Turning my back on the dark side

A while ago we decided to give up on all these dodgy possibilities to watch movies and series online and tried to actually use legal means to get our movie kicks.

A task more difficult than we anticipated.

If you don’t care about paying for your content then the approach is fairly simple. Visit a website, get the download links or streaming access and watch your content. On any device that you want in case of download and always without any DRM restrictions.

When we started using other services like pay per view Video on Demand (VoD) we quickly got in trouble. My setup for watching stuff is indicated below.

setupThe trouble is diverse. When watching a movie on, let’s say maxdome, I could not switch off the TFT screen to only have the image on the beamer. Silverlight DRM would kick in and stop me from watching anything because no „digitally certified hardware is used to connect to the monitor“. So the flat screen was kept on.

On Amazon Instant video however the DRM stops you from watching any kind of HD material if a screen or beamer is connected over VGA (non-digital).

Why am I not using HDMI? The multipurpos cable that is there to make DRM industry happy?

Well, first the cables were expensive, easily reaching 30 EUR for 3 meters. But prices dropped. The technology is deeply flawed though, as the image quality is dependent on cable length. 5 to 10 meters loose 1080p support, longer cables also 720p. To overcome this you can use an HDMI booster, an electric amplifier that increases signal intensity. An old VGA cable is cheap and provides full HD over 10 meters without any problem. If there weren’t DRM mechanisms.

Some VoD sites however are working well. Google Play movies does not care about my cables and gives me Full HD also over VGA. But usually no English audio in Germany.

Maxdome still works, but does not give you easy access to information concerning technical limitations. Trying it out showed that it works well in my setup and it has English audio for most movies.

We recently added the Apple TV and Airport combo to the setup, to feed the beamer from the iPad and to have an audio airplay client at the Hifi system.

Apple TV is great and it is shit. The stuff that is in the box works well, trailers, netflix, watchever, airplay connectivity. But if you want to watch, let’s say Google Play movies on it, there is no way. The iPad app doesn’t allow airplay (blame google here) and there is no way to get a new app on Apple TV.  You get what Apple wants you to get and nothing else. It is greatly adapted to the American market, offering wrestling and Ultimate Fighting channels, but no way to get Arte on Apple TV.

A word on Netflix. The launch in Germany was greatly anticipated, as most competitors could not really live up to expectations. Now it is here and it is a sobering experience. I couldn’t find a movie younger than 2012. Lots of stuff is just missing from the catalogue. Its strength lies in the series content. Netflix has a massive collection of TV shows to browse, which is really nice. Although the audio is English as it should be, the video is still „German“, as most titles and text is given in the German translation.

For a while now we are getting BluRays sent to us on a weekly basis from Amazon’s Lovefilm. They have a nice collection, but control on what you’ll get is limited. You provide a wishlist and Lovefilm sends what is available, which results in long waiting times for highly demanded discs. BluRay offers great image quality, but is armed to the teeth with copy protection that makes it a quite miserable medium. You can’t skip a dozen of FBI warnings, your player is constantly outdated and is stopped by DRM or the audio just goes completely missing. Luckily you can just rip the disc using AnyDVD HD and then you can actually watch it. I would love to avoid that, but ironically DRM forces me to break it to get to the content. The huge rips can be compressed, but still it is not really worth to keep them, once you watched them. Ripping makes the whole movie night experience a whole lot more annoying than necessary. But at least you get Full HD and your audio of choice.

Long story short: Legally watching stuff is a pain if you have the simple wish to watch Full HD with original audio. Either you buy all the hardware as they want you to (HDMI cables to flat screen TVs etc) or you have to do a weird puzzle setup with lots of bits and jumping from site to site to get your content. A very helpful tool for the latter case is Werstreamt.es, a site that  shows movie availability on different services.

I still wouldn’t like to go back to dodgy websites with sometimes bad quality and maximum daily streaming limits. I also like the idea of paying for the content I’m consuming. If only film studios and copyright holders wouldn’t make it such a pain in the ass.

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