Digital copy has become a standard feature in most new Blu-ray discs, but the methods of transferring them and playing them are different from studio to studio. With so many people stepping up to Blu-ray this Christmas, and the multiple choices you often get in the box, I thought we’d take a look at the three most prevalent forms of digital copy, and rate them on quality, portability, ease of use, and more. Continuing our series, this week we’re looking at the Flixster App, by Warner Bros.
Ease of Use: C
File Size: B+
Platforms: iOS/Android, PC, Mac (Basic non-playback functionality supported on Blackberry and Windows Phone)
Warner Bros. purchased Flixster, along with the Rotten Tomatoes review site, to create their own ecosystem for distributing their content, similar to what Amazon.com does with IMDb. Unlike pocket BLU, this app has an online store attached to it where you can purchase new movies without having an attached Blu-ray or DVD movie. Flixster is also notable as the first platform to officially support UltraViolet, the new attempt at a universal digital content locker that should eventually work across virtually all entertainment platforums: Blu-ray players, smartphones, laptops, tablets, media boxes, and more
Once you’re in (more on the challenges in that in a minute), Flixster is pretty easy to use. You can stream your movies, or download them over the internet to your phone via WiFi. Of the current options for digital copy, it’s the most flexible, and it’s easy to understand and play back your content quickly. Out of all the non-playback features in the app (and there are a lot), the DVD release list is probably the best. It’s well designed and a snap to use, about the only thing that is on the Flixster service.
Flixster was launched back in October 2011 with the Blu-ray releases of Green Lantern and Horrible Bosses, and quickly followed by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, and a lot of customers just weren’t happy. They liked their iTunes copies, and combined with the difficulties in getting up and running iwth Flixster, it lead WB to offer other options to anyone who wanted to trade their UltraViolet code in.
The big problem with Flixster is that it feels like something that was finished at 3AM on launch day, and it’s missing features that most of us would consider essential. For one thing, you can’t complete the registration for the service, or redeem your content, inside the app, and you have to get on a computer to even begin to use the thing. First you have to register for Flixster, then you have to register with UltraViolet and link the two accounts, and only then can you enter a code and select your movie. Of course, to actually watch the film, you have to get past the initial full-screen advertisement and media content, which gets a total thumbs down from me.
Video quality is just fine for the most part, but on dark movies like Harry Potter, blocking can be noticeable if you’re looking for it. The bigger problem is that the streaming, while it works, is unreliable on my iPhone. On the same connection, and at the same time that Netflix streams just fine, I can’t watch more than 10 minutes without the movie pausing on me for at least a few seconds, a problem that gets progressively worse and exists on all three movies I tried. I don’t know if this is a software issue, or a problem with Flixster’s back end, but it’s something I’d like to hear other people’s experiences on before passing final judgement. Downloading the movies, though, is a snap, and once stored on my phone, exhibit no playback problems whatsoever.
Flixster is obviously something that’s really just past the alpha stage of development, and its experience may improve greatly by this time next year. As it stands right now, there’s a lot of promise, but as long as I’m hit with ads every time I start up, require a computer to redeem my tokens and/or register, and the streaming is unreliable, it’s a disappointment. The ideas are sound, the execution is just so rough it needs a lot of sanding until it’s something people want to use every day.