What happens when a trendy movie distributor tries out online streaming? Dendy Direct is the movie and TV streaming service from Australia's top independent cinema chain. It's not bad, and it's a little cheaper than heading to the cinema with your partner, even if the service is still in its infancy.
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What Is It?
- Platforms: PC, Mac, iOS, Android
- Web Browser: Google Chrome (as tested), Internet Explorer, Safari
- Max Associated Devices: 5
- 3G/4G Streaming: No
- Rental Period: 30 Days
- Rental Viewing Period: 48 Hours
If you're not already familiar with Dendy, it's a movie distributor and theatre operator with four cinemas and 27 screens throughout Brisbane and Sydney. These aren't your average Greater Unions or Hoyts, though -- Sydney's Dendy complexes are at Circular Quay and Newtown, and the distributor runs film festivals and arthouse showings and retrospectives regularly. The Dendy name carries a bit of weight and respectability with it.
At the time of its launch, Dendy Direct offers a total of 571 movies and 17 TV shows for rental or purchased; some of these are available in both HD (1080) and SD (540p), while some are SD only. Some can only be purchase, some can only be rented, but most are available for both just as most are available in both quality levels. Dendy is apparently adding more movies and TV shows on a regular basis, and hopes to have around 1000 titles within a month and over 2000 in a year.
What Is It Good At?
Being a streaming service, Dendy Direct is entirely Web-based on a desktop PC or laptop: point your browser at https://www.dendydirect.com.au/ and you're away. The sign-up process is pretty simple -- associate your email address with your vital details including billing address and credit card info, then you're ready to go. You're instantly presented with a curated list of new releases and top movies.
Every movie and TV show is available in the respective A-Z lists, but there are recommended lists and an area for discounted video (The Girlfriend Experience was on sale when I looked) and a chart of top-selling content. It's a nice mix of different filters for choosing movies, and the selection, although a little meagre at launch, includes some films that I genuinely want to watch -- both new and archival.
Video costs aren't too bad, although they will disappoint anyone expecting Netflix-grade all-you-can-eat bargains. A new release movie like The Lego Movie will cost you $29.99 to own in HD and $24.99 in SD, while HD rental is $6.99 and SD rental is $5.99. Prices are broadly similar across categories but If you purchase a movie on Dendy Direct it's yours for good, but if you're renting you have 30 days to start watching the flick and 48 hours after that time to complete the entire movie.
When it comes down to it, actually purchasing or renting a movie is pretty trouble-free. Since you associate your credit card with your Dendy Direct account when you sign up, it only takes a couple of clicks before the movie or TV show is bought, your account is associated with it and your credit card charged. Your library syncs up with any associated Dendy Direct app on any iOS or Android smartphone or tablet (a maximum of 5 at a time).
Watching a movie -- whether on desktop or on mobile -- is equally simple. Install the plugin first up (more on that later), purchase or rent a video, then your library is updated with its availability. If you don't want to splash your cash straight away, you can save videos to your watchlist and come back to them at a later date (presuming they stay available). The search function works just about as well as you'd expect, and you can jump straight to movies from the drop-down menu.
Streaming quality starts off mediocre -- the site uses adaptive bit-rate streaming at work to give you the movie or TV show nearly instantly, then steps up quality quickly as the seconds roll on. On a 50Mbps connection, The Lego Movie started out blocky (hold the jokes, guys) but quickly became smooth and appropriately detailed as I'd expect from any mid-resolution high definition streaming service. I'd put it on par with the quality that we Aussies get streaming Netflix from the States.
What Is It Not Good At?
To view any streaming video in your Web browser, you'll have to install the Widevine Video Optimiser plugin, which works on both Google Chrome and Internet Explorer. This might be an annoyance for some although it's a one-off procedure and only takes a few seconds to actually install; its inclusion is likely for DRM purposes to keep rights-holders and content owners happy to license their content to Dendy.
Although it's implicit in it being a streaming service, you can't actually download any content from Dendy Direct to watch at a later date, whether it's as a discrete compressed video file or as a cached version within your browser or the companion mobile app. This is a feature that is apparently being added in September, but for the time being if you want to watch a video you're restricted to your PC or Mac or your smartphone or tablet within the confines of Wi-Fi.
While they're in the works, any casting abilities to Chromecast and Airplay and any smart TV apps are as yet unavailable. When they come, a much wider audience will be able to enjoy Dendy Direct flicks on the biggest screen in their house but right now you're restricted to whichever display is directly connected to your PC or is mirroring your smartphone display.
Should You Buy It?
Dendy Direct is a perfectly capable video streaming service, and it has real potential. Prices are just as high as any competiting pay-per-view or rental and purchase streamer, so Dendy isn't competing on value -- what it does now, and what it should continue to do, is offer interesting and unique movies that you can't find anywhere else or that you'd expect to go and see at a Dendy picture theatre. It needs to offer the quirky and weird like Nick Cave's 20,000 Days On Earth and run events like the Czech and Slovak film festival.
As Dendy Direct develops -- as it makes its way on to smart TV apps, and as it adds Chromecast support, and as it increases the number of mobile devices to which it is available -- it'll become more attractive to a mainstream audience. On launch day, straight out of the box, it's pretty good. As it matures, it'll get better.