Our ace digital-service reviewing friend Brad Hill has just sized up Movielink:
- On Monday, November 11, the Movielink service finally rolled out a working model of its long-awaited Internet rental service. The catalog is so thin as to make this a concept opening, at best. But the service is completely operable, and this review focusses on Movielink’s consumer experience and value proposition.
* Generally smooth operation with minor Website bugs and inconsistencies.
* Subpar video quality.
* In concept, competes well against VHS and DVD rental stores; less well against pay-per-view. Per-download payment model contrasts with Netflix subscription.
* Mounts significant challenge to P2P as a movie auditioning solution, but not as a collecting solution.
* Rentals last 30 days from purchase, even if downloading doesn’t transpire immediately.
* Viewing must occur within any continuous 24-hour period during the 30-day rental.
* This paragraph from the TOS is interesting:
b. Automatic Updating.
When connected to the Internet, the Software may communicate, via remote activation or otherwise, with Movielink and/or the firms with which it does business with regard to the need for periodic updates, modifications and/or reinstallations (“Updates”) to address security, interoperability, and/or performance issues. You consent that Movielink and the firms with which it does business may periodically make such communications remotely and download such Updates to the Software stored on your computer without further notice to you and that such Updates shall be incorporated into this Agreement under the definition of Software and thus subject to the same use restrictions.
* The following two lines of the TOS conflict:
—“reasonable number of copies of the Software may be made for back-up purposes.”
—user may not “modify, duplicate, reproduce or copy (except to make one backup copy) the Software”
* Satellite program required for downloading and viewing movies.
* Auto-resumption of broken downloads.
* Flexible Download Queue can change order of stacked downloads even during transfer. However, this feature is somewhat negated by the site’s inability to process more than one rental order at a time.
* Auto-cleanup–removes expired movies.
* Unsizable window isn’t quite big enough to show bottom information bar.
* Program keeps an activity log (under the Notifications tab) of all transfer commands, including pauses and resumptions.
* Movielink Manager operates as advertised, with no glitches during testing.
INSTALLATION OF MM:
* Installation location: documents available space on all drives, and reminds the user that movie files require 600-1000MB. This implies, but does not state, that movies must be downloaded to the same drive as Movielink Manager location. Indeed, when downloading, the user is not offered a location dialog.
* Downloading, unpacking, installing, all transpire directly from the online source.
* Movielink Manager does not indicate the user’s My Picks list of film bookmarks.
THE RENTAL PROCESS:
* Choice of RealPlayer or Windows Media Player.
* Most movies $3.99 – $4.99.
* No shopping cart. One rental per checkout; user must repeat the checkout process for each movie.
* Must register a Movielink password: Name, e-mail; birthdate; one opt-out (email from Movielink); one opt-in (third-party e-mails).
* User receives a Rental Number for tracking each movie.
* Erratic transfer speed: via residential cable modem I experienced fluctuation between 70-74KBps and 115-130KBps. Normal ceiling of the test system is ~250KBps, commonly attained when downloading from the ISP’s newsgroup server, and from EMusic. Test movies (~600MB) downloaded in about two hours.
* If computer is rebooted during download, the Movielink Manager resumes download in the background upon startup. Program icon resides in the system tray of the Windows taskbar via registry, not Startup folder.
* Pausing and resuming controls in Movielink Manager work instantly and flawlessly.
* Downloaded movie does not appear as a visible file in Windows Explorer. There is no obvious way to move it or play it within any environment besides Movielink Manager. Likewise, its location coordinates do not appear under Properties in Windows Media Player 9.
* Playback of downloaded films must be initiated from the Movielink Manager program. Playback client (WMP or Real, depending on user’s choice at time of rental) opens automatically.
* After hitting Play Movie button, Movielink Manager confirms that you have 24 hours to complete the viewing, and displays the deadline according to the Windows time/date clock. Changing the date to the future appears to fool the Movielink Manager, and extend the viewing deadline. Advancing the Windows clock (but not the date) has the same effect of extending the deadline. HOWEVER, in testing this possible bug, MM deleted the file at the correct time, not at the extended deadline. According to informal testing, these things appear to be wrapped in some smart DRM.
* Video quality is subpar, surprisingly. In a subjective test against six unauthorized DVD rips from different sources, Movielink files suffered by comparison in four of the six cases. the largest file size of those movies (693MB) was 18 percent larger than the Movielink file (583MB). The smallest was 600MB, only 3 percent larger. Movie durations varied, of course, but two of the test files (“Armageddon” and “Independence Day”) were very long. The overall point is that Movielink files are of inexplicably poor quality. A query to Movielink requesting encoding specs or a comment has not yet been answered.
* No auto-cueing or manual bookmarking of partially viewed movies. This is a real problem that defeats the purpose of the 24-hour viewing window.
* Seek performance: Good; 2 seconds maximum per seek.
For his analysis of overall Value, his Wish List and Upshot, follow the link above to Brad’s Digital Songstream site.