The Cinema In Your Hand – Part One

Alex Walls
June 20, 2013

Handheld cinema is here in all its HD glory. Watch blockbusters on any smartphone or tablet,   play, pause and resume without ads and noisy audiences. What Mobile takes a front row seat to see some of the popular online movie services on offer for your mobile viewing pleasure.

Once upon a time, on a rainy Sunday you would curl up in bed or beside a fire with your favourite book, but thanks to modern technology you can now curl up with your favourite movie or TV show displayed on a handheld smartphone or tablet.

So what are your options when it comes to trading high ticket prices,   noisy audiences, stale nachos and public transport for mobile cinema?   With the burgeoning growth in mobile video offerings, let’s take a look at what you need and what’s available.

What you need

A Wi-Fi connection with speeds of (generally) 1.5 to 2 MB and a large or unlimited data allowance. Rule Number One is to never download a movie over mobile data. It will cost you a a rather large fortune. Movies are several gigabytes large and many mobile data plans have caps of around 500 to 750MB. The same goes for capped home broadband plans; you’ll need to make sure you’ve got a large enough cap, or an unlimited data plan, to handle the movies you want to stream or download.

A capable device: you’ll want a smartphone or tablet that can handle loading lots of data, quickly. It’s also great to have a device with a high screen resolution; it’s not necessary to enjoy your videos but movies and shows will look that much better.

Headphones: essential if you want to view movies in public places. We can’t be responsible for the possible violence you may   be subjected to if you watch Made In Chelsea on the bus without plugging in your earbuds.

WHAT’S THE ATTRACTION?  Screenshot_2013-05-28-16-20-17

Having instant access to a whole range of films is a cinophile’s dream. It’s pretty amazing to be able to pay the equivalent of a DVD rental for a month’s access to thousands of movies and TV shows.

Sure, there are still large gaps missing in catalogues, but so there were with the first video rental   stores too. There’s also the convenience of being able start watching a movie within a few minutes of thinking about it.

Of course you’ll need an iron discipline not to download and watch Fifth Element when you know you should be getting on with other chores. And of course the ability to stop, start, and resume the film to suit your activities is a major advantage, which also comes in handy when you’ve missed the latest Arrested Development non sequitur.

HD versus SD (versus Super HD)

A little like colour television versus black and white, High Definition film is of a better quality picture, with a higher resolution than Standard Definition (SD).

This means more image detail and with HD, that means you get more lines of pixels. The term HD encompasses a picture made up of 720 lines or the even better quality 1080 lines ‘ the more, the merrier, type of thing.   You will need to have a device with a screen resolution that can handle this but alas, Netflix and Lovefilm don’t offer HD streaming for mobile devices – iTunes and the Google Play store, however, do allow you to buy HD movies and television series for your mobile.

HD films and television are larger to download than in SD because of this extra information, so Wi-Fi is a must.

Not all videos are offered in HD and this can depend upon studio licensing agreements or the age of the film. Movies and TV shows which are in HD will generally have the ‘HD’ sign on them or will have this information displayed.

Both Lovefilm and Netflix offer films and television in HD up to 1080p (Netflix calls this ‘Super HD). However, neither currently offers these for mobile devices.

iTunes offers videos in either 720p or 1080p. Devices which are designed to handle 720p are the iPhone 4 or later, iPad and iPad 2. The iPad3 can handle 1080p.

Google also offers HD movies and television shows from its PlayStore, with newer devices such as the Galaxy Nexus and the Nexus 7, capable of handling HD videos.

HD videos are more expensive than SD videos to buy or rent, due to their higher quality. For instance, Bridesmaids is £7.99 to buy from iTunes and the Play Store in HD, but £6.99 in SD.

LOVEFILM  Lovefilm

What it is

Amazon’s TV show and movie streaming and rental subscription service has pedigree behind it when it comes to digital content.   With the Lovefilm Instant package, subscribers can stream as many movies or TV shows that are on offer in the Instant catalogue as they want, meaning video is delivered instantly to their computer or mobile device via an Internet connection, paying £4.99 a month for the basic streaming package (no DVDs or games), or more for additional offerings such as DVDs and games by post.

The pros

As you’d expect from a creation of the giant Amazon, Lovefilm has a good selection of titles; gone are the days of being forced to stream one of 25 films, 20 of which are from 1968. There’s a mix of new and old, new releases and blockbusters, and some great offerings in TV shows, including United States offerings such as 30 Rock and Castle, as well as home grown efforts such as Extras, The Inbetweeners and Downton Abbey.

Having trialled both over the past year, I used to prefer Lovefilm for its TV and new release offerings, but am coming back around to Netflix with its expanded offerings.

Like its rival Netflix, Lovefilm offers a free 30 day trial. You’ll need to enter in email addresses and credit card information anyway, so unless you own several payment cards, you can generally only get one free trial.

Plus there are issues with listed addresses and you can either create a Lovefilm account or sign in with your Amazon account, tying your various services together.

Amazon is beginning to look into original content as well, with 14   pilots of various TV series that users can vote on as to which will go into production, including the television spin-off of the horror-comedy, Zombieland.

The cons

There are Lovefilm Android and iPhone apps, but don’t be fooled: these will allow you to save a list of the films you want to watch to your account, but not actually use the service on your device. The only Lovefilm-enabled mobile devices are the iPad and the Kindle Fire HD. If you try on other devices, you’ll get a warning about Linux and a void where your beloved video should be.

Speaking of these devices, which Lovefilm calls Lovefilm Ready, all films are available for streaming on the devices, but not all TV shows, whose availability vary from device to device.

Lovefilm says it’s working on making all shows accessible in the near future, but right now certain shows are not going to, well, show on your smart device.

Unlike Netflix, when you go to cancel your Lovefilm account, it will cancel immediately, rather than giving you until the end of your pay period, which is a pain, because it means you have to remember to cancel your account the day before it renews.

NETFLIX  Netflix on tablet screenshot

What it is

Like Lovefilm, Netflix is an online streaming subsdription service, meaning movies and TV shows are delivered straight to your mobile device via an Internet connection. Netflix was founded in 1997 by two software executives as a rental-by-mail service and my, how it has grown.

Just download the app from the Play store, App store or Windows Phone 8 store and sign in.

The pros

Netflix, like Lovefilm, offers a free 30 day trial of its service, so you can test the water with your various devices before committing to the paid service.

Netflix allows you to watch unlimited movies and shows on any Android, Apple or Windows Phone device via its Netflix app, available as a free download (obviously, you need to be a paying member to sign in to the service via the app). This hands-down beats Lovefilm’s offering of just the iPad and Kindle Fire.

Netflix has also already branched out into providing original shows, such as House of Cards, and demonstrated excellent taste in licensing new episodes of Arrested Development, to be distributed exclusively via its streaming service ‘ so subscribers are starting to be able to access content other Internet users and TV watchers can’t.

When you cancel your account, which is a simple exercise, Netflix will give you until the end of your billing period to still enjoy your films, then close the account ‘ now that’s your money’s worth.

The cons

The service is £1 more expensive than Lovefilm’s offering per month, which is not a big deal, but is a difference.

Netflix as yet doesn’t offer its Super HD or HD on mobile devices, but then neither does Lovefilm.


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