft’s DRM so the proprietary video player is probably a version of Windows Media Player in a different skin.

After the video player downloaded the movie began to download as well. I was originally connected to the Internet via WiFi but wanted a faster connection so I plugged myself into my access point’s Ethernet hub. That essentially doubled by download speed. I didn’t have to wait until the entire movie downloaded the system prompted me when the movie was about 10% downloaded that I could start to see it. However I waited until the end to watch the movie.

When I finally started to watch the movie I found that I couldn’t properly see it in full screen so I had to watch it within the frame of the player. On a large screen that might be okay but depending on ones screen size it could be annoying to watch the movie this way. The other slightly annoying aspect was that the playback was initially a little jerky. It wasn’t deal breaking but the lag was noticeable. I was ready to forgive this aspect however because I assumed that my machine wasn’t fast enough.

In the end however I enjoyed downloading my first movie so much that the next night I downloaded Scoop. Watching movies this way could become addictive and not only because Scarlett Johansson was in both films.

The selection of download services is limited. Although they do have some big Hollywood titles, the next movie that I wanted to watch, Shut Up and Sing, a documentary about the travails of the Dixie Chicks wasn’t available. :-(

I could see services like CinemaNow and MovieLink becoming the way that movies will be delivered to consumers putting outfits like Blockbuster and even NetFlix out of business unless they adapt. Only true geeks will attach their PCs to TVs, but devices like Apple TV are coming to market. If I rented the movies using iTunes instead then I could watch it on my TV without any difficulty.

The Holy Grail will arrive however once cable companies and phone companies that offer triple play packages start including CinemaNow and MovieLink in there services. The easier they can make it for consumers to get the movies they want when they want the more successful they’ll be.

No comments: