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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Redbox Launches Instant Streaming Service

Silver Screen Surprises Investigates the Latest Competitor to Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime Instant Video

By Chris Sabga

Redbox has teamed up with Verizon to launch a new instant streaming service. Redbox Instant is currently in beta and thus isn't available to everyone just yet, but Silver Screen Surprises managed to score an invitation. You can try your luck by entering your e-mail address at redboxinstant.com. If you're chosen, you should get an e-mail after a few days.

Here's the breakdown:

Plans

4 Free DVDs a Month + Unlimited Streaming ($8 a month): This is the default plan. Every membership comes with a one-month free trial, but you're locked into this option for the first month. If you change it, your free trial will end.

Add Blu-Rays + Unlimited Streaming ($9 a month): It's unclear how this works, but I'm assuming you'll get four free Blu-Rays per month and still have the option of using any of those credits on DVDs instead.

Remove DVDs: Streaming Only ($6 a month): No discs, just streaming. This plan is slightly cheaper than similar offerings from services like Netflix. The selection seems comparable, but it's hard to gauge just yet.

From the site: "Each credit is good for 1 overnight rental of 1 DVD. If you keep your DVD an extra night, it just uses another credit. You won't be charged until your credits are all used up. And the next month it refills to 4 DVD credits again."

I'm not sure yet exactly how the physical kiosks will recognize that you have free credits. Presumably, entering the e-mail address associated with your Redbox account will be the trigger. Of course, you can always reserve your rental ahead of time online, but I hope that isn't a requirement. Sometimes you just want to rent something at the spur of the moment after getting groceries, and it would be nice to be able to use your credits right away without any fuss. I will update this post when I've had a chance to rent something from the kiosk.  (Update: Redbox appears to recognize that you have free credits if you use the card associated with your account.)

Compatible Devices

Xbox 360: You need a subscription to Xbox LIVE Gold and at least 130 MB of free storage. This requires a second invitation code, specific to the Xbox, which is apparently being mailed out to registered Redbox Instant users. It seems a bit convoluted to me, to be honest.

Samsung Smart TVs: A list of supported models can be found here.

Samsung Blu-Ray Players: The following 2011 11AV-5 models are currently supported: BD-D5300/ZA, BD-D5500/ZA, and BD-D6500/ZA.

Many Apple iPhone, iPad, and iTouch models: The only detail given is that iOS 5.0 or later is required. I've tested out the Redbox Instant app but it refuses to accept my sign-in information. Glitches like this are to be expected in a beta, but it's not exactly an encouraging sign.

Android Phones and Tablets: No specific devices are listed, but you need to get the app from Google Play. If you have an Android device with its own market (such as the Amazon Kindle Fire), you're out of luck until those stores carry the app too. I tried getting it from a third-party site that has legal apps compatible with the Fire, but it wouldn't install. That is not a red mark against Redbox; outside solutions obviously have only a hit or miss chance of working.

By the way, even though Verizon is involved, the Redbox Instant site has made it clear that you don't need a Verizon phone plan to use the service.

Computers: The usual list of requirements is present here: Windows XP SP2 or higher, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, or Mac OS X 10.4 or higher. Supported browsers: Internet Explorer 8, 9 or 10, Firefox 3.5 and later, Chrome 21 and later, and Safari 5 and 6 (Mac).

Redbox Instant is currently in beta, so its large list of compatible devices surprised me. I was expecting it to work only with computers for now. Still, I wish it worked with even more devices. PS3 and Wii support would have been nice. If there's some sort of exclusivity agreement going on with Microsoft, I really have to shake my head that companies continue to be conned into accepting deals that only benefit Bill Gates and company. Roku support is also a must, but that too is absent. I will cut Redbox some slack for now since the service is still in beta, but by the time this officially launches, it needs to work with the PS3, Wii, and Roku at the very least.

The Movies

There's no way to tell just how many movies are available for streaming, but Redbox Instant appears to have many of the same ones offered by Netflix and Amazon Prime. "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," "Thor," and "Captain America" are a few of the recent blockbusters I noticed after a cursory glance. Since there's a free trial, it's easy for you to find out if this service offers what you want. Current Redbox kiosk users will obviously get the most out of it.

I tested out "Rango" and "Swordfish" on my computer. Playback appears to be smooth and solid. I couldn't tell if they were in HD on my PC screen, but they still looked clear and crisp. The highest volume could have been a bit louder, but that may have been me, my setup, or those particular films ("Rango" did sound louder than "Swordfish"). I don't often watch movies on a computer, and I suspect I'm far from alone in that, which is why it's in Redbox's best interests to beef up its list of compatible devices as soon as possible!

TV shows don't appear to be offered by Redbox Instant (as of this write-up), but they aren't available from the physical boxes either.

The Site

It's easy to filter movies into different categories and view the streaming-only options. If you want to rent a physical disc, those are simple to search for too.

Like Netflix's queue, Redbox has a Bookmark system. Amazon took forever to add a similar feature – the Watchlist – to its Prime streaming service, so it's nice to see that Redbox has it right out of the gate. However, it remains to be seen if expired movies will automatically be removed from your bookmarks (Netflix does this, Amazon does not).

Cancelling Redbox Instant is also painless. It can be done directly from the site.
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Worth it? If you're a regular Redbox kiosk user already and have a device compatible with its streaming option, it might be. It's certainly priced competitively. If Redbox can add PS3, Wii, and Roku support and fix its early beta glitches (such as the iDevice issues mentioned above), this service has the potential to become a major player very quickly. 

1 comment:

  1. VERY informative, particularly for the technology and cinema-challenged like me!!! Thank you, triple S :)

    ReplyDelete