Hands-on with CinemaNow on the LG BD390

CNET takes a hands-on look at the new CinemaNow streaming service on the LG BD390, finding it doesn't stack up against other streaming-movie services like Amazon Video On Demand or Vudu.

We're putting the final touches on our review of the LG BD390 (the full review will be up soon), but we've wrapped up our testing of its CinemaNow functionality. We've had some experience with CinemaNow as a PC-centric download service, but the BD390 is the first standalone product with streaming CinemaNow functionality that we've seen. The service is similar to Apple TV, Vudu, or Amazon Video On Demand, allowing you to rent ($3-$4) or buy ($10-$20) movies and stream them over a broadband connection.

CNET/Sarah Tew

The LG BD390 already includes Netflix streaming, so the advantage of CinemaNow is that it includes some new releases that aren't available for Netflix streaming; Netflix's streaming catalog is heavy on older releases. There's no doubt CinemaNow includes some new releases that Netflix doesn't have ("Appaloosa," "W," "The Spirit," "Transporter 3"), but the selection feels much smaller than Amazon's; we couldn't find any of the most popular movies on Amazon ("Bride Wars," "Slumdog Millionaire," "Marley & Me," "Twilight") on CinemaNow. (CinemaNow wouldn't disclose how large the current library is, except that "thousands" of titles are available.) CinemaNow is continually rolling out new titles, but so are other services; CinemaNow has a lot of ground to make up. (CinemaNow also doesn't offer any TV shows yet, which are coming in the fall.)

CNET/Sarah Tew

The strength of the service is its usability. Once we associated the BD390 with our CinemaNow account, it was easy to browse through the available movies by cover art (similar to Netflix's interface). And once you make a selection, the movie starts playing in a few seconds. Playback controls such as fast-forward and rewind worked as they should, and if you stop a movie and come back to it later, it remembers your place. It's basic stuff, but it passes the important "feels right" test. Our one gripe is that there isn't the capability to preview movies before buying them, like on Amazon Video On Demand.

CNET/Sarah Tew

Image quality, especially after you've become accustomed to Blu-ray, is a little disappointing. CinemaNow doesn't offer HD streams yet (coming in the fall), and even though we were watching "Appaloosa" with four dots of streaming quality (the highest), it was less than DVD quality. The image is softer, and on a big 50-inch screen we saw more more artifacts, ringing, and jaggies than you'd see on a high-quality DVD transfer. That's not to say it's unwatchable--we're sure plenty of people would say it's "good enough"--but if you're the kind of person spending extra for the image quality of Blu-ray, we doubt it's going to suffice. As you'd expect, it doesn't compare to the HD rentals on Amazon, Apple TV, Netflix and Vudu; it's more in line with the standard-def options from those services.

We also ran into some aspect ratio issues. The original aspect "Appaloosa" is originally 2.40:1 (ultra wide screen), but the stream we got was in the more cramped 16:9 format. When we switched to "W," the image looked squished; we were able to fix the problem on the BD390 by changing the display setting to "16:9 Original" from "16:9 Wide." On the upside, "Transporter 3" and "Punisher: War Zone" displayed in the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

In its current incarnation, CinemaNow is a passable add-on feature to the already decked out BD390, but it doesn't currently stack up to other streaming-movies services on its own merits. If you're looking for a broadband video-on-demand service, we'd stick with Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, or Vudu, at least until CinemaNow adds TV shows, HD video quality, and more movies.

 

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