Monday, November 19, 2012

Flixster app

12/29/12: I think that version 5.7.9 (?), which is already an older version, may have been the last one which allowed playing one's locally saved movies without requiring an Internet connection. At least in some newer versions (5.8.0 and 5.8.1, I believe), Flixster started inserting a preliminary screen which advertised a new movie each time you (cold-?) start the app. According to my recollection, without an Internet connection there was no way to bypass that screen, preventing you from proceeding to your locally saved movies.
I no longer have version 5.7.9, but this app doesn't really provide much benefit to me aside from my fewer than half-dozen Ultraviolet movies, so I deleted it. I may reinstall it in the future if I ever want to view any of those movies again on an iOS device (or, perhaps, if I learn that they have dropped the Internet connection requirement to see locally saved movies).

The (free) Flixster app (version 5.7.1) provides assorted information about movies, similar to that provided by IMDB (whose movie still images incidentally seem to load more quickly). I don't watch enough movies to use either of these apps regularly for general movie information, but I found it impossible to resist what eventually totaled 4 free movies from Flixster.

I had previously made both a Flixster and an UltraViolet account. Doing so was necessary in order to access, on an iOS device, the digital download copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, to which I was entitled, having bought the movie discs (Hmm, I think that was also the last movie I saw at the theater). When registering for those accounts, I did not use the e-mail address which I use with my Facebook account. With those accounts, I was able to download the movie over wifi to my iPod and play it in the Flixster app.

For the iPod (and the iPad), Flixster needed at least one (and hopefully only that one) invocation while connected to the Internet to be able, when lacking Internet access and cold-starting the app, to select and play a movie that you own and had previously loaded onto the device. I don't think that that Internet-connected-invocation was needed in previous versions for such usage. In any case, you may wish to start the app at a time when you have wifi each time you upgrade, and confirm this behavior continues in order to be sure you can play movies without wifi.

Each time I started the Flixster app, it dangled the prospect of a free movie, provided that I linked my Flixster account to my Facebook account and created an UltraViolet account. Exactly which movie sometimes changed across a small set of movies when I restarted the process of seeing the potential freebie. It's obviously their prerogative to have that Facebook requirement, but I was reluctant to link up my Facebook account. However, when I was sick recently, I broke down and agreed to link the two accounts, wanting to have more entertainment at my fingertips.

I discovered I had come relatively late to this game, since within Flixster, 40 or so of my Facebook friends appeared as having done that before me. One of those friends had used Flixster so long ago that he was quite surprised when I mentioned his appearance among my "Flixster friends".

Anyway, after I got my free movie, I was surprised to see that Flixster subsequently offered more free movies, one each to:
  • Install the Flixster Mobile App into my Facebook account
  • Rate 5 movies out of a small set of movies
  • Add 10 movies out of a small set of movies to your Want To See list
  • Invite friends via SMS (I drew the line here!)

All these subsequent free movies were "surprises". Unlike the first free one, I could not know in advance what they were.

Obviously you are trading your (or your friends'!) data for the additional free movies. A very reasonable data-gathering strategy from Flixster/UltraViolet. While it would of course be possible to randomly select movies for the 2nd and 3rd tasks above, I have the feeling many people wouldn't do that because:
  • There is the possibility that your choices will influence the freebie you will get, so you would do yourself no favors by clicking on movies that don't appeal to you.
  • Depending on the settings you allowed, your Facebook friends may see some of your movie information, and you may care what they see.
  • Social Media (including blogging...) leads people into thinking their contributions are of some value to others, so in some areas you are perhaps more likely to state your true positions. Everybody wants to be a movie reviewer/critic whose opinions are valued, right?

Having watched 3 out of the 4 movies, I have to say that it is quite nice to have this additional access to these downloaded movies. I have poor wifi throughput, so streaming is not a viable choice for me; the movie would typically pause at random times, and the video could be blocky.

The download time for each movie could be a couple of hours (I never tracked the exact duration); I simply downloaded when I wasn't otherwise using my wifi. You must leave the Flixster app running in the foreground (you cannot put the device to sleep) during the entirety of the download, though you can interrupt the download without losing the portion that's already come to your device.

The app retains the downloaded movies from each of my two Flixster accounts, but I can only see the movies for one account at a time, whichever account I'm logged into. That also means that the storage space used by all the movies can only be seen within the app by looking at both accounts in turn. If, at the time that I signed up with Flixster/UltraViolet for the Harry Potter movie, I had known that I would later download free movies via the Flixster app, I would have used my Facebook-linked e-mail account back then, but that's water under the bridge now.

I prefer to store downloaded movies on my PC, which has plenty of hard drive space, and copy selected ones from there to my iPod on an ad hoc basis (which takes only a couple of minutes), deleting them from the iPod afterward in order to save space there. To my knowledge, this is not possible through Flixster/Ultraviolet, but it is possible through iTunes. So it seems Flixster/UltraViolet have successfully sold me on the idea of buying digital movies...from Apple through iTunes, at least if the prices are comparable. Indeed, I bought my first iTunes movie shortly after this Flixster/UltraViolet experience (It was Standard Definition, and iTunes claimed it would take 3 hours to download -- I went to sleep.).

Still, Without convenient access to your pc (I use lowercase pc to mean PC or Mac) to access previously downloaded iTunes movies, Flixster/UltraViolet has rather more appeal and iTunes are likely pretty comparable. Your entire UltraViolet and iTunes movie libraries would likely be available to you at any time via wifi download, which could be great for travelers. There might, however, be international licensing restrictions on such downloading.

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