10-foot interface; multiple PC and device support; good library; all-you-can-eat subscription model.
Subscription doesn't cover everything; no HD; library is missing some essentials.
Vongo movies can be streamed to your TV using any Windows Media Center Extender device, including the Linksys DMA2200.
Vongo’s subscription business model puts it in a category all its own: The service’s primary focus is to provide an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of movies and other video content that can be downloaded to your PC for a $10 monthly fee. It doesn’t offer any for-purchase content, and its TV offerings are nearly nonexistent.
Vongo is a division of Starz Entertainment, which has contracts with all the major Hollywood movie studios for semi-exclusive access to their films—but only after those movies have played out in theaters, the pay-per-view market, and as disc sales. Starz offers the same films on cable TV. A Vongo representative tells us these contracts cover about 40 percent of all Hollywood movies released in the last nine years. HBO is in a similar position, but that firm doesn’t currently offer a download service.
When we compared Vongo’s movie library to the rest of the field, we did indeed find that Vongo had many movies to offer that could not be rented online anywhere else. CinemaNow, Movielink, and others had them available for sale, but not for rent. And with Vongo, you can watch the content as often as you like—or for at least as long as Vongo has the right to offer it.
There is no free lunch, however, especially not in Hollywood: When we looked to Vongo for 25 of the latest releases, we found only one that was covered by the monthly subscription price and only one other that was available on a pay-per-view basis. Vongo also doesn’t have much in the way of classic films (nothing from the AFI’s top 25 list, for instance), and we didn’t find any of our 10 cult classics in its listings. We did find some other gems, including Dr. Strangelove , From Dusk Till Dawn , and a host of low-brow offerings from Troma Entertainment (the studio that brought you Toxic Avenger ).
You’ll need to download the Vongo client in order to browse the service’s library, download content, and watch previews. The application has a search engine that enables you to find content by title, actor/director, category, format (standard or widescreen), MPAA/TV rating, language, and device (PC or portable). You can also search for subscription content, pay-per-view titles, or both.
Vongo’s movie and (limited) TV offerings are delivered in the equivalent of standard definition (roughly 480i or 480p, dependent on your display) in WMV format. Video quality, as scaled by the Radeon 3850 videocard in our home-theater rig to our 42-inch ViewSonic N4285p TV, was very good. Being limited to standard definition isn’t a major shortcoming now (since most of the movies in Vongo’s library predate HD video anyway), but it will become a drawback as today’s new releases are remastered for Blu-ray before making their way into Vongo’s library.
Downloaded content can be streamed over a Windows Media Center Extender to a TV (assuming you have a version of Windows that includes Media Center), but Vongo’s 10-foot user interface is also integrated into versions of Vista that include Windows Media Center. This means you can use a Media Center remote to control the Vongo client.
Like your movies on the go? Vongo’s service can be used on as many as three devices simultaneously. One of these must be a PC, but the other two can be either PCs or Vongo-certified portable video players (including the Archos 605 WiFi, Creative Labs’s Zen Vision: M, and Toshiba’s Gigabeat V.)
If you can wait a year or so for movies to filter through the system and into the Starz library, $10 per month for all the movies you can watch is a great deal. We’re not that patient, although we were reminded of a number of films that we’d forgotten to watch when they were new—and now they can’t be rented from the other services.
Movie rentals: $1 to $4
Movie purchases: N/A
TV episodes: $2