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2Wire MediaPoint Digital Media Player w/ Blockbuster OnDemand review: 2Wire MediaPoint Digital Media Player w/ Blockbuster OnDemand

2Wire MediaPoint Digital Media Player w/ Blockbuster OnDemand

John Falcone Senior Editorial Director, Shopping
John P. Falcone is the senior director of commerce content at CNET, where he coordinates coverage of the site's buying recommendations alongside the CNET Advice team (where he previously headed the consumer electronics reviews section). He's been a CNET editor since 2003.
Expertise Over 20 years experience in electronics and gadget reviews and analysis, and consumer shopping advice Credentials
  • Self-taught tinkerer, informal IT and gadget consultant to friends and family (with several self-built gaming PCs under his belt)
John Falcone
9 min read

Blockbuster Video has had a rough transition to the 21st century, thanks in large part to Netflix. That flat-fee, subscription-based DVD-by-mail concern became the first major challenge to Blockbuster's once lucrative brick and mortar storefronts--a business model that was based largely on profits derived from late fees. Then, just as Blockbuster followed Netflix online with its own Internet-based DVD mailing plan, Netflix raised the bar again, adding online video streaming (albeit for a small portion of its overall catalog). Originally available only on Windows PCs, the Netflix "Watch Instantly" feature is now available on a rapidly growing number of living room-based consumer devices--Blu-ray players, TiVo DVRs, the Xbox 360, and the sub-$100 Roku Digital Video Player, with many more products coming in 2009 and beyond.


2Wire MediaPoint Digital Media Player w/ Blockbuster OnDemand

The Good

Streams Blockbuster OnDemand video titles to your TV; price tag is essentially "free" ($99 box includes credit for 25 movies), with no monthly fees; built-in Ethernet and 802.11g Wi-Fi networking; titles can be searched and ordered onscreen; progressive downloading allows for movies to be downloaded then viewed on slower connections.

The Bad

Tiny, cluttered remote; no HD viewing options; no subscription plan available; newer movies than Netflix, but still a small selection overall; can't fast-forward or rewind during initial download; yet another box under the TV; no WPA2 encryption support.

The Bottom Line

While it falls short of competing options from Vudu, Apple, and Roku, the 2Wire Blockbuster OnDemand box offers basic on-demand movie streaming at an attractive price.

However, Blockbuster now has its own streaming video solution in the form of the 2Wire MediaPoint Digital Media Player. Unlike the Netflix devices, the "Blockbuster Box" doesn't require a monthly subscription fee. It also offers an array of more recent films closer to the date they're first released on DVD. Perhaps the biggest selling point, however, is that the $99 box includes a 25-movie rental credit, effectively making it free. Even with that final bullet point, though, we found the Blockbuster Box to be a rather middling experience. While it delivers on its basic mission, it's not really raising the bar versus the competing video-on-demand/pay-per-view options that are already available (Apple TV, Vudu, and the growing number of devices that support Amazon and Netflix). Whether its problems--which are more issues of software and service than of hardware--can be addressed with future firmware updates and content offerings remains to be seen.

The box
The box itself isn't terribly different from rival products such as Apple TV or Vudu. The 8-inch square is just over an inch high and its entire rear quadrant is bristling with most of the audiovisual outputs you'll ever need. HDMI, component, and composite video connections ensure that it'll connect with nearly any TV, new or old; that's a nice step up from the Apple TV, which only works with HDTVs.

While the hardware can support output at resolutions up to 1080i, the actual Blockbuster content is currently limited to 480p (the box will scale it to whichever output resolution you choose). Likewise, the HDMI and the optical digital audio output can theoretically send surround soundtracks to AV receivers, but all of the Blockbuster content is currently limited to stereo. By comparison, chief rivals Netflix, Apple TV, and Vudu each offer several hundred titles in HD, with some of those titles supporting 5.1 surround sound as well.

