Continuing in my slow re-examination of playing with Comcast’s DVR offerings, something else is coming back to me — I really like their On Demand selection. In fact, it’s actually the best I’ve seen to date. Although, in all fairness, I’ve only looked at three: Comcast, Real and Netflix.
I was flipping through the free movies section of Comcast’s on demand menu, and it occurred to me that there was a lot of movies that seemed interesting to watch. So many, in fact, that I went back and counted to get an idea. There were 12 total that I thought looked decent enough to at least try and start watching them, and I’m pretty sure a few of them were in my Netflix queue (which is maxed out at 500 movies). On top of that, there were four movies that I’d already seen, but I wouldn’t mind watching again. In fact, I did watch a movie tonight (Field of Dreams) for free, and that was cool.
That’s not to say the user experience still couldn’t be improved. First of all, the things I like, aside from the selection, is that the shows start instantly, and I never have a problem with caching or anything like that. As usual, all the issues I have deal with the user interface again. You can only fast forward at one speed, which is not very fast at all. So if you want to jump ahead at all, whatsoever, you are really screwed. The second minor issue is that the box is really slow to respond, which many people complain about. It’s interesting because the menu will respond quickly but anything related to playback takes a good second or two to apply. So if you hit fast forward, the OSD will immediately display on button press, but it won’t start fast forwarding right then. That wouldn’t be nearly so bad a problem except if you want to resume playback, by the time it does work, you’re already a good five seconds ahead of where you wanted to be. I haven’t watched any TV shows using the DVR (I was just skipping through the boring parts in the movie), but I imagine that would be a real pain if you’re trying to skip commercials and you constantly go too far ahead. I can’t help but wonder if that’s intentional, since in all my experience with TV tuners, recording and playback, seeking and pausing has never been an issue. Who knows. It wouldn’t be hard to attribute it to crappy coding either, since the entire thing is a mess.
One other problem I just remembered is that pausing a movie isn’t very friendly either. If you leave it paused for more than something like three minutes, it will stop the playback completely, and dump you back to the original on demand menu. That’s a bit of a pain since you have to re-navigate the menu to get back to your movie. I can understand doing that after a long wait, but every time it happened to me I had either just gone to the bathroom or to the kitchen for a minute and it had already exited out. It is a really short delay. And I’d be surprised if it does that when you’re watching live tv and you paused it. Another odd UI decision.
The only other on demand instant movie services I’ve tried is RealPlayer’s offerings (although that was a little less than a year ago, I doubt much has changed) and Netflix. Netflix just barely announced that for any of the unlimited plans, customers can also watch unlimited movies as well. That news might be exciting, except that their selection is incredibly crappy right now. If you don’t believe me, just look at the Top 50. Number 40 is Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie.
Admittedly, I really don’t think it’s their fault, though. I’m sure it’s the movie studios being really, really reluctant to open up their libraries to the internets to let everyone have them on their home computer. I think things are changing, but I also believe it’s going to be a few years before things really take off. Maybe with Apple TV entering the ring the landscape will start to change a bit faster. We can only hope.
The other thing I like about Comcast is I can actually watch the movies on my TV. I’ve never been one for watching things on the computer, which is why I ditched my RealPlayer account and never really bother with Netflix. I mean, I could easily hook up my Windows machine to a TV, but I’d still have no remote, and I have to deal with downloading and buffering the thing. It’s not worth the hassle.
Finally, I should disclaim that anyone should consider any of these services based on my recommendation, since my taste in movies is really unique. I’d say that a good portion of my movie collection you can’t even find in the DVD rental stores, and every time I go there it literally takes me up to an hour to find something I feel like watching. But that’s okay, I wouldn’t recommend Comcast’s DVR option right now anyway. I just wish there were more on demand options, with more movies, with the possibility of natively watching it on my TV.