We take a front-row look at sites that offer movie downloads onto mobile devices: Amazon Unbox, BitTorrent, CinemaNow, iTunes, Movielink, Vongo, and ZML.
Like Napster before it, BitTorrent began life as a legally iffy file-sharing service and evolved into a legitimate media distribution service. Specifically, the Torrent Entertainment Network serves up nearly 4,000 movies (many of them "mature" titles, so parents beware) you can rent and/or purchase. But they're for PC viewing only. You can't copy them to a portable player (yet -- BitTorrent's help page says the capability is coming soon).
The service offers a good mix of current releases and classics, everything from Michael Clayton to Dial M for Murder. As with Amazon Unbox, purchases range from $9.99 to $14.99, while rentals (which obey the 30/24 Rule) cost $2.99 to $3.99. You'll need the BitTorrent client to actually download the movies and Windows Media Player 10 or later to watch them (sorry, Mac users). The client isn't exactly user-friendly, and it may require some fiddling with your firewall settings.
You'll pay a premium to buy new-release movies from CinemaNow, but at least rentals are competitively priced.
Although BitTorrent, the company, has gone legit, programs that run BitTorrent's peer-to-peer file-sharing technology, also known as BitTorrent, remain viable for those seeking to procure DRM-free (and just plain free) movies from their fellow users. Doing so isn't legal, and we're not going to explain the mechanics of it, but we just didn't want you to confuse BitTorrent with, um, BitTorrent.
One of the old-timers of the movie-download biz, CinemaNow is home to 11,000 movies -- new releases and older titles alike -- you can rent and/or buy. There's also a subscription option that affords unlimited downloads, plus support for portable players. However, like a Hollywood blockbuster with gaping plot holes, CinemaNow may leave moviegoers unsatisfied.
For starters, while most rentals cost $3.99, the purchase price for most new-release movies is $19.95 -- five bucks more than you'll pay just about anywhere else. The service does have some cheaper deals in its Video Vaults ($1.99-and-up rentals, $3.99-and-up purchases), but they're mostly Z-grade titles.
Speaking of Z-grade, a CinemaNow subscription ($29.95 monthly or $99.95 annually) entitles you to unlimited downloads, but mainstream, major-studio movies aren't part of the deal. At least your subscription also includes access to CinemaNow's sister site, AllAdultChannel.com -- if you count that as a benefit.
As for portable player support, CinemaNow works only with the Samsung P2 and various Archos models. A few of the latter have built-in CinemaNow stores that let you buy and download movies directly -- no PC required. But with portable players, you don't get the option of renting.
Thus, CinemaNow is worth a look for notebook/PC movie rentals (standard 30/24 rules apply), but for everything else, you're better off with another service.
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