New Australian movie service EzyFlix.tv launches today.
With movies to rent or own, EzyFlix launches today to challenge the status quo in Australia's growing online video market.
With the notable exception of Quickflix, Australia's online movie market is dominated by industry heavy-hitters such as Apple, Telstra, Sony and Microsoft. Each offers the option to buy or rent movies, but you can run into hurdles depending on which device you want to watch them on. EzyFlix aims to be device-agnostic, although in return you might find it more cumbersome than the offerings designed for your gadgets of choice.
It's great to see new competition in the market and EzyFlix is certainly one movie service to keep an eye on, but it's hard to get too excited about EzyFlix today.
EzyFlix lets you rent or buy movies on a PC, Mac, Apple iGadget or Android device. Support for Smart TVs and games consoles is "currently in development", and EzyFlix hopes to make an announcement about these in the coming weeks.
Movie prices start from $3.99/$4.99 to hire an SD/HD movie for 24 hours, or from $8.99 to buy one. As an added bonus EzyFlix is also compatible with UltraViolet, which I tested out a few weeks ago with JB HiFi. UltraViolet lets you redeem the free digital copies supplied with some DVDs and Blu-rays. EzyFlix.tv is not the same as EzyFlix.com.au, which posts you DVDs in the mail like Quickflix.
At launch there are only 500 movies and 45 TV series available on EzyFlix, but this should increase with time. It's only a pay-per-view service, not a subscription service like Netflix or Quickflix Play, so you're not paying money every month for old movies you might not be interested in. It seems that every movie on EzyFlix is available to buy or rent, unlike iTunes which tends to mark new movies as purchase-only for the first few weeks. To be fair Apple seems to be improving here, and it's as much a rights issue than anything else. EzyFlix's rental pricing is on par with iTunes and Quickflix. You wouldn't rate Netflix as a competitor to EzyFlix because Netflix doesn't offer new release movies.
EzyFlix also lets you buy TV shows at $2.99 per episode or cheaper with a season pass, but you don't have the option to rent TV shows. Unfortunately it doesn't offer new episodes each week. For example you'll find the first five seasons of Breaking Bad but not the new episodes, even though they're on the Australian iTunes store. EzyFlix is also running behind the iTunes store on a few other shows like Community and Revenge.
Once you've found something to watch on EzyFlix you can watch it in the browser on your computer or install the software to download the movie for offline playback. You can register five devices to the one account. Installing EzyFlix on your computer requires Adobe Air, which doesn't thrill me, although to be fair Quickflix wants Silverlight and most other services want some kind of extra software or plugin.
With EzyFlix installed on my Windows 7 media centre and a movie hired, I needed to wait 10 seconds for the movie to authenticate but only another five seconds for it to buffer before it started to play. The Apple TV makes you wait a few minutes before you can start watching but there's a good reason for this. When EzyFlix was streaming a rental to my computer I could see the picture occasionally freeze as it dropped frames, even on SD content. It's most obvious when the camera pans from side to side and the action isn't smooth. This doesn't happen when I watch movies streamed to the Apple TV from Apple or Netflix. The EzyFlix streaming movie was still watchable, with minimal pixelation and reasonable detail in the shadows, but those dropped frames will annoy people with an eye for quality. I noticed the same issues when streaming movies to my MacBook Pro.
Even when I downloaded a purchased movie I still experienced dropped frames on my media centre PC, a computer which is more than capable of handling such content. You can also stream or download movies you've purchased to mobile devices, and I noticed it there as well when watching on an iPad. As always, your mileage may vary here. I'm being fussy, but I think you're entitled to be if you're purchasing a movie rather than merely renting it.
Unfortunately when it comes to purchasing content there's no library management options and you can't control where movies are stored on your computer. On my Windows 7 media centre they're stored in the "mymediaplayerdownloaded" folder in my User folder on C: drive and the EzyFlix player doesn't let you change this location. This is a major hassle if, like me, you tend to keep your operating system on a small drive and your multimedia library on a separate large drive. I had to shuffle around files just to make room for the movie downloads. If this was iTunes you could easily move your movies to another folder, drive or even a network drive. In another strike against EzyFlix, you can't use AirPlay to send movies from the EzyFlix iOS app to an Apple TV.
Like UltraViolet, there's also no way to transfer an EzyFlix downloaded movie to a handheld device. You need to download a separate copy directly to each device. If you want to temporarily remove it to save space you'll need to download it again. iTunes users will be shaking their heads at this point. I might be more tolerant of EzyFlix's limitations if I had fibre to the home, but I don't and if some people have their way I won't for a very long time.
Craig White -- CEO of EzyFlix parent company Access Digital Entertainment -- tells me that the inability to transfer files between devices is "a consequence of a digital right management requirement by the film studios. The movie file can only be download and stored in a secured environment controlled by the EzyFlix Player application such as not to facilitate illegal file sharing". I understand White's point, but I don't see why that should be the case if Apple can offer movie downloads in iTunes which aren't locked away and can be easily moved and synced to mobile devices.
It's true that iTunes is a secure ecosystem which enforces DRM, but EzyFlix locks you into a secure container on each device -- there's a big difference in terms of the end user experience. I don't see why I should buy into this ecosystem and jump through these hoops just to satisfy the paranoia of film studios which want to treat paying customers like criminals.
It's great to see new competition in the market and EzyFlix is certainly one movie service to keep an eye on, but it's hard to get too excited about it today when the picture quality is variable and the library management is non-existent. iTunes is a lot more flexible and EzyFlix will struggle to win people away unless they're trying to cater to a mixed household of Apple and Android gadgets. I understand that not everyone wants to invest in the Apple ecosystem and that's fair enough, but Apple still sets the standard for a smooth user experience to which others should aspire.
EzyFlix is perhaps an option for rentals, but I don't see why you'd want to buy moves when it's so difficult to manage your library and there's no easy way to watch those movies on your TV. Support for Smart TVs and games consoles might help, depending on how they handle library management.
If you're not an iGadget fan then EzyFlix might stack up better against the movie services built into your gadgets of choice, which perhaps suffer from the similar limitations. Even then I wouldn't buy digital content from any of these online services, not even Apple. I'd rather buy the discs and rip them in my format of choice -- even though ripping movies isn't permitted under current Australian copyright law. I'm not going to pay twice to watch the same movie on different screens, with mediocre picture quality, just because the law can't keep up with the times.
The device-agnostic nature of EzyFlix, with the ability to stream or download to almost any device is certainly a strength -- although a Smart TV/games console option for watching in the lounge room would make it a much more attractive value proposition. For now -- unless you're trying to support a blended household of Mac, Windows, Apple and Android -- you'll probably find the movie services already built into your gadgets are more convenient than EzyFlix.