MovieBeam Home Theater Jukebox Player Page 2

The Short Form
$200 / 17 x 10 x 2.1 IN / 76 LBS / / 800-668-4323
•Simple, menu-driven setup •No subscription or late fees •Movies never out of stock
•High-def movies are old and few •TVs without HDMI are HD-incompatible •Artifacts in standard-def movies.
Key Features
•160-gigabyte hard drive stores about 100 films •Movies rent for 24 hours ($2-$4 depending on how new; $1 more for HD titles) •Selection updated weekly via encrypted over-the-air broadcasts •HDMI, component video, S-video, and composite video outputs; stereo and digital audio (coaxial and optical) outputs; RF for MovieBeam antenna; phone jack; Ethernet and USB (for future use)
MovieBeam's only HD output option is 720p, but that was a nice match for my plasma TV. High-definition choices such as Analyze This looked great, with typical HD picture quality and no obvious issues with pixelization or other video artifacts. Owners of HDTV sets lacking HDMI (or HDCP-compliant DVI) inputs won't be able to view high-def, however, because MovieBeam downconverts HD titles sent through its component-video output. Bummer!

But the situation was not as rosy for the 90 percent of titles delivered by MovieBeam in standard-definition only. I observed severe artifacts during interior scenes in every SD movie I watched. Where uniform backgrounds should have been were lava lamp-like rivulets. Kitchen walls percolated. Comparing North Country via my cable system to MovieBeam's version, I didn't see any of the MovieBeam artifacts. Ditto for a similar test against Dark Water on DVD.

A spokeswoman acknowledged that MovieBeam has found a problem with the color space on HDMI outputs that causes some scenes to exhibit such artifacts, or to appear darker than they should. Despite her expectation in April that the problem would soon be fixed via an over-the-air software update, it was still evident in late June in King Kong. The purple night sky seen from the ship as it approaches Skull Island, for example, looked like an animated version of Van Gogh's The Starry Night. And the same artifacts appear when MovieBeam is connected via its component-video outputs.

BOTTOM LINE MovieBeam says that by datacasting popular titles it's able to avoid empty store shelves or online jams, no matter how huge the demand. Compared to conventional sources for movie rentals, however, MovieBeam's choice of 100 titles is paltry. And paying $200 for the MovieBeam player before you can watch your first movie is steeper than leasing a cable box or buying a DVD player.

MovieBeam's advantage seems to be in the timely delivery of recent movies in high-definition; manufacturers of the new high-def disc players probably won't be touching MovieBeam's $200 entry point anytime soon. Unfortunately, when I reviewed MovieBeam in early April there were only six full-length HD titles available, and the average age was about seven years. MovieBeam's spokeswoman conceded that its HD showcase had been limited to "library titles," but the company did add Eight Below and Annapolis, two new releases in high-def, early this summer.

That's a start, but I'd suggest MovieBeam boost the proportion of its HD offerings as well. With some tweaking of this promising platform, there's no reason MovieBeam couldn't be a high-def film lover's dream machine.

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