CinemaNow is aggressive about servicing a broad variety of hardware, including portable devices and Media Center PCs, like this Asus Minuet.
CinemaNow offers newly released movies on the same pay-per-view model that most of the other services here (with the exception of Vongo) use, but the service also sells a limited collection of movies that can be downloaded and burned to a DVD that can be played anywhere. CinemaNow’s optional subscription service allows unlimited downloads, but these titles cannot be burned.
We can’t imagine who would spend $30 per month (or pay just $100 for an entire year!) to watch the less-than-B movies that CinemaNow has on tap (Addicted to Murder II: Tainted Blood, Planet of the Werewolf, Backyard Fight Clubs Volume III). If the free content on YouPorn leaves you less than satisfied, on the other hand, membership in CinemaNow’s Platinum Club also entitles you to unlimited access to AllAdultChannel.com.
The service’s burn-to-DVD offerings range in price from $9 to $20, and we found many of Hollywood’s better, if not exactly fresh, offerings (including Reservoir Dogs, Requiem for a Dream, and Secretary) selling for just $10. But why bother downloading movies and burning them to a disc when you can buy them factory-pressed for nearly the same price? Besides, most of the other films we found in this category are much less appealing than those cult faves (anyone in the mood for a Sinbad comedy special?). You can burn any other purchased movie to disc, but only as a backup data file—the discs will not play on standard DVD drives or players.
CinemaNow’s rental model is much more typical, with pay-per-view movies going for between $2 and $4 (with new releases such as Michael Clayton and Rendition priced at the higher end of that range). The service had 16 of our top 25 new releases available for rent and 19 available for purchase. Customers have a 24-hour window to watch the movie within 30 days of downloading it. New releases available for purchase averaged $20 each. These titles cannot be burned to disc, but they can be viewed on up to three devices, including PlaysForSure handhelds.
As with the other services, CinemaNow was much lighter on classic content and had only three of the AFI’s top 25 films available for rent (Psycho, On the Waterfront, and To Kill a Mockingbird). Office Space was the only one of our cult favorites available for rent; that and Reservoir Dogs were the only films on that list available for sale.
CinemaNow has some TV content for sale ($2 per episode), which can be transferred to portable devices but cannot be burned to disc. We found much of Fox TV’s programming (including 24 and The Family Guy, but not The Simpsons), several of Showtime’s original series (such as Brotherhood but not Dexter), and a handful of classic TV shows from the 1960s (including Time Tunnel and I Spy).
CinemaNow is integrated into both versions of Windows Media Center (XP and Vista) and content can be streamed to your TV using a Media Center Extender. The service has also been integrated into HP’s MediaSmart LCD TVs, which have integrated network-streaming hardware. Movies and TV episodes are delivered in WMV format at the equivalent of standard definition (640x480 resolution). When we scaled video up on our home-theater PC, we noticed significant compression artifacts in shadows and dark skies, a problem we experienced with every WMV-based service except Vongo. As with most of the other services reviewed here, we judged video quality to be less than what you would get from a DVD.
We can’t recommend CinemaNow’s subscription service at any price, and its movie offerings are about the same as the rest of the field’s (both in terms of price and the depth of its catalog). The service does earn points for supporting multiple PCs and portable devices and for being integrated into both versions of Windows Media Center. But the bar set by the competing services is pretty low.
Movie rentals: $2 to $4 Movie purchases: $9 to $20 TV episodes: $2