On with the show?

If you're an avid surfer, you'll probably know that movie studios have recently begun licensing some of their films for distribution online. The big question for users here however is whether these flicks are available to pay for and download in the Middle East. Windows Investigates...

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By  Matthew Wade Published  September 4, 2007

It sounds ideal doesn't it? Forget the DVD rental store, opening the door to that dodgy pirate peddler, or entering the murky - and most often illegal - world of P2P downloads, and instead just log onto a site, pop in your credit card number and download the fully legal on-screen action you want, direct to your PC.

In truth we had hoped it would be this simple, and that this article would be effectively a small group test of the paid-for download movie sites out there. That's not the case however as, putting it politely, we discover here that not all sites make their films available to potential Middle East buyers.

The reasons for this are two-fold: in many cases the portals selling the films only have the rights to distribute content in certain regions (ie not including the Middle East), whilst others appear only to be able to accept credit card payments from some regions and not others (again, often not here).

Let's get started then and see what's what. We'll take a look at the main paid-for Western movie download sites online, and assess first whether they apply to surfers here and, if they do, whether they're worth a click and your cash.

www.lovefilm.com/downloads

Featuring shedloads of brand new Hollywood releases, including many that have not yet been released at the cinema here in the region, this site offers both ‘DVDs to rent' (in effect time-limited downloads) and full movie downloads. These can be used on a PC/laptop and selected mobile devices (such as Creative's Zen movie players and the Archos 700 Media Player).

Of the rental downloads (click ‘Downloads to Rent' under the Downloads tab), these are available in two forms: ‘super high quality' versions - 1.2Gbytes in size - that cost 3.49 British pounds (approximately US $7), and 592Mbyte ‘high quality' versions that cost a little less at 2.99 pounds ($6). Examples include Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine and The Matrix.

Full movie downloads vary greatly in price, but are roughly similar to the prices you would pay in stores for the official boxed DVD versions. Jim Carey's Liar Liar for example costs GBP12.99 ($26), whilst Batman Begins is GBP9.99 ($20).

Available in the Middle East?
Sadly, it seems not. Every single one of the downloads we tried, using the required ‘lovefilm Download Manager' application, were unavailable. The following explanation is given: "We are sorry, but this download is not available in your location. If your country has been incorrectly identified or you believe you should be able to download this title, please contact our customer service to try and correct the information."

Windows verdict
Avoid frustration and ignore it!

www.vizumi.com

Vizumi adopts an almost identical approach to its partner site Lovefilm, in that movies can be rented (for the same prices exactly), or downloaded in full, to keep forever.

The resulting offer is virtually unusable however, as whilst on the plus side users from this region do appear able to pay for movies, our extensive site use only managed to find a few movies listed that you might actually download. The site's Free Films, New Release, Top 50 and genre-led sections for instance are all either empty or have been struck down with technical problems. Your best bet for finding films in fact is those that are shown on the homepage, and just two others that we found: ‘All the Pretty Horses‘ or ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'.

Available in the Middle East?
Yes, it appears so, that is if you can make it through the hellishly buggy payment process unscathed.

Windows verdict
Uninspiring and frustrating stuff. Even though we didn't come up against any download restrictions, this nightmarish site is still one to avoid.

www.sharedmovies.com

Although you could argue that this site is visually presented as a one-stop download shop (‘Search and download over 80 million movies online!', plus games, software and more), it is in fact the entry point to a huge peer-to-peer (P2P) network.

In other words, once you've subscribed ($34.95 for ‘unlimited' access or $28.95 for a year for movies and $14.95 extra for unlimited MP3 song downloads), and download the associated ‘utorrent' software (that's right, torrent), then you're on to searching out and downloading files, just like you would if you had downloaded the application BitTorrent say - for free.

The offer here then is simply that the website itself, combined with its 24/7 help and decent FAQ section, makes the torrent-based download process a little easier to fathom for first-time movie downloaders than most.

Of course what the site doesn't tell you is that much of the files you come across are likely being distributed illegally. As such we can't enthuse about it.

Available in the Middle East?
Yes.

Windows verdict
Whilst we're not warning first-time movie downloaders off this site per se, if you do subscribe to this site, you should be well aware that unless you're choosing only ‘public domain' movies and songs, and freeware software files to download, then you may well be breaking the law. This applies to when you view and listen to the files you receive, and even more so if you distributing this content to others.

www.wippit.com

Although it started life as a paid-for music download service - offering up to 60,000 tracks for a one-year up-front fee of 50 British pounds (US $101) - this site also has a fair movie download section, in addition to phone ringtones.

Movies are available to everyone, to buy and download in either standard or mobile WMA (Windows Media Player) format. The difference between the two types is that a mobile file's license allows it to be transferred from your home PC to one mobile device.

Look smart

If a movie download site looks glitzy, but doesn't show you movie releases and instead quickly moves you to its e-mail registration & payment pages, chances are it's a paid-for P2P software site (just like moviedownloads.com and sharedmovies.com.


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