I recently got a chance to test MovieBeam without paying the activation fee. In the end MovieBeam foot the bill for shipping as well.
I will admit that my expectations were not very high and I am sorry to say that I am very disappointed. I was very excited when the package arrived and I rushed home to connect it to my HDTV and run it through it's paces. The best news is that the box worked fine with my Vonage VOIP phone. The bad news is that the Picture Quality was the worst HD I have ever seen, well maybe not the worst, but it is in contention.
The MovieBeam box is pretty cool, it is a light blue box with inviting text. It opens easily and the first thing you see is a easy setup sheet like a new PC. The box comes with everything you need except a HDMI cable, which is available as a accessory. The first thing after you connect all the wires that the box wants to do is to phone home. So I ran a wire to my Vonage box and after turning off the bandwidth saver on Vonage.com the first step completed successfully. The next step was to adjust the antenna, the antenna is easily assembled and kinda cool looking, I hid it behind a picture frame and the meter indicated an 85 without any adjustments. The last step of setup was a short movie explaining the service and how important it was to not unplug the MovieBeam STB.
Now that the setup is complete I browsed through the interface, the menu's were intuitive, cool looking and relatively fast. Keep in mind that I tolerate a HDTiVo, so everything seems fast compared to it. The movie previews start fast, but you quickly realize that the selection is not that great. There are 100 movies out of the box and only 7 are available in HD, but none of them are new movies. It reminds me of the selection of DIRECTV's HD PPV, except even older.
The biggest surprise is that MovieBeam requires HDMI to watch the HD movies. It doesn't support DVI ( I called and confirmed it wasn't supported) and it doesn't give you the option to down-rez. The HDMI to DVI cable that came with my HDTiVo works fine at 480p, but does not give me access to the HD content. The software is programmed to check for HDMI and if it isn't there you don't see any HD options anywhere. If you have HDMI you can see the "HD Showcase" under "Find Movies". Since I wasn't able to try it with my 2 year old Mitsubishi WS55813 I bothered my next door neighbor that just bought a 50" Sony SXRD 3LCD(KDF-E50A10) complete with a HDMI port, so I took the MovieBeam STB to his house to check out some HD. My neighbor is no HD connoisseur but his reaction was the same as mine; surprised at how bad it could look. Although he wasn't sure what was wrong with what he saw, I knew right away. The movie was so compressed that all the scenes suffered from compression artifacts, even scenes that were almost completely still. The compression was unbearable and even if it did work on my TV, I would be sending it back. The movie was "Deep Blue Sea", this scene was a simple profile shot before the transition and with nothing moving. The blocks you see in his cheeks were present in all skin tones. This is by far worse than any compression I have witnessed from DIRECTV or due to local affiliates multicasting their OTA feeds. I have seem some fantastic examples of WM9 HD clips on my MCE so there is no doubt in my mind that they simply cranked up the compression far too much.
In the end the review is right on par with the prediction I made when MovieBeam was first announced. The product is so close, yet so far away. If they don't start to bundle this service with other products and offer higher quality (selection and PQ) movies there is no way that they will ever acquire a large user base.