After making sure there was a domain name locked down for Epix, the new premium movie network formed by Studio 3 Networks (Paramount, Lionsgate and MGM) it was all about taking advantage of an early peek at the 720p Flash powered site to see what a new generation of home movie distribution has to offer. The tech end (opening up to invited users this week for beta testing) is powered by Akamai's variable bitrate streaming streaming technology, delivering up to 3mbps HD video with stereo audio all the way down (6 different levels) to 500kbps encodes. Where it surpasses current online offerings from the competition is the ability, thanks to the aforementioned studio backers, to provide many of the recent movies you want to see. Our impressions of the service and a few more pictures of the interface are after the break.
We talked with Epix about the new service and confirmed that all programming with high definition sources available will appear that way online, although at this early time there's not a specific tag to set apart any flicks that are or aren't while browsing the queues. As for the 720p resolution and stereo only sound? We're assured that the technology is capable of more, however even with its connections, there's a task of dealing with its partners to allow for high quality audio and video. Simply giving customers their movies when & where they want to view them isn't all Epix has to offer, with plans to tie into social networking sites, plus the option for shared viewing and chat online, plus community ratings and reviews.



Watching the movies in any browser window is a snap, with the version of Flash installed on nearly any computer just one or two clicks gets you up and watching. The picture quality is as high as we've ever seen from Flash, comparing well with other sources like Hulu or Netflix's Silverlight-powered offering, although there's still quite a bit of tearing visible, especially during high action scenes of movies like Cloverfield and Iron Man. The variable bitrate technology is a bit of a mixed bag, with no indication via bars or anything else to tell what quality is coming through, only a suddenly softer, fuzzier image indicated when bandwidth was (rarely in our tests) dropping. On the other hand, over a 8mbps cable internet connection we didn't experience any buffering, and over a EV-DO mobile hookup though the picture quality suffered significantly, after a short pause to buffer at the beginning the connection stayed steady throughout. As for alternate delivery possibilities, like Windows Media Center, boxee, straight to video game consoles or others? We asked but there wasn't much to tell, though they certainly seem aware of the potential to reach viewers in many different ways we'll have to wait and see if it happens.



The main question left is when will you have a shot at Epix, either as a typical linear movie channel, video on demand or through the website? Until distribution partners are announced who knows, although they did mention the possibility that once agreements are official, the website could become available to subscribers before the channel is actually added to the lineup in a particular area. The idea is to provide a premium channel movie experience (read: uncensored, early release flicks) aimed at the basic cable/satellite channel lineup so although this hopefully won't require an additional subscription fee, those flying without a video service subscription hoping to pick up website access individually will have to do without. Epix isn't completely the open all you can eat video service we've been dreaming of yet, but with its combination of content and distribution it could become the closest attempt we'll see for a while.

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Epix HD 720p movie streaming service eyes-on