Technology

Streamed video (almost) ready for prime time

If you've been hungry for a more fulfilling home-video fix, fall 2010 brings a digital box-office delight. Here's how the competing services compare.

If you’ve been hungry for a more fulfilling home-video fix, fall 2010 brings a digital box-office delight. Canadian movie and TV viewers can now choose from a menu of Internet-driven services — and will soon be getting still more. Netflix is the big one, of course. Huge in the U.S., the company launched an Internet-only movie-and-TV subscription service in Canada in mid-September. At $7.99 per month, it’s cheap. But how does it stack up against other just- or soon-to-be announced offerings? Here, we present a side-by-side comparison of what you get from six major players. Some are focused on bringing streamed content to your TV, while others extend to computers and other devices so you can watch wherever you choose. At this stage, these services are still more like appetizers than main courses. But at least there’s something for every taste.

Bell IPTV
In September, Bell unveiled a service that streams video over a fibre-optic network.

Offerings: Largely mirrors Bell’s existing satellite service — 100+ HD channels, 70+ international channels, plus “theme packs”

New releases: Yes

How to watch: Still requires set-top box but no satellite dish; can record up to four programs at once; users can use apps to connect to web, social networking sites

Price: $27 to $102 a month depending on package

Available: Now

Challenges: High cost; requires package subscription; restricted to Bell subscribers

Apple TV
Originally launched in 2007, to little acclaim, Apple TV got a hardware and service overhaul in September.

Offerings: Wireless streaming of HD movies and TV shows from a computer, iTunes account or Netflix

New releases: Yes

How to watch: Connect palm-sized Apple TV device to your TV with HDMI cable to stream content wirelessly; other Internet content — videos, podcasts, radio — also accessible

Price: $119 for the box; movie rentals $3.99 and up ($4.99 and up for HD) or via Netflix subscription

Available: New devices began shipping in late September

Challenges: Offers strictly rentals, no purchases

Rogers On Demand Online
First unveiled late last year, the service will begin offering downloadable movie rentals in mid-October. (Note: Canadian Business and Canadian Business Online are owned by Rogers.)

Offerings: Selected TV shows, movies, music videos and other clips, plus a new rental library of some 400 titles to start

New releases: Yes

How to watch: Subscribers to any Rogers service can view the video channel. Some movie content is only available to select subscribers

Price: Non-premium content is free; new release rentals cost $4.99, older library titles $3.99

Available: Now

Challenges: Limited library; restricted to Rogers subscribers

Netflix
The U.S. online and DVD mail-order giant launched its streaming service (Internet only) here in September.

Offerings: Library of 7,000 movies and TV shows; distribution deals with all major studios and distributors

New releases: No

How to watch: On TV or computer through a variety of intermediary devices — Apple hardware, major consoles, Internet TVs and others

Price: $7.99/month for unlimited streaming

Available: Now

Challenges: Internet download caps applied by carriers could make high-volume watching costly; lack of new releases

Google TV
Google claims to offer the best of TV and the web within one application.

Offerings: Combines TV shows with full range of web browsing, video and music on a TV set

New releases: Yes; if you can find it online, you can watch it

How to watch: Hardware integrated with Sony TVs, Blu-Ray players; otherwise requires separate Android-based box connected via HDMI cable. Works in tandem with cable/satellite; everything is searchable via Google Chrome browser

Price: Free once you’ve bought the hardware

Available: 2011 in Canada

Challenges: It’s basically high-end TiVo, so nothing new — but carries Google brand, and developers are being encouraged to develop new apps

Zip.ca
Canadian DVD-by-mail provider plans to launch comprehensive online, on-demand service by year-end

Offerings: Unknown. Zip.ca president and CEO Scott Richards says company is negotiating licensing or distribution deals with “all the majors”

New releases: Yes, says Richards, though some will be available only by mail

How to watch: On TV or computer; Zip.ca is negotiating compatibility with all major equipment manufacturers

Price: Unknown

Available: Q4 2010 is the plan, but Richards wants to first ensure an “all-in-one” service

Challenges: Lack of profile, market share