Movie and TV shows on your computer and portable player are the next big thing. Starz Network just launched Vongo. It’s a big thing.
Vongo lets you download movies to your PC, not your Mac, not your iPod. Yet. Vongo is cool and easy. Can Apple do better?
For the past few years, Apple’s iTunes, iTunes Music Store, and iPod have ruled the roost of music, music downloads, and portable music players.
Times change. Downloading movies and TV shows for playback on a personal computer or portable player is about to get hot. Starz’ Vongo is a service that you should look at.
But you can’t. Vongo, a slick looking movie download service that looks like it was designed by Apple, is PC only. Windows only. In fact, Vongo won’t even let Mac users click around the site.
If there’s anything that gets my goat (besides idiot journalists) it’s mass discrimination. Worse than that is discrimination of Mac users.
After all, on average, Mac users are better educated, have more discretionary income, have higher paying jobs, are in better health, and have better sex lives than Windows PC users (remember, it’s News AND Commentary).
So why does Vongo go PC only? Because that’s where the money is. The Vongo web page for Mac users says there’ll be a Mac version one day.
Rather than hold my breath for another year or two, I decided to use the family Windows PC to check out Vongo.
What I found is impressive. The Vongo site is attractive, easy to navigate, simple to understand, and looks as if Apple’s designers were moonlighting for Starz.
Vongo is downloadable movies. To get the movies, you download the Vongo player store. It’s not iTunes but the similarities in function are striking. If you can’t beat ‘em, copy ‘em.
The whole Vongo player store looks like a giant Flash application designed and built by Apple for Windows.
Using Vongo’s application, you can browse through hundreds and hundreds of movies. The selection of movies appears decent for a launch. I could not find current movies. The theatre owners would drop dead.
Selecting a movie in Vongo is not unsimilar to that of selecting a song in iTunes Music Store. In Vongo, you select the category of movie you want to see from a side bar menu.
If you select All Movies (my favorite menu) you get a sub menu selection of Top Downloads, New This Week, Action, Comedy, Romance, Drama, SciFi, Children, and so on.
Clicking on a sub menu gets you a listing thumbnails of the movies in that category. Rolling your mouse cursor over the movie thumbnail gets you a pop up window with more movie details.
From the pop up window you can select Download or Preview. If you select Preview, the movie window to the right of the thumbnail list will begin to play a preview, a trailer of the movie.
It’s that simple. I selected Pixar’s The Incredibles from the thumbnail list. In a few seconds it began to play the trailer in the movie window.
It’s like a Flash version of the TV show section of iTunes Music Store.
Below the movie player is more detail about the movie and another Download button. Below the movie details are other movie thumbnails which represent movies purchased by those who also purchased The Incredibles. Shades of Amazon.
Below the movie thumbnail category list is the Download Manager and the movie Library Manager.
Clicking the Download button (I’m going for Pixar’s The Incredibles) gets a pop up menu with options for Version, Language, Format, etc. For now, it’s PC only, though there’s room for Mac.
You have to register and become a Vongo “member” to download. Here’s where the fun begins. There are multiple movie viewing types and different ways to view movies.
Vongo Membership means you pay $9.99 a month and can choose from about 1,000 movies and play them on up to three devices (portable or PC). Membership also gets you a streaming version of the Starz cable TV channel.
Pay Per View lets you purchase a movie at the time of the download and there’s no minimum or maximum (duh—it’s “pay per view”).
I tried the Pay Per View function but found out that Vongo doesn’t want my money that way. The Incredibles requires Vongo Membership (monthly subscription fee). Some movies are Pay Per View, some are Membership, some are both.
The Pay-Per-View movies have a tiny little icon designating PPV. There are not many. That’s a sign.
I found National Treasure, with Nicholas Cage. I’m not sure, but I think it was straight to DVD because I don’t remember it in the theatres. The Pay-Per-View price is 3.99.
Clicking the Download button gets another dialog box, then the movie is added to the Download Manager, and the download begins.
From what I could tell, most feature length movies are about 500-megabytes to less than 1-gigabyte in size, so the download requires broadband.
National Treasure is just under 600-megabytes and took about half an hour to download using a cable internet connection.
Once the movie is downloaded, it’s placed in the My Library section along with other movies (that I don’t have yet). Click on a movie and up pops the movie player. Watch a smaller movie in the middle of the screen (moveable) or watch full screen.
Full screen viewing on a Windows PC is like watching a small TV. In a small room, it’s OK. In the living room, it’s not.
Admittedly, I haven’t added different playback devices since all I have is my parent’s Windows PC. Portable video devices are supported though I could not find a list of which devices. Obviously, iPods are not supported. Yet.
If 2006 is the year for Apple to move Macs to Intel chips, it’s also the year for online movie downloads. Vongo is simple, straightforward, easy enough for most Windows and Mac users, attractive, and, even in beta, seems to work well.
Apple’s iTunes Music Service is great for music. Early results indicate the addition of TV shows is great, too, thanks to the iPod with video.
Vongo, and other movie download services like it, are competition for Apple. Macworld 2006 is just days away. It will be interesting to see what Apple launches and how it compares with Vongo.
Vongo will seem decent and attractive to Windows PC users. The purchase experience is not as seamless as Apple’s iTMS and iPod, Mac or Windows, but it’s close.
Also obvious is the desire of Starz to move buyers into a subscription model, rather than Pay Per View. For me, that’s OK, if the value is there.
I’m not planning to use my Mac or a PC to watch feature length movies, so there needs to be a way to get that movie to my TV set; seamlessly, just like movies and music going to the iPod.
Why can’t Mac users view the Vongo site? How long before Vongo goes Mac?
Carol Mary Miller
I tried it out on Jack’s PC but didn’t download yet. The site’s design looks good and it’s easy to figure out what’s going on without resorting to a dozen help screens.
Vongo is heavy on movies, though, once you search around, you find it’s a thin selection. Same with videos on iTunes Music Store.