Blockbuster OnDemand Unboxing & Setup

Dave Zatz —  December 1, 2008

So much for a day of vacation recovery… UPS just arrived with the new Blockbuster OnDemand movie rental box, by 2Wire. If you recall, $99 gets you the box and 25 video rental credits. Once those have been consumed, content begins at $1.99 a pop.

Packaging is Blockbuster branded, though there’s absolutely no mention of “Blockbuster” on the 2Wire MediaPoint unit. (Then again, the competing Roku box is also devoid of “Netflix” branding.) The AppleTV-shaped hardware feels somewhat plasticy, but it’s more attractive and has more personality than the Roku box.

Setup didn’t start so smoothly when the 2Wire box just hung (repeatedly) when using an Ethernet connection. However, I was successful going wireless by punching in my SSID and WPA2 security key. Once connected, I was prompted to set my television resolution and link to a Blockbuster web account – where I provided my billing info. The remote control works fine and the interface is pretty straight forward, though some screens fill in slower than I’d like. Unlike the Netflix streaming experience, Blockbuster permits you to browse their entire catalog from the couch… although they charge per rental, like typical video on demand services. Which raises the question: Why pick up this unit if you’ve got a (cable, gaming, or TiVo) box that already offers VOD?

The big surprise for me is that Blockbuster OnDemand is not purely a streaming service. Video can be played back while streaming, without transport controls, and/or once the download has completed. I assume this is why they’re beginning (?) with only “DVD quality” content, since it’s being queued up on an internal 8GB USB stick. (Which has some implications on the sort of Blu-ray players Blockbuster will support…) Speaking of storage, I haven’t yet tried inserting anything into the SD slot on the front. And while I’ve started to download the new Indiana Jones flick, I haven’t tested video playback yet. In addition to checking out the quality and playback controls, I’m curious to see how (if) the device manages storage. Stay tuned.

21 pictures follow:

23 responses to Blockbuster OnDemand Unboxing & Setup

  1. This probably isn’t on my list of devices to purchase, but I’m really interested in how well this thing works. Looking forward to your write-up Dave.

  2. Interesting use of a USB memory stick glued internally. Can anyone comment on hackability, i.e. flashing/running custom Linux kernel and utils?

  3. Looks cool, but since I already have a Netflix / Roku box and an Apple TV I’m really not in the space to get one of these. Then there’s the added fact that Blockbuster company pissed me off so much with uncalled for late fees (they claimed the video was missing!) they’ll have to pay me to get back with ‘em.

  4. Nothing happened when I popped my SD card in. I assume the same will hold true in regards to those USB ports. While the hardware probably supports all sorts of things, the Blockbuster experience is currently limited to their video rentals.

    The screen saver is kinda cool, though blurry – movie artwork flying outwards from the center.

    Bael Get, No idea on the hackability. I assume someone with more free time than I will let us know. Though I did pop the 8GB USB stick into my Mac and was told it’s unreadable – so it’s either an unknown file system or the contents are encrypted in some way.

  5. looks like it have three usb ports with a mini pci.
    one think I can think of is use the mini pci add a laptop hd,
    that will be very nice.

  6. keep the mini pci for the wireless
    if you can make it boot from a usb stick you can put mythbuntu on it
    attach external HDD / stream from Myth backend
    profit. no, seriously. 99-dollar HD frontend.

  7. governor, assuming someone can access wherever the firmware is stored and assuming the hardware can decode the types of video formats you want to watch. Haven’t seen much Roku box hacking and it’s been out awhile…

  8. Welcome back! How is the catalog – is it Netflix-like (poor) or VUDU-sized? Also, what are viewing restrictions, usual 24-hr/30-day period?

  9. Ivan, typical digital rental terms. Indiana Jones is hold for 30 days, view for 24 hours. The box lists over 2100 titles. And offers many more Hollywood new releases than Netflix. Of the 2100+, nearly 120 are TV shows – including such winners as Blind Date: Uncensored. I’d have to say, the Netflix television content is better (and free with a subscription). But they don’t provide the new movie releases we really want.

    Any one of these companies will hopefully come up with a better method of browsing their collections. Even by genre, 2100 is too much. (I do like some of the filter options Vudu offers.)

