14 Sep 2004, 06:06

Movies (pretty much) on demand

This evening I decided to test out one of the promising features of my media PC and try renting a movie using the Snapstream Spotlight software and Movielink. I was curious to see if getting movies over the Internet is at a point where it could reasonably compete with movie rentals from a store. I also wanted to see if the media center interface for Snapstream was useful for streamlining the whole process or not. I found that the answer to both questions was yes, and no. First of all, in terms of selection Movielink is good and has quite a few titles to choose from, including a lot of newer releases, but it doesn’t really compare to a Blockbuster and certainly not to Netflix. Pricewise, its about $5 for most new releases but more like $3-4 for older movies, which competes pretty well against video store prices given the extra convenience. The search functionality from within the media center interface for Movielink was lacking though, requiring you to scroll through long lists of movies one at a time with the remote. I ended up deciding on Hellboy, since I had been wanting to see it but hadn’t been able to convince Jolayne. It seems like a waste of time to drive to the store to rent a movie to watch by yourself, so I figured this would be a better way to see it. I registered with Movielink, which could be done using only the remote but goes much faster with a keyboard. Unfortunately, after registering it has to install some software of its own which pops up windows outside of the media center software that can’t be controlled with the remote and require a mouse or keyboard. That’s irritating, but fairly minor since it only has to be done once. After all that, the movie finally starts downloading, and this is the point where I found the biggest flaw. You’re supposed to be able to start watching the movie even as it’s downloading the rest so that you don’t have to wait. However, I found this was only possible to do within the media player in the software it installed, and not from within the main Snapstream media center software. On top of that, when watching it in full screen mode in their separate media player there was a status bar at the bottom of the screen that should have disappeared but never did, and was very distracting. Due to that, I ended up waiting until it finished downloading to play it in the media center. It only took about 30 minutes, which isn’t too shabby to download a full length film but probably longer than it would take to run to a video store. In spite of all that, I was still fairly impressed with it due to the quality of the movie. I may not have the most discerning eye, but to me it looked to be near DVD quality and certainly better than TV. Granted, I don’t have a very high end TV either but the quality of the video was much better than I was expecting. Overall I found the experience to be a little rocky getting started, but much smoother after that. I’m not ready to rip up my Blockbuster card yet, but given a bit of tweaking in refining the user interface and making sure its more seemlessly integrated this could definitely be a competitor.


Comment by Ben Lewis on 2004-09-14 19:43:27 +0000

Yes and someday our bodies will not be able to support the massive weight of our brains and we wont have to go to the fridge to get a drink. We just need to get it from the internet which we will have access to with our minds. Since our frail fingers will no longer be able to press keys for fear of breaking….. Is this the world you want for us Will? … Is it?

Comment by Tobin on 2004-09-15 19:56:11 +0000

Hi Ben.

Comment by Posko on 2004-09-16 19:13:56 +0000

I demand you go get me a movie, Will! In my opinion, that’s movies on demand.

Comment by Will on 2004-09-16 22:05:44 +0000

Of course that’s not what I want, Ben. The world I want has giant fighting kill-bots that can go get drinks from the fridge for our massive brains and hideously atrophied bodies.

And Matt, I’m sending a kill-bot over with that movie right now.