Blockbuster On Demand is a relatively new Video on Demand service, launched in December 2008; promising, but late and lags far behind the service from market leader Netflix. Unlike Netflix, which offers fairly generous downloads for free in addition to its DVD rental by mail service, Blockbuster uses a pay-per-view system.
Perhaps the biggest drawback is the content is too sparse--some 2,000 films compared to Netflix's 16,000. However, to be fair there do seem to be a few more modern hits available which aren't on Netflix, and this number will likely increase.
The film terms for Blockbuster On Demand are the same as most other VOD services--you can store rentals for up to 30 days, then you have a 24 hour window to watch it once you have begun playback, then it is erased. If you opt to purchase a film, you can watch it as often as you'd like for as long as you want. Keep in mind the average movie may run about 1 gigabyte, which could take up to an hour to download on a typical cable/DSL line, though you can start playback after just a couple of minutes. Films which you purchase can be burned to CD or DVD for backup storage, but they will not play in a conventional DVD player.
Some content providers allow you to watch your films on up to three PCs, however, Blockbuster's system doesn't yet allow this. This is a serious drawback, as once you've downloaded a film to a given computer, right now you cannot move it.
The actual stream quality is not DVD quality in our opinion as claimed, but is fairly standard for internet delivered video. On a large plasma or LCD, you will see the odd pixelization, especially if you're looking for it with a critical eye, but this won't be an issue for most viewers.
In March 2010 Blockbuster announced it may file for bankrupcy--in the past year sales fell 20% and losses mounted to $558 million. Blockbuster is working with its bankers and closing marginal stores, so is unlikely to disappear entirely, but it's in for tough times ahead. This has not as yet impacted Blockbusters' mail or video on demand services, which should remain the most profitable sector of the business.
Dissemination: If running it on your computer, the Blockbuster On Demand system requirements are a Windows XP Service Pack 2 computer, Vista or WIndows 7--no support for Mac or any Apple devices. However, the system does at least work with both Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers that have an IE tab extension. It also requires Windows Media Player 10, and is available in the US. For hardware, the recommended minimum requirement is a 1.5 GHz Pentium 4 with at least 512MB of RAM and a 256 color video card. Blockbuster On Demand also supports some portable media devices like the Archos 605, but not the iPod or PSP. It also works on TiVos and select Samsung DVD and Blu-Ray players--coming fall short of the wide array of devices which work with Netflix.
Blockbuster's delivery method of choice is the 2Wire MediaPoint Digital Media Player--quite reasonable at $99, which includes 25 free rentals. The MediaPoint has built-in Ethernet and 802.11g Wi-Fi networking capability. Films can be selected and ordered onscreen without recourse to the PC, which is a step above the Roku for Netflix, which relies on your queue generated at the PC. Yet it falls far short of the slick Vudu interface, and it can only be used for Blockbuster On Demand--no other functions. The disadvantages are many though--you can't fast forward or rewind during initial download, the remote and its buttons are tiny, there is no support for WPA2 encryption, and of course, it is one more box and tangle of wires to put under the TV. To be fair, this 8-inch square has all the outputs you'll likely ever need, from HDMI, component, and composite. The hardware can support streaming of 1080i, but currently downloads 480p, though it will upscale to the resolution you desire. Unfortunately, in summary we find Blockbuster's interface clunky and a bit slow--a far cry from the other, better VOD services out there.
There is speculation that Blockbuster may be preparing to deliver On Demand content through the Wii. A partnership announced in January 2009 with Sonic Solutions may be a step in that direction, but it's far too early to be be sure.
Prices: Blockbuster has industry standard prices, with no membership fees. Prices vary, though most cost $3.99.