The 2Wire Blockbuster Box pulls video straight off the Internet via your home network. Except for creating an account at Blockbuster's Web site, no PC is necessary. The flip side of that equation is that the box is a one-trick pony: it only streams movies from the Blockbuster service. It can't pull any videos, photos, or music from a networked PC, nor can it access any other online content services--no Amazon Video-on-Demand, no Pandora, no YouTube.

The unit connects to your network via Ethernet (wired) or Wi-Fi (802.11g wireless). One big shortfall: it doesn't yet support WPA2, so those of us using that wireless encryption will have to roll back our network to less secure WPA or WEP. That's not acceptable for a network media device in this day and age.

On the bright side, the unit includes 8GB of onboard storage and it supports progressive downloading. That's great news for anyone with a broadband connection that's less than lightning fast. If your DSL or cable connection can't handle real-time streaming, up to six videos can be fully buffered for later viewing. (Netflix's instant-only playback pretty much requires a solid broadband connection to work properly.) For anyone with half-decent broadband speeds, videos should start within 60 seconds of selection--more or less equivalent to fare on Apple TV, Vudu, and Netflix.

The box includes 2 USB ports (one front, one rear) and an SD slot, but none of them are currently active for consumer use. It would've been nice, for instance, if these could be used to read digital photos, music, and videos--the sort of standard features we're seeing on many DVD and Blu-ray Disc players these days.

The included remote is a bit of a nightmare. In addition to the expected five-way directional pad and video transport controls (play/pause, forward and reverse), there are 11 additional keys, including five multicolored buttons that are spaced so closely together they're impossible to depress independently for anyone with adult-size fingers. Thankfully, the system uses an IR remote (not the Vudu's RF or the PS3's Bluetooth), so any decent universal remote can be programmed to control the 2Wire box instead.

The service
Once you connect the box to your TV, an onscreen setup wizard runs you through the basics--getting you connected to your home network, and linking the box to your Blockbuster account (the box will give you a one-time alphanumeric code that links the box to your online account).

If you don't already have a Blockbuster On Demand online account, of course, you'll need to create one first. That entails little more than providing a credit card number, so the company can charge you once the $99 credit is exhausted. To be clear, the On Demand account is separate from other Blockbuster options you may be subscribed to: the monthly fee Blockbuster DVD-by-mail service and the Blockbuster store memberships are basically unrelated (at least from a cost perspective), so the only On Demand cost you're paying is for what you're watching on the box (after, again, you empty out that $99 credit that's included in the price of the box).

Unlike Netflix's streaming offerings, you can choose Blockbuster titles directly on the TV screen.

Movies and TV shows can be chosen directly onscreen. Use the remote to navigate to see lists of top rentals, genres, and the like. Alternatively, you can use an onscreen keyboard to search for specific titles. This would all be easier with a better remote, but it works well enough, allowing you to access the full range of available movies and TV shows from your sofa. (The Blockbuster method is a notable contrast to what you'll find on all Netflix-compatible devices, which require you to add selections to your online queue via a computer.) Unfortunately, the Blockbuster interface is rather sluggish and not particularly attractive; both Apple TV and Vudu offer better onscreen experiences. However, parental controls are in place so you can restrict content by rating and require a key code for ordering (to avoid family members running up the credit card bill).

Once you choose what you'd like to watch, you can either start downloading and watching it immediately, or "bookmark" it for later viewing. Viewing restrictions are fairly standard: prices are between $1.99 and $3.99 per download, and videos expire within 24 hours of first viewing them, or within 30 days of download, viewed or not. If that sounds too draconian for you, complain to the Hollywood studios, not Blockbuster; these are basically the same restrictions and pricing levels you'll find on any video-on-demand platform, including Vudu, Apple TV, Xbox 360 Video Marketplace, and PlayStation Video Store.

