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Tesco Digital film download service

Other Four Stars
Way back I remember writing about Tesco looking into creating an online film download service, and just the other week it went live. They've been running an online music download service for some time, and it's doing rather well from all accounts, and the next logical step was to move to film.

I was offered the chance to review the service, and since I hadn't really looked into film download services before, I thought it would be a good opportunity. I actually have to admit that I was surprised at how easy and glitch free the whole process was, and to boot I managed to see a rather interesting film.

tescodigital.jpgBefore we continue let me say two things. I was given a small amount to download a film in return for a review, any review. The brief was that there was no brief, be as honest and open as I like because the feedback will be taken on board as the service is still well in beta.

The second thing to remember is just as I said, this is in beta, and so there's not a catalogue filled with every film imaginable. The catalogue of films is small, but within that there's a fair mixture of films of type and age, and the promise is that the catalogue will grow and grow.

The first task was to create an account, a simple process these days on any web service, and I was quickly signed in.

Tesco Digital is presented in rather a modern style, with a mixture of dynamic and engaging content, but managing to keep things simple and practical. Despite having sections where you select headings and information appears in a smooth scrolling manner, there's still such welcome navigation as an A-Z list.

When you first sign in you see the film front page, a nice layout with the latest and most popular films being shown and the ability to watch clips from them, as well as adverts for well known films. There's a tab to select Film or TV, a search box to find the exact title, director or actor you want, and an interesting drop down for picking films by genre.

What I instantly found was missing, or just difficult to find, was a complete list of the films available. I wanted to just browse through everything and see what there was, however it didn't seem that easy. Looking back on that though I'm glad there wasn't, because I'd have been bogged down with tons of titles.

Instead I grabbed that genre drop down and selected the first I was interested in, “Action & Adventure”. When you select a genre you're immediately shown a simple A-Z list, starting at “0-9”, here that meant 10,000 BC and 300 (Filmstalker review), both surprisingly new and mainstream titles.

That's probably one of the surprises for me about this whole service, the fact that there are so many newer films on the service, and that there's a fair range of titles considering that the service is still in Beta and there aren't tons and tons of titles available just yet (at the time of writing the review anyway).

The A-Z list is easy to navigate. the first list of “0-9” opens and shows you the titles under that entry. Simply select another letter and the titles starting with that letter will be displayed. Simple. I would have liked to have seen a count next to each letter perhaps, and I'm sure as the library grows this will be rethought, otherwise the list under a single letter would be too large to navigate.

“T” under “Thriller & Mystery” brought The Bodyguard, The Da Vinci Code (Filmstalker review), The Empire of the Wolves, The Forgotten, The Good German, The Invasion, The Matrix and The Seventh Sign, all good titles, and all I'd happily watch.

I have to say the categorisation is far from perfect, I saw horror titles in thriller/mystery and such, but you can see the that they could easily cross genres. There does needs to be a little work in this area, but you tend to find the titles are in multiple categories rather than missing.

Once you find a title in the listing, which shows a cover image, the price, and gives you the option to buy right away, you can select it to see the film details. There's a trailer, summary, details on director, producer, studio and stars, as well as the certificate and date. You can get even a complete cast and crew breakdown too if you would like, something the search engine takes advantage of.

Another possible feature that would add to the usability would be making these names linkable, and a quick click could bring you to all the films that this director has made. In the meantime it's a read only list.

I browsed through a number of personal favourite categories and found a few titles, some I couldn't afford with my voucher, and I made a choice. I simply added the film to the checkout and went through a normal purchasing process, much like you would with Amazon and similar online retailers. There's even a “Save for Later” option, which I have tested and stores your titles even if you come back to it later, days later in fact.

However there was one issue I found with the payment option. Tesco Digital offer a system where you can add money to your own ewallet rather than paying for each purchase by credit or debit card, and that's where the funds had been placed to allow me to purchase a film.