  10. Dave Zatz, too true. Thanks for the teardown and review.

  11. How fast do the new releases come out? 12:01am maybe? Is Stepbrothers and Wanted on the renters list right at?

  12. Sounds like this is a crippled version of the regular MediaPoint box (that is supposed to be able to play movies, music, etc. from your shared folder on the PC — including those from other VOD services). If it’s BBI only, no thanks.

    The VuNow box coming out 12/15 looks far more promising.

  13. very interested to see the video quality opinions…pls compare to both DVD and Bluray but seems like BB is positioning expectations for something much less than Bluray quality. Which auto-uninterests me…. why is it monoliths like BB always shoot well behind the curve?

  14. Video quality was decent enough on my 30″ HDTV (bedroom) and truly widescreen unlike some of the Amazon content on TiVo. (It’s nowhere near Blu-ray quality – the closest you can get is probably HDX on Vudu.) The video had very noticeable artifacts and/or weirdness at least four times during the Indy flick and audio/video went out of sync twice. The unit also drops my WiFi network and loses my WPA2 password regularly. I can’t recommend the unit at this time.

  15. Looks like the box is a fail. BB said service is coming to Blu-Ray players, so maybe they’ll strike a deal with Sony to offer their service on PS3. Although since it’s not a direct competitor to Netflix (i.e. not all-you-can-eat), Sony probably would not care to have competition to their PSN store.

  16. I wasn’t sure the best way to share this but Tivo is giving away a free cookie cutter!
    http://www.tivo.com/whatistivo/cookiecutter/index.html

  17. My set up went smoothly took about 5min. I like the quability , most of the movies you can preview in a small window with description on the rest of the screen . The Media player is a good fit for me as my cable company charges a monthly fee for there box even if i don’t use it . Looks like they left out some of the features of what 2wire shows on there web site . In all i really like this thing

  18. DONT BUY THIS BOX. I work in software so I am usually pretty tolerant of new technology but this thing is a joke. Great concept executed poorly…

    -User interface freezes to where you have to unplug the box
    -Deletes purchased downloads on its own
    -The movie selection is miserable- they gave me 25 free movies and the first 10 I searched for were not in the library.
    -The movie quality is ok and sound is sub-par
    -The movies freeze or loose sound while viewing
    -The box looses connection in the middle of watching a downloading movie
    -New releases have delayed availability by several weeks
    -Promise of 1.99 downloads was wrong…they are almost all $3.99.

  19. I think it is awesome, but as well have problems with it freezing all the time. I have to uplug it and restart all the time. drives me nuts.. If they can get that worked out, I will be happy.

    Also atleast get the new releases on there they promised. Heck you can buy some of the movies in walmart that are still waiting to be released on here. wth??

  20. just got this e-mail from Blockbuster :

    Hello,

    We wanted to let you know that a software update is available for your MediaPoint™ set top box. This new software should fix an issue some users experience that slows down the performance of the BLOCKBUSTER® ONDEMAND service. These types of issues happen infrequently, and future updates will happen automatically.

    All you have to do is unplug your box, then plug it in again. When the box goes into standby mode, it will download and install the update automatically. To make sure you have the latest version after the update, just go to Settings – System Information. You should have version number 5.0.0.45. If not, please call Customer Care at 1-888-552-1969.

    Enjoy your BLOCKBUSTER ONDEMAND service!

    Your Friends at BLOCKBUSTER

  21. This is the box from Hell!

    It hangs during the setup and won’t get past looking for the Wireless network when I told it that I had a Wired network and entered all the addresses – IP Address, Subnet Mask, DNS, Alternate DNS, etc. on their stupid press up and down number entry system.

    It has been a half hour and it it still looking for the Wireless network.

    A reviewer said that he got past this by entering his Wireless Info — Unfortunately, I don’t have a wireless network.

  22. I pulled the box out of the closet over the weekend to see if it’s improved. It downloaded the .45 update. My wireless connectivity appears more stable, but I’m still seeing occasional random pauses while navigating the UI and experienced a reboot after it popped up a screen to call tech support during business hours. So it’s a bit better, but I’m putting it back into the closet for now. Perhaps the next update will improve the performance/stability even more. And maybe we’ll get some larger movie previews.

  23. Hate the installation process with 2wire. Hooked up to wireless fine but screen with code for connecting on server never came up and can’t connect to server. Support is central time only and people on west coast are screwed. Have emailed for support no answer yet.
    2nd email no responds yet. So far terrible experience.
    Roku hooked up in minutes and so did PS3 for netflix.
    Blockbuster needs help.