by Michael S. Palmer
Personally speaking, I'm a pretty big fan of Groupon because there are always fantastic deals to try a new local restaurants. While I instantly junk most emails from online retailers, I look forward to daily Groupon announcements because I can't wait to see what new foodie adventure awaits.
This modern Internet age reminds me how we are constantly swimming in choices -- which friends to follow, what places to eat, what entertainment to enjoy -- but I also remember the days when my small town had a grand total of two movies screens playing only Hollywood studio movies. Don't get me wrong, I love huge tentpole studio movies, but even when the Megaplex Era took off, increasing local screen counts, the video store was really the only way expose oneself to independent cinema. For me, film festivals always seemed like magical, far off events. Thankfully, with DVD/Blu-rays and Netflix, things have been changing for the better, but I would imagine for most people who don't live in Los Angeles, New York, Park City, Austin, or a handful of other areas where there are art house cinemas and/or film festivals, it's still pretty hard to get instant, easy axis to documentary and independent films.
If you love movies and enjoy the Groupon experience, but don't have enough access to indie cinema, there's a new service you may want to try: Prescreen. Here's the scoop:
What is Prescreen?
A brand new venture from one of Groupon's creators, Prescreen is a streaming video-on-demand service specializing in independent films. It's a site to see a flick you've maybe never heard of, or never thought you'd get to see. And it's relaunching with a newly forged Facebook alliance. But I'm getting ahead of myself, let's talk content. Prescreen execs scour film festivals like Sundance, SXSW, and Tribecca to make streaming deals with independent film distributors of all genres. Each movie is encoded to Flash in 720p HD with stereo sound, and a variable bit rate, meaning the servers will give you the fastest streaming bitrate possible for your computer and Internet bandwidth. And because films typically remain on Prescreen for 60 days, Prescreen's library is constantly refreshing itself. When they get to the site, some films stream day-and-date with their home video releases, and sometimes they stream while they're still in cinemas.
How do I sign up and how much does it cost?
Easy, anyone can surf on over to Prescreen.com and watch trailers for all the available movies as well as for others (Oscar nominations or Sundance Selections), but to build a queue, and rent something, you need to sign up, for free, via your Facebook account. Then it's up to you. Browse, queue up, and rent, or sit back and relax. Like Groupon, Prescreen will email you every day with a brand new Featured Movie to watch. Movies generally rent for around $4, with some titles costing as much as $8. But, on a film's first day, films are usually discounted down to $2.
Where can I stream my rentals?
After adding movies to your QUEUE, you then decide whether or not to WATCH NOW (aka, rent the film). After clicking Watch Now, you have a 48-hour window to stream the film on any PC. Currently, HTML5 tags are added to all the trailers so you can access them from any iOS or mobile devices, but to stream a full feature film, you're going to need a Mac or a Windows PC running Internet Explorer 7+ (PC), Firefox 8+ (PC, Mac), Safari 4+(Mac), Chrome 6+(PC, Mac). Sadly, the only way to stream a Prescreen rental to your big-screen HDTV is if you have a computer hooked directly to one; so if you have an HTPC, you're good to go. However, Prescreen says they're hoping to bring in third party apps, and there might even be something in the works for one of the major gaming consoles, starting Q2 of this year so you'll be able to stream Prescreen movies anywhere you have an Internet connection.
What's this about Facebook integration?
As part of its new relaunch this week, Prescreen has partnered with Facebook to make the whole experience more social. Akin to Spotify or Yahoo News, if you log into Prescreen via Facebook, and watch a trailer or add a movie to your queue, this will post to your Facebook timeline and/or news feed to let your friends know what you're doing. Conversely, if you're friends are Prescreen members, you'll be able to see what titles they're checking out, and hopefully you'll be encouraged to join in. I know when my friends listen to tracks I've never heard on Spotify, or read interesting news articles I might not have found myself, I'll click on those links to hear or read what they're up to. Here, you'll maybe sample a trailer you might have never seen before. For those worried about privacy, this is an optional part of the Prescreen experience, and what movies you actually rent are never reported to your timeline; only trailers and movies you place in your queu.
Not sure if I'm sold yet, but maybe I'd try it if there was an exclusive coupon for High-Def Digest Readers?
Look, I get it. You're probably an HDD reader because you love Blu-ray's unparalleled picture and sound quality. Honestly, Prescreen can't compete here. But I think there is also an opportunity to find movies that aren't necessarily available to buy or rent on Blu-ray (though sometimes that's certainly the case). However, our friends over at Prescreen are pretty confident about their service, so they're offering an exclusive coupon code to the first 250 HDD Readers who try the service. Enter HighDef1 to receive $4 off your first rental(s). If these coupons are scooped up quickly, Prescreen may even offer us another.
The hope is simply that this simple, easy-to-use service will give you access to a variety of interesting and (sometimes) hard to find titles. We're also going to hold a contest over on HDD's Bonus View blog next week, where one lucky winner is going to win a $25 credit to use on Prescreen (worth up to 12 rentals, if the winner plays his or her cards right -- Stay tuned for details!).
So, if you're interested, head on over to Prescreen, watch a few trailers, rent a discounted movie, and tell us what you think right here in the HDD Forums. Is this something you might join? Do you already have access to independent movies? Would you be more interested with 1080p content or the ability to watch it on your bigscreen HDTV?