blinkbox is a different type of service from LoveFilm. There’s no subscription required but you have to fork out credit to fund any of its 24-hour movie rentals or outright purchases. Rentals cost between 99p and £3.49, while buying films costs £6.99 and upwards.
blinkbox offers some newer movies than LoveFilm, seeking to offer an alternative to DVD purchases or trips to the local rental store, but fundamental issues stop it from being as effective as LoveFilm. For starters, the vast majority of blinkbox movies are 4:3, the native aspect ratio of almost none of the service’s films. We couldn’t find a way to change this, or even stretch the image using the device’s remote. This isn’t even the worst of the service’s issues either.
In all of our video rental tests, we experienced significant buffering issues. Our test connection was a 20 Meg line capable of a 1.1MB per second download stream in real-life usage. Although blinkbox streams at reasonable quality (still sub-DVD), it’s still a 480p non-HD stream, so technically we should have had no problems.
Buffering gaps of 20-30 seconds were common, especially at the start of streaming sessions, and even when the video stream appeared to be fully buffered, the audio frequently cut out for a handful of seconds at a time with no explanation. When you’re paying for each and every movie streamed, this performance is unacceptable. The service is still labelled as a beta though, so fingers crossed it’ll get better before long. The selection of films is, apart from the occasional new release, worse than LoveFilm too, with a couple of hundred rather than a few thousand on offer.
From the low of blinkbox, the DPS-1000 regains some ground with its BBC iPlayer integration. The layout is very similar to that used in the Sony PS3 and TV applications of the software. Navigation is a little sluggish but, like the LoveFilm app, the organisation of the iPlayer is intuitive enough to keep frustration at bay long enough to reach your desired TV nugget.
Seemingly quite aside from the slow navigation and glitchy performance of some of these built-in services, we occasionally found video failed to play completely until we reset the DPS-1000. We don’t doubt that still-developing services like LoveFilm and blinkbox still have their share of bugs, but the Digital Stream box brings its own share to the party too.
It also offers a selection of extra features, with DLNA, USB media playback, web TV and widgets for Facebook and Twitter social networking content. Those used to navigating the social networks on a touchscreen mobile phone or computer (and who isn’t) will find this network integration hopelessly clumsy, like am amputee dog ambling around with a little accessibility chariot attached to its back-end.
Native media playback is surprisingly good, with support for plenty of codecs including DivX, Xvid and MKV. 720p content is the max resolution for content, but if you have a giant 1080p MKV library to exploit, you’d be better off with a dedicated media player like the A.C. Ryan Playon!DVR HD anyway. There’s no direct shortcut to USB content from the main menu. Instead the playback menu pops-up when a USB stick is inserted – very poor interface design.
It’s yet more evidence that the Onyx Media Browser is a work-in-progress effort – whose under-construction status is very hard to ignore. In a previous version of the software, there was even a web browser, but that’s gone for the moment. Will it be back? Is it on holiday? Who knows. In several ways, the Digital Stream DPS-1000 is a shambles, but we can’t forget that it’s also the cheapest way to get a dedicated device that includes both LoveFilm and the BBC iPlayer. If you don’t have LoveFilm with unlimited streaming, you’d be better off with the cheaper Asus O!Play. And if you can afford it, the Boxee Box is much better.
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It’s full of glitches and interface issues, but this is one of the cheapest ways to get LoveFilm streaming and the BBC iPlayer on your TV. It needs an optical audio output and a barrel-load of bug fixes though, so doesn’t win our recommendation.
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