Of course, the big exception to that rule is Netflix: that service provides all-you-can-watch access to about 12,000 titles (at the time of this writing) for one flat monthly fee starting at $8.99--and includes access to Netflix's DVD-by-mail program as well. However, the knock on Netflix is that its on-demand catalog skews toward older content: there's a decent selection of films from the 20th century, but the pickings get slimmer as you approach the present-day.

For now, there's not much good TV content.

Indeed, Blockbuster On Demand included an array of more recent fare unavailable on Netflix--popular 2008 movies including The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and Sex and the City. However, other 2008 hits now available on DVD--Horton Hears a Who, Wall-E, and Kung Fu Panda--were nowhere to be found. In fact, there are currently less than 2,000 titles available (compared with more than 100,000 on DVD). And don't look for every movie to hit the box day and date with their DVD release. While that's the case with Warner releases, most other movies take about 30 days from the DVD release before they become available for viewing. (Again, this is the same studio restriction that exists so far on all rental-based video-on-demand devices.)

Another downside on the content front: the TV options on Blockbuster were lacking. While this is a real strength of Netflix's online offerings--episodes of some CBS shows, for instance, can be watched within days of their initial airing--Blockbuster's selection seemed limited to older "classic" TV shows such as The Beverly Hillbillies (Disclosure: CBS is the parent company of CNET.).

The video isn't HD, but it's not bad.

According to Blockbuster, the devices video is billed as "DVD quality." While we wouldn't go that far, it's pretty much on par with standard-definition Internet video we've seen on competing services. The picture looks a bit soft on larger TVs, and eagle-eyed viewers will spot occasional compression artifacts (solarization, blockiness, jaggies); however, overall it's quite watchable, especially for casual viewing. As always, the larger your TV, the more the flaws in the picture will be amplified. Obviously, that's where an HD option could help immensely. On the bright side, most of the movies were in their proper original wide-screen aspect ratio.

One big annoyance: while you can start watching a movie moments after choosing it, you can't rewind or fast-forward until it's been fully downloaded; only pausing works. That's a big problem if you miss a line of dialogue or want to rewatch a key sequence. (Netflix downloads have an easy fast-forward and rewind option based on thumbnails.)

In addition to the sluggishness of the interface, the box gave us a "connection error" while using the search page that left a blue box on the screen. The only way for us to clear it was to reboot the system by pulling the power cord.

The final analysis
In its current incarnation, the Blockbuster On Demand service works well enough, but it doesn't distinguish itself from nearly identical services offered by Vudu, Apple TV, and Amazon (or, indeed, VOD services on cable or satellite). The big selling point is the quasi-free pricing. Truth be told, we'd be more inclined to invest that $99 in something like the Roku Digital Video Player. That box already offers unlimited Netflix viewing, and it will soon offer pay-per-view videos from Amazon's Video-on-Demand service as well. That could well be a best of both worlds scenario--watch the limited tier of what's available with a Netflix subscription online, and bolster it with Netflix discs-by-mail or--on a pay-per-view basis--streaming content from Amazon.

That said, the Blockbuster situation is fluid. The company has cut a deal with CinemaNow and is looking to offer combined video-on-demand service integrated into products such as LG's 2009 TVs, Blu-ray players, and home theater systems--where it will co-exist with built-in Netflix support as well. In other words, consider the 2Wire box to be a "version 1.0" iteration of what will likely be a more robust and widely available Blockbuster On Demand service coming soon.

We'd like to see the box get a variety of upgrades to fix all of the issues we've mentioned here. Some of them can be added via future firmware upgrades, others--such as the dodgy remote--will require new hardware. And anything involving content--such as getting more TV shows, or movies closer to their DVD release--will be a matter of Blockbuster cutting deals with the Hollywood studios.

In the meantime, the 2Wire box is a decent alternative if you don't like the Netflix subscription model, or that service's limited online viewing options. The worst case scenario is that you'll watch the 25 movies included in the price of the box, and then unplug it and toss it in a closet--not such a bad deal, really.


2Wire MediaPoint Digital Media Player w/ Blockbuster OnDemand

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 5Performance 6