by Carlo Longino

NYT's Turn To Check That Movie Download Sites Still Suck

from the no-change-there-then dept

One of the most hyped ideas of the past several years has been movie downloads. It sounds like such a no-brainer, in theory: replace trips to the video store with the ease of choosing a movie from a limitless library and having it digitially delivered to your home, quickly and cheaply. Of course, in practice, download sites and services tend to pretty much uniformly suck, largely thanks to movie studios that put pointless anti-piracy worries above everything else. What's been most remarkable about this space is to see how little it's changed. The first efforts got panned for their limited offerings and poor usability five years ago, and little has changed since. Still, every year or so, some major publication checks in on these sites and discovers, yup, they're still terrible. Last May, it was the Washington Post's turn; this time around, it's the New York Times figuring out that things really haven't improved much. It says the Xbox 360 provides a relatively good experience, but suffers from a limited catalog of just 165 films, and adds that $400 is a lot to spend on a box just to watch movies. Apparently, though, $300 is just fine, as the article labels Vudu -- the recipient of fantastic NYT puff piece a few months ago -- "one upstart to keep an eye on." The overarching theme of the article is that movie-download services have been high on promise but haven't delivered, which is the same thing the market's been saying for five years now. Until movie studios give up their hard-headed insistence that they're on the right path, movie downloads will continue to be a missed opportunity.

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  • icon
    David Griffin (profile), 22 Jun 2007 @ 1:06am

    The real reason they'll always suck

    Forget usability and DRM.

    The so called promise of a quick download when you're talking about enough data to fill a DVD is a hell of a long way off given the real world speeds people get on their home internet connection. (And I mean real people, not the 1 in 3000 who actually get 4+ Mbits/sec)

    With netflix / Amazon / etc DVD by post you get to choose today and watch it tomorrow evening (and have something you can put in a portable DVD player to pacify the kids on a car trip). With download it will be choose today then spend most of the next 24 hrs VNC'ing to your home PC from work, coaxing the download to succeed and hope your ISP's "fair use" policy permits a gig inside 24hrs. In the UK even the ISP's who claim "up to 8MBit/s" can't sustain anything close to that at the sort of times a normal person is at home.

    The one thing download DOES have going for it is that typically files down't arrive at the end user's hard disk scratched...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      zero, 22 Jun 2007 @ 1:53am

      Re: The real reason they'll always suck

      For dvd's what will make those downloads faster is using mpeg-4 or some other higher level encoding than the old mpeg-2 spec that dvd's rely on. I feel the same way about the stupid hd-dvd's and blu-ray discs. Is it really neccesary that a single movie (even at 1080p) takes up 24 or more gigs.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    happymellon, 22 Jun 2007 @ 2:32am

    @David Griffin

    Even 4Mbit/second would be a joke for "downloading enough data to fill a DVD" in a reasonable amount of time.

    4Mbits would be 0.5MBsec at 7bits+1checksum.

    4700 MB on a DVD

    4700*0.5/60 would make it 156.7 mins to download (or over 2.5 hours). Yup even Walmart with its lack of checkouts could let me go through faster.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 22 Jun 2007 @ 8:33am

    Speeds and such

    @David Griffin and happymellon First off, it's compressed so it's nowhere near DVD size. Last time I used one of these services, I believe their "DVD quality" was about 500mb. Even on a relatively slow broadband connection, that's not that bad. Going on with the 4mbit example, it'd take less than 20 minutes. And the service I use let me start watching way before it was done downloading. I believe I was watching less than 5 minutes after I picked a movie. I don't use these services mostly because of the DRM. Also, I don't think 4mbit+ is that unrealistic. I get 8mbit sustained for as long as I want, and I know other people across the country that get 6mbits sustained.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Shalkar, 22 Jun 2007 @ 9:55am

    My Opinion is:

    The facts are just as everyone already knows: Until the movie studios get their heads out of their butts and stop trying to force everybody to buy thier own copy of a movie if they want to watch that movie, these sites will never take off and this situation will forever be a nightmare.

    That is exactly what they want! They're so greedy that instead of just saying, "Hey, if people want to keep the stuff we make they'll buy their own copy and if they don't... Well I guess we should make better stuff." That they'd rather choke theirselves than be able to thrive in the new market of movie downloading.

    The fact is they would be able to thrive if they would instead give up the bottomless pit that is DRM and put that money in to making their stuff in a better format, like MPEG-4 and then even mass producing the stuff on Blu-Ray discs so they would cost a normal amount and be a better quality. Then they could each, the movie studios, have their own websites, or a combined effort as would be best, that allows a person to have a monthly fee for downloading or a per download depending on which a person would prefer.

    The fact is that idea right there would be way better than wasting their time and money on that crap they do now. As for that idea kind of being a monopoly, well they could still sell their movies to other sites for them to sell as a download and such, but those sites would have to, of course, pay them that fee. They would be able to still make a great profit though when they would be better at storing and delivering the movies than the movie studios themselves.

    Thus, the world still turns. Oh well. That's my rant on this topic...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2007 @ 10:09am

    500MB for a movie isn't DVD quality

    There isn't any codec out there that can give you full DVD quality audio and video for a 2-hour movie in 500MB.

    I've ripped all my DVDs to MPEG-4 (no AVC/H.264) and at 1.5GB for a 2-hour movie, you're going to get some loss of quality compared to the original.

    At 1GB, you're going to lose a lot of quality in either audio or video, unless you move to a codec that requires a lot of processing power to decode. Even then, 500MB is still way below the bottom limit for maintaining original 720x480, 24fps, 5.1 channel audio quality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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