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TEST DRIVE: Netmovies.com

28 Nov, 2002 By: Michael Prange

NetMovies, another player in the video-on-demand (VOD) game, has a long way to go before it can hope to be competitive. While competitor Movielink boasts a consortium of studio ties, NetMovies' claim to fame is a relationship to the guy who started Napster (a dubious distinction in the industry). NetMovies also utilizes a peer-to-peer network for distribution and has a Napster-like program that is used to download and view movies.

NetMovies' is in beta release, so the library of titles is just over 50, with about 90 more listed as “coming soon.” It's a ‘B'-movie lover's heaven; you can find the classic 1999 release of Road Kill, Billy Baldwin's epic thriller Primary Suspect, and even the winner of the Grand Prize at the 1973 Cannes film festival, Fantastic Planet. Many of the titles are old short films, TV episodes and even a series of “25 Years of NASA” videos.

Downloading via the software is easy -- just search for the movie you want, click on it to open a description (most provided by All Movie Guide) and click on the GET IT button. A status bar tells you how your download is progressing, but not how much longer you have to wait (whether this will be available based on the system being peer-to-peer remains to be seen). Movies are accessed via the LIBRARY button where there is a PLAY IT button. Movies are broken into chapters as with DVD, so you can skip right to the good parts.

The interface of the application is simple, with buttons directing you to your library of downloaded videos, a search page and, eventually, a “club” page for chat. One nice feature is that you can watch the movies you download as long as you are a subscriber. By ID'ing you with a unique identifier, the software “phones home” to see if you have a valid subscriber license, and you can watch Laser Mission, Jason Lee's (of The Crow fame) first starring role in a U.S. movie, as many times as you can stand it. There's no time limit or ticking clock once you download a movie.

Picture quality so far is about the equivalent of a good VHS tape, but not even close to the near-DVD quality of some other VOD platforms. The application's built-in player is a bit clumsy, and there's no easy way to switch from windowed mode to full screen (like the double-click in Windows Media Player).

There has to be a great deal of uncertainty about the future of this style of VOD, as its success will really depend on content.

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