Blinkbox offers 720p streaming on a huge variety of devices, but a small library and no Full HD content limit its appeal
Platforms: Web, Windows 8.1 and 10 app, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Smart TVs, iOS, Android Content: Max 720p quality, no 5.1 surround sound or closed captions
Blinkbox was bought by Tesco in 2011 as part of a move into digital content that would also see the supermarket giant try to woo consumers with its bargain Hudl tablets. However, seemingly unable to fit Blinkbox into its overarching strategy, Tesco sold the video portion of Blinkbox to TalkTalk at the beginning of this year.
TalkTalk says BlinkBox will be integrated into its other products, and quite what that means for the brand remains to be seen. For now, though, Blinkbox remains available to non-TalkTalk customers.
Blinkbox hosts a library of just over 6,000 films and 960 TV series. Its library is utterly dwarfed by the likes of Amazon and Apple, but you won’t miss out on the latest films from the big studios if you limit yourself to Blinkbox’s selection.
As far as TV goes, all five seasons of Game of Thrones are present and correct, alongside The Walking Dead, Mad Men, Modern Family and classics such as The X-Files.
Blinkbox’s pricing is in line with its rivals, with a new HD film costing £4.49 to rent and £13.99 to buy, a new HD TV episode costing £2.49 and a complete series priced at £22.99. When you first sign up and deposit £1, Blinkbox gives you another £3.49 of credit, meaning you can immediately rent an HD film at no extra cost.
Blinkbox also curates its catalogue into collections, which act as a way to focus your decision making when looking for the next series to binge on or film to watch. Collections can range from actors and directors to production companies and film series as well as genre-specific groupings; you’ll find sets including the Jason Statham Collection, Fast & Furious, HBO Drama and The Comedy Collection. You can see which films are about to become available at blinkbox.com/movies/coming-soon.
Whenever you click a film or TV show, you’re also given alternative options similar to the content you selected, so you’re never at a loss what to watch. Click any of the cast listed, and you’ll be taken to a search page where you’ll find all their other work hosted on Blinkbox.
There are also plenty of special offers, which are clearly marked and sometimes pretty generous. We found an HD copy of Interstellar for £8.99 instead of £13.99; a stellar deal indeed.
When you rent a film, you have 30 days to start watching, and 48 hours to finish once you hit the play button for the first time. Most films and TV programmes are available in 720p format (depending on your device and internet speed) with stereo sound. There’s no Dolby 5.1 audio and no 1080p option available for any content. If you have a high-end home cinema system, Blinkbox won’t do it justice. There are also no subtitles for the hard of hearing.
For 720p, Blinkbox’s image quality isn’t half bad. It obvious has a huge disadvantage over Full HD Blu-ray, but if you ignore the jaggies in our zoomed in images and the inevitable dearth of detail you’ll get from this low-res footage, colour reproduction and contrast is reasonably good. Benedict Cumberbatch’s skin tones are reasonably accurate while the subtle shading on his face is a little more brazen than on Blu-ray, there’s not an awful lot to dislike about Blinkbox’s video quality.
Click on either image below for a bigger view.
Blinkbox is available for a wide variety of devices including smartphones, tablets and TVs. There aren’t too many irritating limitations here, with Blinkbox remaining remarkably consistent across the full spectrum of media consumption devices.
You can stream content from a web browser on both Windows and Mac PCs. Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer all require Microsoft Silverlight, while Google Chrome users get an HTML5 player, which Blinkbox says requires a little more bandwidth than the Silverlight player. For Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 users, there’s an app available in the Windows Store. This app lets you download TV episodes and films to your Windows PC, laptop or tablet, which is extremely useful.
The Blinkbox app for Android is full-featured, including 720p streaming and downloads. You have to use Blinkbox’s mobile website in order to buy content, however. It has a clean user interface and is easy to use. There are a few Android version-specific issues, though – devices running Android 4 can’t download items to an SD card, while tablets running 4.4.3, 4.4.4 and 5.0.0 don’t support downloads due to incompatibility issues. We tested the service on a Nexus 9 running Android 5.1 and had no problems, however.
Apple iOS devices are very well supported, with the iPhone getting SD streams and downloads and the iPad granted access to HD streams and downloads. Apple policy means Blinkbox can’t sell items from within the app, so you’ll need to buy items in your web browser before playing them in the app. Even Windows Phone 8.1 gets in on the act, with a great app that lets you stream content in 720p, although there is currently no option to watch offline.
Content can also be streamed to your TV in 720p using a Google Chromecast dongle, via Chrome in Mac and Windows, as well as from iOS and Android devices, which is handy if you don’t have a dedicated set-top box.
The only limitation with downloaded content is that you must check in with Blinkbox’s DRM servers every 30 days on a UK internet connection on whichever device you plan on using to watch the content. If you don’t do this your downloads on that device – even those you bought to keep – will stop playing.
You should be able to stop watching on one device and continue on another where you left off, although in our experience this wasn’t always reliable, with multiple devices starting from the same point even though we’d watched several minutes of a programme. Furthermore, your progress on downloaded videos is not kept in sync at all, so you might find yourself having to scroll through your videos trying to work out where you were.
We’re impressed with Blinkbox. It has a great user interface and is compatible with a huge number of devices with some very well-made apps. Its watch offline feature on Windows 8.1 and 10 is a huge boon, too. It’s a shame that you only get 720p playback at best, and the lack of 5.1 surround sound and subtitles will put some buyers off. If its device support suits you better than iTunes or Google Play, and you’re happy with 720p, it’s well worth a look.
BEST FOR: Windows 10 PC, tablet and phone users
|HD Film (rent/buy)||£4.49/£13.99|
|SD Film (rent/buy)||£3.49/£9.99|
|HD TV series (buy only)||£22.99|
|SD TV series (buy only)||£16.99|
|Rental period||30 days|
|Time to finish watching||48 hours|
|5.1 surround sound||No|
|Web/PC/Mac||Web: Windows and Mac 720p streaming. Windows 8.1 and 10 app: 720p download|
|Amazon Fire TV||No|
|Amazon Kindle Fire||No|
|Games consoles||PS3: SD streaming. Xbox 360, Xbox One: 720p streaming|
|Smart TV/box manufacturer support||Samsung, LG|
|Smart TV/box quality||720p|
|iOS||SD on iPhone, 720p on iPad streaming and downloads|
|Android||Android 4+: SD and 720p streaming and downloads|
|Windows Phone||720p streaming|