About a month ago, I wrote a review detailing my experiences with Flixster Desktop. It occurred to me that I had already had some experiences with one of Flixster’s competitors, but had not yet reviewed the competing service, and that it might be helpful to some people if I did so.
I was introduced to Best Buy’s CinemaNow online movie store back in December, when they ran a promotional giveaway of digital movies to their Facebook fans. While initially there were some hiccups with the promotion — too few giveaways for the number of fans they had, and too many people hitting the server all at once — they ironed out the wrinkles and things went smoother afterward. All told, between that giveaway and a later one-day promotion for the New Year, I received a total of nine digital movies to my collection. I’ve long since reviewed all the movies, but here are my thoughts on the service and the program.
The service includes a wide selection of movies from various studios; the promotion offered only a limited selection each day, but the regular service seems to have the bulk of the usual suspects covered. Titles are available for rent or for purchase; I haven’t tried the rental service, but poking around with the RoxioNow software, it appears that the rental period is for a few days, and starts when you first play the movie — not when you first download it. Rentals cost between $2-4, approximately in line with most digital rental services.
Purchases vary in price, but in general are about the cost of a DVD of the same movie. For example, Lockout is currently going for $13.95, Scarface is $9.95, and Casa de Mi Padre is listed for $15.95. Given that DVDs usually have special features and are able to be played on a wider variety of devices, I personally find the idea of paying a comparable price for a digital copy to be rather exorbitant. However, as noted, my movies were given to me as promotions, and thus cost was not a factor at the time. The promotion worked via gift codes, so I can report that the code redemption feature of the website works properly (or did at the time of the promotion), and as long as the server isn’t getting slammed by thirty thousand customers at once the purchase process goes smoothly.
Once you have purchased a title, it is listed in your library on CinemaNow. From there, you have the option to either view it online using a RoxioNow browser plugin, or to download it to your computer or other Roxio devices you have registered with the service. As I have only a computer, I opted to download it using the RoxioNow desktop player. Download starts promptly, and the player gives a steady progress indicator on the amount downloaded. It also gives an estimate on when enough of the file has been downloaded that it can be played without interruption, though in my experience this estimate is overly optimistic. Looking at the program options, I see it also has notifications for when a rented movie is about to expire, and when it has expired been removed. Perhaps most importantly among the options, it gives the user the ability to dictate the storage folder for the movie files. As my primary hard drive is low on space, I save it for running programs, and store my data on a secondary hard drive; RoxioNow, like any sane program, has no difficulties with my storing the movies on my data drive. Once downloaded, you do not need to be connected to the internet to play the movies.
Movies are in standard definition, with a few titles available in HD. Video and audio quality are comparable to a standard DVD. The files are in Windows Media format (.WMV), and have digital rights management (DRM) coding to protect them from copyright infringement, but it’s less onerous than it might otherwise be. For one thing, it appears to only prevent them from being opened with editing or DVD burning software, and not other players; I had no trouble opening the files in Windows Media Player, for example. Additionally, it is easy to identify which file is which, as they are clearly labeled, so there is nothing preventing a user from using a different WMV-compatible player if they don’t find RoxioNow to their liking.
However, I found little to object to in the player. It works quite well; the image quality is strong, the interface is logical, and the playback is smooth. It has the standard player controls one would expect, with both fast forward and rewind, volume control, and full screen mode. It also has closed-caption and audio track buttons for those films which have those features (none of mine do, so I was unable to test these.) It also remembers the last position you were at in the movie if you shut down the program and come back to it later, and starting over again is as simple as pressing stop and then play. (To put it another way, all the basic user functions that Flixster Desktop gets wrong, RoxioNow gets right.)
The program syncs up with your CinemaNow account, and has a library pane that displays all titles in your collection, and whether you have downloaded them to your computer or not. The library is in a simple list format, with the title and other general details available at a glance; clicking a plus sign by the title allows you to see a miniature of the movie poster or DVD cover and details about the stars, plot, and so forth. Other details available in the list format include the expiration date of rentals, size (in GB) of the file, length of the film, and genre… though that last one is pretty iffy. It classifies Christmas Vacation as a romance, which is pretty far off base, and it classifies both Heat and The Fugitive as being in the genre “The Rush”, which I’m pretty sure isn’t a genre under anybody else’s classification system.
Odd genre tagging aside, though, the program and the service both seem to work reasonably well. I did find the website a bit difficult to browse, but not frustratingly so, and it is the sort of thing that is hopefully likely to change in the future. I still prefer actual DVDs to digital movies, and when it comes to digital movies, I would prefer a service that sold copies that I could just use anywhere, on any device, without a second’s thought. But as this is not yet available, the CinemaNow/RoxioNow experience was a fairly pleasant substitute.
Note: This review was written before the player (now just called the CinemaNow player) began offering UltraViolet downloads, and should be considered out of date. A new review can be found here.