Initially I had chosen a film that was some sixty-seven pence more than the amount that was in the ewallet, and try as I might I could not use the money from the ewallet and then pay for the balance using a card, it was one or the other. Of course I could go and load up my ewallet with more money, but with the smallest option being five pounds, this seemed like a bit of an overkill.

So I went back to a film I'd passed by, a cheaper film, I chose The Empire of Wolves with Jean Reno, just because it was a bit different, and a bit of a surprise to see on a major download service, and went through the checkout process. For Empire of the Wolves I paid £6.97, and with bigger titles sitting at £10.97, that's not too bad to own the film.

Once it was bought I was asked if I had installed the Tesco Download Manager, I deliberately had not, and I'd even not read any of the instructions on how to use the service. A "no" selection began the download and install process which was surprisingly quick and easy and didn't require a reboot on my Windows XP machine.

Once the Tesco Download Manager (TDM) was installed another quick click completed the process and added the film to the now installed TDM download queue and it was off.

The download started at 11:26 and I walked away to do some real world things while this downloaded. I returned at 12:13 with the download showing exactly 25% and started browsing, including browsing the Tesco Digital site, and running my multi-system chat client.

At 13:54 I decided to run a little test and killed the internet connection in my home. The TDM showed an error and offered the "retry" option. When I started the connection up again the TDM did not autostart, but selecting the retry continued from where it stopped, 75%. That was a relief, it did look like "retry" would begin again from the start, especially as the amount downloaded had disappeared from the window.

The download completed at 14:44 with 1,627,880Kbs or 1.55Gb on a connection that runs around 7Mbs.

I checked the film straight away and all was fine, two hours and two minutes long with a bitrate of 6,218kbps, and a very good picture, even when presented full screen on a high resolution monitor, which meant running at well over 200% picture size, and the audio was clear and strong.

Oh, and like all films on the Tesco Digital film download service, it's in Windows Media Player format, WMV files to be exact. This is the usual issue of Windows Media Player offering the required security to ensure you can't do what you like with the film and pirate it like mad.

I did a couple of extra tests with the film. First I tried burning through Windows Media Player to a disc, that failed to work, then I tried playing on the XBox 360 through my Media Center which turned up a whole load of complications with my local Windows Media Center set-up was seemingly corrupt when I tried to connect the two devices but fine when running the software.

Finally I tried TVersity on the 360 and the Playstation 3, neither worked, although browsing on a PC through the web interface allowed the file to play.

Checking the help files it seems that the service doesn't yet offer the ability to transfer the film to any other device or computer.

Overall.pngBefore I just do a quick bullet point list of the pros and cons of the service that I found, let me just say that this service is in Beta, and seems to be far from a major download service. However it's getting closer and there are some great features there. More importantly it was easy to find and download a film I wanted and then to watch it.

A quick round up of the pros:

* Simple to buy
* Good interface
* Easy to navigate
* Checks to see if you have installed the correct software when buying and automatically installs if needed
* Quite quickly the film was ready to play direct from TDM during download - probably about 10-15 seconds into the download

Then a look at the cons:

* Browsing titles is lengthy, need a full list, selectable credits, related titles, feeds for new arrivals
* Ewallet may not work for the casual purchaser and mixing payment methods would be good
* Install of Tesco Download Manager installs to default directory without choice Tesco\Downloader, but makes install really simple
* TDM sets download directory to MyMusic\Tesco - but this can be changed after install through the preferences
* Can't play through TVersity to the Playstation 3 or XBox 360, saying this it may work on Windows Media Center, if my system hadn't been corrupted by the Microsoft upgrade

Tesco Digital Film service is surprisingly inviting for me, and I'm someone who doesn't like watching films on anything but the carefully calibrated cinema set-up I have at home. The service is quick and easy, and it works. Not only that but even in this early Beta stage, there's a wide range of films available, from old to new, from mainstream to foreign.

Tesco Digital Film is well worth having a look at, and with the Tesco brand name behind it you're sure to get competitive prices and more and more big titles.

Try the Tesco Digital Film service for yourself.



Thank you, I did not know about Tesco Digital.

No problem, let them know you came from here and hope you get loads of bargains!


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