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CinemaNow review: CinemaNow

Now you can rent and purchase A-list movies on this improved Windows-only movie service.

Troy Dreier
4 min read




The Good

CinemaNow offers low-priced rentals and purchases from a catalog with hundreds of recent Hollywood titles. With progressive downloading, you can pick a title, then watch it minutes later on your home computer.

The Bad

CinemaNow has a smaller catalog of mainstream films than competitor Movielink, and it offers movies in lower bit rates. You can watch purchased films on only one PC and burn them to DVD only for storage, not for playback on a DVD player. Downloads for portable devices are currently not available, and the site doesn't work with Macs.

The Bottom Line

If price trumps image quality, consider renting or buying from CinemaNow. However, we prefer Movielink's larger catalog of new and classic films.
We're guessing when CinemaNow grows up, it will want to be just like Movielink. While Movielink isn't perfect, with its heavy restrictions and limited catalog, it's far above CinemaNow. Movielink focuses on re-creating the theater experience on your PC and showcases Hollywood and independent film. CinemaNow offers many more types of content--movies, TV shows, music videos, documentaries, and even adult videos--but the catalog of movies you'd actually want to watch is quite small. Its permissions are even more restrictive than Movielink's, and it offers movies in a lower bit rate.

Like Movielink, CinemaNow works through a browser, and movies run only on Windows machines. Left-column navigation directs you to the various parts of the site. You can watch free streaming videos (lots of low-budget foreign films), buy or rent downloadable movies, purchase music videos, and rent adult content by the minute--now that's something you won't find on Movielink. You can also click any section for a list of titles, and fewer than half the movies--even new releases--have trailers you can view. With Movielink, nearly all the movies have trailers, and many also have pictures and additional scenes. Sadly, there's no way to bookmark titles you're interested in so that you can easily find them later on.

CinemaNow's home page features new Hollywood movies for rental.

One area where CinemaNow has the advantage is price. Rentals are either $2.99 or $3.99, compared with $4 or $5 on Movielink, and purchases are mostly $15 to $20, vs. $18 to $28 on Movielink. But with its smaller selection, it doesn't seem like you're getting a bargain. CinemaNow began offering downloadable purchases the same day as Movielink, but while Movielink offers more than 300 titles from six major studios, CinemaNow offers 85 titles from only Sony, MGM, and Lions Gate. CinemaNow boasts a much bigger catalog than Movielink's--more than 4,000 titles vs. more than 1,400--but most of that is filler content, older titles available for free viewing via ad-supported streams. The service actually offers only more than 500 movies for rental. So far, CinemaNow hasn't offered any movies for purchase the same day that the movie's DVD became commercially available, as Movielink has done.

CinemaNow's purchase section currently includes about 85 titles. Fewer than half have trailers you can watch online.

Purchased movies are yours to keep but can be watched on only one PC; Movielink purchases can usually be authorized on three computers. You can create backup DVDs, but the movies will still be in DRM-protected WMV files, so you won't be able to watch the backup DVD on a typical set-top DVD player.

You're required to watch CinemaNow rentals within 24 hours. While the site usually has a section of rental movies that will play on portable video devices (namely Portable Media Centers), it was down at the time of this writing. The list of PMC-compatible titles was mostly C-rate anyway; hopefully, CinemaNow will relaunch portable-device support with new movies. Subscription service Vongo will be compatible with PMC devices later this spring.

On each movie's or show's information page, CinemaNow tells you its bit rate, which is typically either 700Kbps, 1,200Kbps, or 1,500Kbps. Sometimes you can choose between two rates, letting you opt for either a faster download or a higher-quality image. Most purchased movies are either 1,200Kbps or 1,500Kbps. To compare, DVD quality is between 3,500Kbps and 6,000Kbps. CinemaNow purchases offer a lower video quality, and while they look fine on a computer monitor, they won't look sharp on a large TV screen if you have a computer-to-TV hookup.

Our tests showed a huge range in download times. The first film we purchased and downloaded, a 139-minute movie, downloaded in a quick 50 minutes. But the second, a 135-minute title, started out fast but soon slowed to a trickle. That download took well more than 4 hours. With progressive downloading, we could begin watching before the movies had finished transferring.

Rent or purchase a movie on CinemaNow, and a pop-up window lets you know the status of your download.

CinemaNow has a subscription plan, and for a moment, we thought we had missed out on a competitor for Vongo. But no--CinemaNow's plan, which costs $29.95 per month and give you access to 1,500 members-only videos (low-budget info programs no one would pay for) is more about selling unlimited access to the site's adult content. A subscription doesn't buy access to the legit movies. It's kind of funny that Blockbuster, which won't allow NC-17 or unrated movies in its chain stores, is one of the principal investors.

CinemaNow has a large section of ad-supported free movies--mostly foreign titles--that you can watch online.

Support options are weak, as users are limited to reading through several FAQs or contacting a support rep through an e-mail form. Adding live support chat or, better yet, a toll-free number, would be a good step.



Score Breakdown

Setup 7Features 5Performance 5Support 5
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