In a move that will surprise many, UK retail electronics giants PCWorld and Currys have today announced a video-on-demand service to rival the likes of Netflix and Lovefilm Instant. Available from 1 March, KnowHow Movies will be available with no monthly subscription fee, instead offering movies and TV shows for rent or purchase on a pay-as-you-go basis, similar to iTunes.
New releases will cost £3.99 to rent for 30 days, though once you start watching, you only have 24 hours to finish. Buying a new release will set you back £12.99, with titles made available the same day as the DVD / Blu-ray. Back-catalogue titles will cost £2.99 to rent and £5.99 to buy.
At first glance this might seem a bit rich compared with the headline price of £5.99 per month for unlimited streaming from Amazon-owned Lovefilm. However, new releases are ring-fenced under the Lovefilm Box Office umbrella, and cost £3.49 pay-per-view. Netflix is cheaper still, at £4.99 per month for unlimited streaming - a price described as "unsustainable" by a KnowHow representative - but has suffered a backlash in the UK from early adopters disappointed by the lack of catalogue depth and dearth of new releases.
So far, KnowHow Movies has deals with Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar, Momentum Pictures and Warner Bros, launching with around 1,000 movies that includes the likes of the Harry Potter series, all the Pirates of the Caribbean films, The Shawshank Redemption, The Kings Speech, as well a further 500 popular TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory (popular with who? Ed.).
The company claims that in the next two months it will have five of the "Big Six" major Hollywood studios. With Warner Bros and Walt Disney already on-board, this leaves Paramount, Columbia / Sony Pictures, Universal and Fox.
The underlying technology - powered by Rovi - is actually rather strong, offering a number of advantages over rival services. In addition to the rent vs. buy option, users can opt for streaming or downloading, with the latter allowing offline playback. Try streaming Netflix at 35,000 feet!
From launch this week, support is limited to Macs, PCs, laptops, and Ultrabooks (with their nifty Wireless Display tech pushing video to your TV via a simple set-top box). However, the roadmap reveals that tablets and mobile phones - both iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Android - will follow in the Spring. SmartTV, smart Blu-ray player and DVR support will be rolled out in the Summer, with Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii eventually launching in the Autumn.
You can register up to five devices on an account, and the service will provide the appropriately formatted file for that device. The service even offers advanced features such as cross-platform awareness, allowing you to pause playback on a tablet on your commute home, and resume at the same point in the film on your TV once you hit the sofa.
Digital video sales have doubled in the past two years to an estimated £264m in 2012, and set to rise to £453m in 2014. Can KnowHow Movies gain share in an already crowded market? With 19 million existing customers and sales of KnowHow-capable devices topping 4.5 million, PCWorld is certainly well placed. Laptops and desktop PCs will come with the software client pre-installed while anyone buying a SmartTV or other device can ask an in-store demo of the service.