For more than a year now, music lovers have enjoyed all-you-can-eat subscription services such as Napster To Go and Yahoo Music Unlimited. Now movie lovers are in for the same treat, courtesy of Starz Vongo. After months of beta testing, this first-of-its-kind service is finally ready for its close-up. For a flat rate of $9.99 per month, you can download and watch all the movies you want from the service's library of more than 1,600 titles.
That's a refreshing change of pace from existing movie-download services such as CinemaNow and Movielink, which charge you by the movie and impose various viewing restrictions. What's more, Vongo works with the new breed of Portable Media Center devices, including Toshiba's killer Gigabeat S, with more devices running PMC 2 coming soon from LG, Philips, and Tatung. That means you're not limited to watching movies on your desktop or notebook; you can also view them on a pocket-size player. (CinemaNow, for its part, supports some older PMC players but offers only a handful of Z-grade titles for them.) Your account entitles you to watch content on up to three PCs and/or devices. In addition, you can transmit movies from your device to a television if you have the proper TV-out hardware.
Vongo's attractive Windows XP/2000 client software is required to browse, download, and watch movies and to transfer them to a player. Although the software is fairly easy to navigate, with colorful DVD cover icons and an embedded video trailer window, we found it somewhat sluggish and didn't like the limited sorting options. For instance, you can sort movies by title and MPAA rating but not user rating. Also, you can't maximize the window to see more movie titles in the browser pane. Starz plans to roll out movie recommendations based on your user ratings.
Those are minor quibbles. Our major one is with Vongo's title selection. Although you can find a smattering of A-list movies (The Bourne Supremacy, The Incredibles), many of the films fall on the B-list and below (Cellular, Mr. 3000, Shall We Dance). We had to dig deep to find worthwhile movies we hadn't already seen or wouldn't mind seeing again. And our delight in finding a real gem--The Chronicles of Narnia--turned to disappointment when we discovered it was one of Vongo's handful of pay-per-view titles. We had to pay $3.99 over and above our subscription fee, a major annoyance. If there's a plus side, it's that the pay-per-view selection allows nonsubscribers to use the service. You may also search Vongo by actor, keyword, rating, language, and category.