One minute episodes of 24 on our cellphone? We're so there, which is why we harrassed Verizon Wireless into sending us LG's VX8000 cameraphone so we could check out their new V CAST wireless video-on-demand service. Read on for our impressions.
First unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show last month, Verizon is pimping V CAST as a new multimedia service for the high-speed EV-DO wireless network they're currently rolling out in different cities across the country. The basic service costs $15 a month, which is a bargain compared to the $79.99 it can cost to get flat rate EV-DO. The catch is that for eighty bucks you get unlimited Internet access, whereas V CAST is more of, how do you say, a walled garden.
(By the way, the phone we're using to test the service—LG's 1.3 megapixel VX8000 cameraphone—is solid, but to be honest, silvery flip-phones are a dime-a-dozen these days, so we're not gonna focus on it at all. This review is all about V CAST, ok?)
So V CAST works exactly as promised. Less than a couple minutes after cracking open the box we were watching the video for Faith No More's "Epic" (yeah, we know). There's a little lag time switching between menus, but it's pretty easy to get around the user interface and find what you're looking for. You just pick the video you want, decide whether you want to pay the fee (anywhere from 99 cents to $3.99, though there are plenty of free clips, too), and then stream it to your handset. If you've already paid for a video clip once you don't have to pay for it again, but you do have to stream it all over again, which is almost as bad.
The actual number of video clips available was greater than we'd expected, but it breaks down into four general categories: News, Entertainment, Sports, and Weather. Videos ranged anywhere from 45 seconds to just over five minutes in length, and it usually took about 10 to 15 seconds of buffering before a video would play; anyone expecting instantaneous action is going to be disappointed, but it seemed perfectly acceptable to us—it's not really any different from watching a video on the Internet (EV-DO speeds hover around 300-500Kbps).
The quality of the videos we watched was pretty good. The resolution of the clips could be a little higher, and occasionally there'd be a bit of jerkiness or the audio would be out of sync with the picture (like it was on the Faith No More video), but otherwise it was as good as anything we've ever seen on a cellphone (keep in mind that it was hard to capture the actual quality of the screen with our camera), except, of course, this was being streamed in real time.
News highlights from CNN, NBC News and MarketWatch, these also tended to be updated more frequently than the clips
in other sections of V CAST.
Tons of stuff here:
Cinema Electric - Fashion, Movie, and extreme sports clips
V CAST Showcase - This one has a bunch of sub-categories, including:
- V CAST Live: A roundup of what's new each week on V CAST.
- T.V. Time - Clips from Jimmy Kimmel Live, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Trading Spouses, Simple Life 3, Alias, Soap 41, and a recap of Lost.
- Mobile Shows - This is where you'll find the one minute episodes of 24, as well as clips from some shows we've never heard of called Love and Hate and Sunset Hotel.
- 9 current movie trailers and 2 new DVD trailers.
VH1 - No VH1 Classic, but clips from Best Week Ever and Live@VH1 (live videos of Fountain of Wayne, Rachael
Yamagata, and Jet).
E! - Clips from Celebrity Extras, Gossip, E! News Live, and E! TV Highlights.
Comedy Central - Highlights from The Daily Show, as well as quick hits from a few other shows.
Part of the Entertainment section of V CAST, the selection of music videos is incredibly disappointing—just ten clips from Warner Music Group artists like Green Day, Sean Paul, Simple Plan, Lilix, Michelle Branch, and yes, Faith No More (the only "classic" clip in the bunch). There is no way to access a wider catalog of videos, and you just have to wait until Verizon rotates a new slate of clips in (which happens weekly).
The Sports category has four channels: ESPN (ESPN College, ESPN News, ESPN Original, and ESPN Fantasy—that lost one
sounds a little dirty, but it's stuff like fantasy baseball), NASCAR.COM TO GO, NBA TV (highlights from a handful of
games), and FOX Sports.
Lastly, there's also weather news from AccuWeather.com. The clips are free, and the line up includes "Breaking
Weather News", national and regional weather news, as well as local forecasts for 39 different cities across the
So is it worth it? That depends. Is it worth it to you to cough up four bucks to watch a three and half minute music video? We love T.I. as much as the next guy, but for us $3.99 is simply too much to pay for something so disposable, especially on top of the $15 V CAST already costs per month. Thankfully there are still plenty of video clips that don't cost anything extra (Daily Show highlights are free, thankfully), and there's nothing like a quick hit of Jon Stewart when you're waiting in line at the post office. And because it takes advantage of a high-speed EV-DO connection, this is easily the best multimedia experiences we've seen on a cellphone to date, but the larger issue is whether the average person will be satisfied with what's offered. There is a trade-off in that you pay a lot less for V CAST than you would for unabridged Internet access, but if there's one thing AOL has demonstrated, it's that the walled garden approach can only work for so long. It'd be hard to convince anyone with a 3G-enabled smartphone that they shouldn't be able to download music and video from anywhere they please. If you dig the idea of watching video clips on your phone, then fifteen bucks is a fair price for what you get, but in a few years, when cellphones get smarter and the price for 3G comes down, it's going to be harder and harder to justify paying for something like this instead of (or on top of) just regular Internet access.