Last week (or so), Tivo finally enabled the long-awaited update that owners of newer Tivo boxes could watch movies using Netflix’s streaming service. I bought an HD Tivo a while back, and was curious to try it out. I have since then poked around it a bit, but I really took a dive into it this weekend, watching a small handful of movies.
I’m a little mixed on how I would rate the whole service. The idea is great, the delivery is awesome, but the content is still a mixed bag, and is the main reason this becomes a novelty more than a consistent movie-watching avenue.
The UI is really simple to use, and I’ve only noticed one really piece of navigation logic that I would argue with, and about two features I wish it had. The bug is pretty annoying — if you are browsing the list of movies, then view an entry and remove it from the list, it will reset your placeholder back to the beginning of the list. So if you were viewing movie 23 of 45, now your position is back at #1, and you would have to scroll back to where you were. This would only hits people like me who have a high number of movies in their queue (over 120, IIRC), so I’m probably in the minority.
Two features that would have been nice were an option to sort the movies somehow in the list, and an option to browse Netflix’s catalog directly. The movie list is ordered by the addition in your queue on the Netflix site, and I haven’t seen any way to reorder them. While it’s a bit of an annoyance that you can’t add new movies to your queue directly from your Tivo, when you do add them directly from your computer, they show up in the list right away (assuming you exit and re-enter).
Onto the real meat of it, the movie selection. I’ve written about this before, and the situation really hasn’t changed at all. The movie selection is just really small. They obviously are still working out deals to get the major Hollywood studios to come on board, because almost the entire library is from independent film makers. They recently added Starz Library, which does offer a few recent hits, but not nearly enough to really be a great selling point. I imagine that time will take care of it, eventually, but in the mean time you can enjoy some of the greatest hits from the 1970s.
Even the pool of indy flicks is not that big. There’s just not that many movies to pick from, period. I had a really hard time finding something I’d be interested in watching, and I tend to show at least a general interest in a lot of stuff. I remember way back when when I was first adding discs to my queue to watch at home, I quickly filled up to my limit because there was so much stuff that looked interesting. I can’t be sure of the number, but I’m guessing that around 50% of it at least looked like something I’d want to check out. This time, though, I’d say it was about one in ten that I wanted to see, and this was when the delivery method was simpler — no waiting for discs in the mail, just let it sit in my on demand queue — so that would make my selection process even a bit more relaxed. I could afford to sample anything, since I wouldn’t have to wait.
I’m not totally disappointed, though, and perhaps this is going to be one of the unintended consequences of Hollywood’s reluctance to invest in on demand — that the non-big studio players are getting a bigger piece of the picture. I can’t imagine anything wrong with people getting exposed to a wider selection of filmmakers and producers in general that work outside of the mainstream system — especially when there are good movies to be found.
In fact, that is one of the great things that I love about the Internet — it is the great equalizer. No matter how popular a movie was, no matter how much was budgeted for it, or got spent marketing it, it will get the same size image and show up in the same searches and genre lists on movie websites as the independent films that cost a fraction to make and market. In a database, nothing gets special treatment, they are all equals — rows, statistics, and data. If it was a great movie, it will get a high rating. The rating won’t stand out because it was the hit of 1989, and a similarly good movie from some studio that no one’s ever heard of can also get rated equally high. There’s just no special treatment when it comes to a logistical display (sort by year, genre, title, rating). It’s great.
One other thing I finally got a glimpse of while playing around with this, was the vision that others have had that this is where things are really moving. Instead of having TV channels in the sense of letting studios and networks pick what we watch and at what time, everything is just going to be massive libraries that we can watch on demand. PVRs are already changing the game already, letting us choose when we want to watch the shows that are aired. In fact, that’s how I treat it now. When I want to watch something random on television, I’ll pull up on the on screen guide and just browse through the channels to see what’s playing now and what will be on for the next few hours. If there’s something interesting, I’ll record it. If not, I’ll just look somewhere else.
I’m really curious to see where all of this goes.
Oh, one last thing — the video quality is great. No complaints here. I’m always surprised by how fast the streaming always starts — almost instantly. It’s great. It’s nice. In some cases I’ll get movies in high-def (720p), although that seems arguable. I can’t really tell. One I was watching last night was coming through in 480p. I’ve watched or sampled maybe 10 movies so far, and I’ve only had two problems. One of them it stopped streaming and never caught back up. I exited out of the movie title and resumed playback and it just picked back up though, and didn’t hiccup after that. It was such a minor thing, though, that I quickly forgot about it. Another movie lost audio/video sync right after I started watching it, and it was off by about 5 seconds or more. I think in that case it could have been my fault, since I tried skipping through the opening titles immediately after playing it. Dunno. Either way, hopefully a rare glitch (oh crap … I don’t wanna become a Tivo apologist!).
Overall, I like the service. I filled up my queue with a ton of movies that are either old or independent, so I’ll be pretty happy for a while, seeing as that’s two areas I enjoy with regularity. Indy flicks aren’t really my favorites, since it seems so hit or miss — I either really like them or get really lost — but since it’s effortless to check out a movie, it’s worth the investment to at least investigate. I found two really cool movies yesterday that I was hesitant to watch, but by 5 minutes in, I was already hooked: King of Kong and Chalk.