I have always been a fan of quality.
Now, that’s something which is in the eye of the proverbial beholder – what’s perfectly fine to me might be intolerable to you and the reverse is true, too. When it comes to things like entertainment, I have always been a fan of the best reproduction that I can get my hands on, even if that means inconveniencing myself slightly – carrying a CD Walkman when many of my peers had moved on to smaller, lighter MP3 players, hankering after a Laserdisc player when everyone I knew was more than happy with VHS. You get the picture, I suspect.
In recent years, I’ve begun to see the advantage of relaxing my self-imposed high standards just a tad. I now carry a Sansa Clip Zip Mp3 player armed with a capricious flash card filled with songs and podcasts and I get on fine with it (albeit with my music ripped in Flac format and a funky little FiiO headphone amp to boost the output a little) and I’ve begun to play about with the streaming services available via my Xbox 360, thanks to a slight contretemps with my local branch of Blockbuster Video (I don’t want to verify personal data in a queue every time that I rent films, their bizarre corporate policy apparently insists on it. Enjoy your soon-come obsolescence, boys).
My findings were mixed. LoveFilm, arguably the market leader in the UK thanks to the muscle offered by corporate parent Amazon, had a limited selection not assisted by smudgy video quality and frequent buffering issues which rendered films unwatchable (this is on a 60 mb connection, mind you). Netflix UK was similarly hit-and-miss with video quality and I really can’t get on with the recommendation engine, which works about as well (i.e., not at all) as most recommendation engines seem to do for me. They’re fine if you’ve somehow only just found out about the existence of films and the cinema, but not really a serious consideration for anybody else.
Microsoft’s own films on demand service is apparently aimed at Russian oligarchs, so is really not for me as I don’t want to pay the cost of a new DVD movie to rent a streamed version. So, it was to evil corporate overlords Sky that I went for a free trial of their ‘Sky Now’ service – an offer boosted somewhat in my estimation by a tagged-on 800 Microsoft Space Bucks if you watch at least 90 mins of the service in a month.
Having viewed the 2012 McG spy-fi action comedy, “This Means War“, and Steven Soderbergh‘s “Haywire” on the service, I’m now able to suggest that it’s actually…okay? Not a match for a decent sd DVD transfer, as the sound is resolutely stereo-based, but perfectly watchable quality which should allow you to check out a movie and then double-down on the Blu-Ray, say, if you really like a film. No buffering whatsover to report, either, which is a nice change – many of the streaming services that I’ve tried have offered image and playback quality so prone to glitches, drop-outs and other annoyances that they become less the experience of watching a film and more akin to glancing at still photographs and listening to a CD skipping in the background.
I don’t know that I would continue to subscribe to the service – the selection is pretty limited, which seems to be true of every such offering available to UK consumers – but it’s certainly worth looking at if you can take up this current Xbox offer in the UK.
- What is FLAC? The high-def MP3 explained (reviews.cnet.com)
- SanDisk Sansa Clip Zip (white, 4GB) (reviews.cnet.com)