In our tests we used 50Mbit Virgin cable and 3Mbit DSL connections (a 2.2Mbit minimum is quoted). Naturally the former was considerably quicker, but we did manage to stream SD reliably on the 3Mbit connection. As for adaptive streaming, we found we could do just about anything and not break playback on the 50Mbit connection, but while simultaneously using YouTube on the 3Mbit connection was a no go light web surfing wasn’t a problem. For even more erratic connections pausing the movie will allow it to buffer in the background, but those under the 2.2Mbit minimum would be well advised to steer clear.
As for video quality we were impressed. HD is excellent with strong reproduction of colour and clear, distinct audio – it won’t obviously match the uncompressed quality of a Blu-ray disc and was a touch on the warm side, but it will still be good enough to wow the neighbours. When it comes to SD there is an obvious and expected drop off with dark areas in a scene noticeably lacking detail, but it looks no worse than the SD television the majority of the population still happily consume. For purists aspect ratios do vary, for example Crazy, Stupid, Love comes in its original cinema 2.35:1, but budget Norwegian hit Troll Hunter has been converted from its original 1.85:1 to a widescreen television friendly 16:9 and – in what we hope is a one off – is sold in a dubbed version.
So what about the negatives? The big fork in the road is KnowHow’s restriction of HD content to computers equipped with Intel Insider aka 2nd generation Core processors. As a result our Ultrabook was good to go, but our quad core, eight stream i7 870 CPU equipped desktop with clock speeds hitting up to 3.6GHz and a £350 GeForce GTX 285 graphics card that will happily make mincemeat of Crysis on its maximum settings was restricted to SD. This is frustrating and a potential deal breaker for many. An Intel Insider test runs on the site, but as a general rule if your computer is more than a year old HD will be off the menu.
Secondly is the content itself. At launch KnowHow is currently movie only (TV is listed as ‘coming soon’) with films totalled in the 100s, not 1000s. A quick rundown of the IMDB Top 50 (as we did in our Netflix UK verses LoveFilm comparison) shows just two titles available (The Shawshank Redemption – admittedly #1, and Se7en). By comparison Netflix UK managed three titles and LoveFilm had six, hardly high bars themselves.
That said this negative may soon turn into a significant plus. A key promotion of KnowHow Movies is availability with “new releases will be added to the library on the day of release, meaning customers will have access to them as soon as they become available”. As such much of what is on KnowHow is newer than Netflix UK and matches Amazon owned 10 year old Love Film. Titles include Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Contagion, Cars 2, Real Steel, Tron, Troll Hunter, The King’s Speech, Arthur, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Crazy Stupid Love.