I decided to take the Vongo video download service out for a spin and see if it was worth the $9.95 monthly fee. To my surprise (having been a Vongo subscriber more than a year ago), while the interface and overall look and feel of the service remain the same, the service has jumped up a notch in my opinion.
For those not familiar with Vongo, Vongo is a video download subscription service. Based around the premium cable channel Starz, Vongo – for the aforementioned $9.95 per month – gives subscribers access to not only a live stream of Starz, but on-demand access to all the movies currently in rotation on Starz. But that’s not all. In addition, subscribers can rent movies for $3.95 per title. Similar to the Amazon Unbox video service, when renting a movie on Vongo, you are given a 24-hour window in which to view the movie, but that window only starts when you start viewing the movie.
When Vongo first started up, I took a look at it via a full-featured trial period, and left the experience less than impressed. For one, the program itself seemed a bit slow. I have no idea as to what changes (if any) might have been made to the application itself, but running on the same computer, the Vongo application now seems a bit more responsive.
While my view of any movie service will be heavily weighted toward that service that includes the most movies I want to watch, the Vongo service now seems to include more titled I’m interested in. While Starz typically doesn’t get movies as quick as HBO or Showtime (and certainly not as quickly as your neighborhood movie rental place), there are enough movies with recent enough release dates (such as “The Guardian,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “The Queen,” and “The Legend of Zorro”), that I could see myself using Vongo quite a bit… at least for a few months, at which point I would likely begin to question whether the new titles introduced each week/month were enough to keep me interested in the service.
Using Vongo is a snap. Movies are catagorized by genre, and are fully searchable. In addition, you can click on the name of an actor, actress or director in the movie info section, and immediately be shown a list of all the movies Vongo carries with that individual. Small previews are also available for each video, and a handful of movies you may also be interested in are also shown.
Once you decide you want to view a movie, simply click the download button. For some movies, both a full-screen and widescreen version are available, and for some (such as “Talladega Nights: The Ricky Bobby Story”), both the standard and unrated director’s cut versions can be viewed. Once you have selected the parameters (you also have a choice for most movies to download a portable version, which can be viewed on the Gigabeat from Toshiba), you can start downloading the movie immediately, or schedule the download for another time (say, the middle of the night when the downloading won’t affect your Internet speeds). Movies will range anywhere from 500-600 MB up to roughly 1.5 GB, depending on the format and length of the movie. This is something you’ll need to be aware of, as downloading 15 high-quality movies will quickly suck up upwards of 20 GB of hard drive space.
Once a movie has started downloading, you only need to wait a few minutes before you can start watching the video. No, the movie doesn’t finish downloading that quickly (even on high-speed cable Internet, it took roughly 30-40 minutes to download a video), but you can start watching it that quickly, and the movie will continue downloading in the background.
Overall, the Vongo service is top notch. The movies look great full-screen, and are – in fact – full DVD definition. The bitrate isn’t as high as movies available from the Amazon Unbox service, but the difference was barely noticeable, and for most people probably won’t be an issue. The one thing that did kind of bother me, however, had to do with the size of the picture. As mentioned, the movies are full DVD resolution, yet when watching a movie in windowed mode, the movies are not shown at full-size, and nothing I tried would change that. Sure, I could click a button to watch them full-screen, but sometimes I want to be able to see other windows while watching a movie, so the fact that Vongo, by default, shows me the movie in smaller-than-full-size is a bit of a puzzle.
Still, I think the Vongo service is well worth checking into. I’ve long said that it would be a great thing when premium cable networks such as HBO, Showtime or The Movie Channel (not to mention ESPN or other stations), started offering subscriptions via the web. The money would go directly to the network, and in my mind people would probably be willing to pay just as much for the service as they would through their cable provider, if it meant not having to subscribe to a full range of other premium offerings. This is a good first step, and if you watch a lot of movies, is one I’d recommend looking into. It may not have the newest titles, but the titles available are good, and the selection pretty deep. It may not be for everyone, but it just may be for you, so check it out!