Last night we decided to watch Hugo with the kids. Our 10-year old daughter read Brian Selznick’s delightful book and loved it; I read it twice, first by myself and then with our 7-year old son. He, too, is now a fan. So, we were all curious to see how well the story translated from the printed page to the screen.
What better opportunity to try out Google’s Play Movies service? The movie was available to rent for $3.99; you could also watch a stunning, 1080p preview, apparently straight from YouTube. What’s not to like? I clicked on the Rent button, connected my Samsung 7 Slate to our HDTV, gathered the family, hit Play… and groaned in disappointment.
You see, while the preview was available in 1080p resolution, the actual movie was only available in grainy, blocky, washed-out 480p format. My brother once explained to me that resolution is only one of the factors contributing to the perceived quality of a video; other factors, such as the bitrate and codec used, are very important, too. Well, Google Play’s version of Hugo must have been recorded at a really low bitrate. I don’t know if this is true for other movies in Google Play’s catalog; all I can say is that Hugo was really bad.
Before resigning myself to a VHS viewing experience, I checked Amazon Instant Video. Hugo was available there, too, for $1.99, in standard definition. Just for kicks, I rented it on Amazon, too. Lo and behold, the quality was significantly better. Higher bitrate or better codec, I guess. We ended up watching the Amazon version, and none of us really had reason to complain.
Moreover, just this evening I found out that our not-so-hi-tech HDTV is actually compatible with Amazon’s TV streaming video service. This means I no longer have to hook up a computer to the TV. More importantly, I can rent HD versions of several movies—including Hugo, it turns out. I’ll definitely be using this solution in the future.
Bottom line: for the time being, Google Play Movies is not quite as good as Amazon’s service. Indeed, I got even more sour on Google Play Movies tonight. Just for kicks, I downloaded the Play Movies app on my Captivate. Surprise: if you are rooted, you can’t play rented movies! This makes no sense: you obviously can get Administrator access on your Mac or PC, and still you are able to rent movies on them. But, if you root your phone, no dice. Frankly, I don’t see the rationale for this restriction.