Adam Turner June 01, 2012
You can finally watch Quickflix movies on iGadgets, but you're not exactly spoilt for choice.
Quickflix began life as a DVD rental service, posting discs out to you with a pre-stamped return envelope. Telstra's Bigpond offered a similar service but ditched it last year in favour of online rentals. Bigpond customers who wanted to keep hiring DVDs in the mail were sold off to Quickflix. Not long after Quickflix launched its own online movie rental service, WatchNow, but decided to stick with sending out DVDs as well. Now Quickflix can gradually migrate customers from discs to streaming when the time is right for them.
Quickflix WatchNow lets you hire new release movies for $5.99, but what's really interesting is that you can also subscribe for $14.99 per month. This gets you unlimited access to the Quickflix streaming library of movies and TV shows, but it's only the back catalogue so you can't watch all the new releases for $14.99 per month. That's really disappointing, but Quickflix's strength is its versatility rather than the range of titles.
Since it launched WatchNow, Quickflix has embarked on an expansion program which has seen the service built into some Sony, Samsung and Panasonic televisions and Blu-ray players as well as the PlayStation 3 and soon the Xbox 360. You can also watch movies on a PC or Mac in your browser (which requires Silverlight). Handheld gadgets also get a look in. This year WatchNow has been added to Samsung Apps market for Samsung's Android tablets and smartphones, plus now it's also available for the iPhone and iPad.
That's a decent spread and the great thing is that you can access the one Quickflix account from multiple devices. You can register up to five devices to the one account and watch titles on three devices at the same time, which seems quite generous to me. This week I put WatchNow to the test on the iPad 1 and iPhone 4, as well as in Chrome on my Mac.
Unfortunately the iPad app can be a little flaky and it crashed several times when scrolling through the list of available movies, a problem which I didn't encounter on the iPhone app. Thankfully both apps are fine once you start playing a movie. The action is very smooth and you rarely notice compression artifacts even in dark scenes.
A full length movie chews through around 1 GB of data, but it's the same feed for the iPhone and iPad so it doesn't look quite as sharp on the iPad's larger screen. Unfortunately the browser-based picture quality is more hit and miss when it comes to blocky compression artifacts. A few movies include watermarks at the bottom right, such as those from Warner TV, which is annoying and a little insulting considering that you're a paying customer.
While the video is smooth, the playback options are very basic. You can pause movies and jump around using high-speed scrubbing, but if you exit a movie it won't resume at the last point. Nor will it remember where you were up to if you switch between playback devices. On an iGadget you can stream over Wi-Fi or 3G, but there's no offline caching or even buffering -- so you can't load up at home and then watch a movie on the road without using up your mobile data.
I could perhaps live with these various shortcomings if it wasn't for the fact that WatchNow offers so few movies for streaming. You'll find a grand total of 29 new release pay-per-view movies on the website but you can't access these from an iGadget. On the iPhone and iPad you're limited to the back catalogue which consists of just over 400 movies plus 18 TV series (a few of which offer more than one season).
At launch Quickflix promised that its catalogue would grow and it's announced quite a few content deals in the last few months, but by now I really expected more. Worse yet, it seems around 90 per cent of the current back catalogue is more than 10 years old (Austin Powers, anyone?). While the service shows potential, right now I'm not convinced there's enough content to make it worth paying $14.99 month after month.
A few titles from recent content deals are yet to be added to the service and the range will expand, according to Quickflix chief Stephen Langsford. Even so he currently sees the streaming service as "best enjoyed as an adjunct to online DVD rental" which offers 55,000 titles. I agree that Quickflix is probably best viewed as a bonus feature rather than a standalone service, although in this case $14.99 per month seems a little steep. The price does drop to as low as $7 per month once you bundle it with one of Quickflix' high-end DVD/Blu-ray rental bundles.
For now I'd say whether WatchNow is right for you depends on your taste in movies and how many people in your home would be tapping into the service. If you only tend to watch one movie per week, you'd still be better off hiring movies and enjoying a wider choice of titles. That could change once Quickflix WatchNow actually offers more to watch.