I spent some time today with Starz' new Vongo digital video service which launched in beta yesterday as part of the pre-CES drum roll of product announcements. I would describe this as version 1.5 of the Starz Ticket service I reviewed earlier - cheaper, more content, better interface, and some portable capabilities, but not quite redefining the category enough yet for mainstream users as ITunes did for music and podcasting. That having been said, I cancelled my Starz Ticket service and switched to Vongo since it's a better value for me. It looks like CES will have a large focus around various aspects of video portability, so I'm sure we'll see more hardware and service announcements.
You must currently download a separate 10MB client to use Vongo, although I assume it will be integrated into the Windows Media player and Sony Connect clients when those partnerships launch. Although the sign up process is too long and doesn't allow for any free trial concept, it's smooth and nicely integrates a parental control option. A subscription is $10/month and more recent movies are available for $4 on a PPV basis, similar to Movielink The editorial approach is a big improvement over Starz Ticket, with a highly graphical approach utilizing DVD covers instead of text, user ratings a la Net Flix, and integrated video trailers for almost every movie. There are hundreds of movies available , as well as 20+ concerts and 10+ extreme sports programs, so you can see that Starz will be expanding the catalog above movies.
As I discussed in the earlier Starz Ticket review, the lack of easy portability to devices or to a TV is a big drawback for many mainstream users. Starz doesn't currently address the TV situation since it doesn't appear to work with Windows Media Center, but it does offer downloads to Portable Media Center devices. However, since about ten of these have been sold in the last year, I couldn't find one to test it on - if they can make it work on a Sony PSP as part of the Sony relationship, then this could be a big win since the PSP is the only device I can see which can rival the video iPod for looks, units sold and functionality.
- $10 a month gets you hundreds of movies and the PPV option is a nice option
- Reasonably good editorial approach - user ratings, graphics, trailers, filters
- Starting to address the portability need, but still needs work
- The client is still in beta - it repeatedly showed a fairly bad memory leak which resulted in the client taking 60% of the processor and 400+MB of memory before I finally shut it down to stop my computer from grounding to a halt, although the issue went away when I was just watching a movie rather than moving around the client.
- There is a lot of content, but they could do a better job of providing ways to filter it, such as adding "Most Popular" and "Recently Added" in each genre, not just at the top level
- The live Starz stream is pretty low quality at full screen, probably running at 300K, but I don't think most people use this option anyway
- The overall quality seems to be lower than the Real Starz Ticket option, at least at full screen, but that may be a subjective issue.
- Installs some type of Macrovision update manager without asking you