Vongo on a UMPC: tough to start but great after that

VongologoHere’s another UMPC scenario that was asked for: how well does Vongo work on the device? For those not familiar with Vongo, it’s a movie and PPV download service from Starz!, the cable programming company. The monthly service costs $9.95 for an "all you can eat" plan, however, PPV films do cost extra. Each movie has a different expiration date; some movies I saw had to be viewed by the end of this month, while others had dates going out for several months. There’s a wide range of movies and more titles are added weekly; additionally, you get a live feed of the Starz! channel as well. I decided to give the 14-day trial a chance on both a desktop and the Q1 to see how well it works.

I did run into two immediate problems, but found resolutions to both. If you’re beta testing the Office 2007 suite like I am you’ll have a .dll conflict when trying to run Vongo. A quick search online turned up the solution of renaming the offending .dll. I did that and Vongo launched without a problem; additionally, I’ve seen no ill-effects in Office 2007 as of yet.

The second problem had me totally confounded for about three days. After choosing a movie to download, the title would show up in my Vongo Download Manager and then simply disappear. No error message, no warning, it just disappeared. Thinking it was firewall related, I made changes and opened some ports to Vongo per some technical support information, but nothing seemed to help. This issue wasn’t just on the Q1; it was on my desktop as well, so I knew it wasn’t specifically related to the UMPC.

After admitting defeat, I contacted Vongo’s Technical Support via an online form and I was pleasantly surprised by the quick response and resolution. In less than two hours, I received a note from Vongo with some a link to a Microsoft DRM upgrade site. I ran the upgrade, which sets a unique hardware identifier in my media player and immediately after that, I was able to pick and download a movie. I chose "Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" just get a feel for the service and picture quality. The movie took roughly an hour to download on my 3 Mbps DSL-line, which is actually respectable.

Let’s talk about the Vongo interface for a second, since that’s where the UMPC really struggled. It appears that the Vongo interface is completely Flash driven and can’t be easily re-sized. I went in circles for quite a while trying to view the entire interface on the Q1 and it wasn’t until I did two things before I could actually see the entire interface and then actually use it.

Here’s a shot of the interface in the Q1’s native 800 x 480 resolution; you can see just a portion of the interface and you don’t have access to all of the control buttons:

Vongo_800

OK, even though I didn’t expect 800 x 600 to be much better, I figured to give it a shot. Nothing doing, as expected:

Vongo_600_1

Surely 1024 x 600 has to work, right? Actually, I didn’t see any dramatic difference at all in this mode:

Vongo_1024_1

So does this mean Vongo won’t work on a UMPC? Oh, I don’t give up THAT easy. Turns out that by leaving the Q1 in its 1024 x 600 mode and then using the Windows Display Settings to bump the res up to 1024 x 768 gives you the full interface:

Vongo

I had to use this slightly fuzzy resolution configuration to pick my download, but it did work. In fairness to Vongo, they do state in their system requirements that you need a display capable of 1024 x 768, so I don’t fault them for this. However, it’s worth a mention to any other software or web service companies out there; although we’ve been moving towards higher resolution screens, the UMPC class of devices can’t be forgotten.

So how is the playback? All in all it’s quite good; I’d say it’s almost as good (if not comparable to) watching a DVD movie on the Q1. If you have other applications open, you might see some choppiness in a fullscreen movie, so I recommend closing all other apps prior to viewing.

Of course, I ran into the same resolution issues during movie playback and had to take similar steps as outlined above; quite an annoying method just to watch a video. To give you an idea of the player rendering, here’s a shot in the native 800 x 480 mode. You either have to very carefully move the window as high as possible and hide your Taskbar to hit play or you need to switch resolutions for a few seconds:

Player_800_1

What’s the verdict? I honestly don’t have time to watch movies, so it’s unlikely I’ll be continuing the Vongo service. For people that have the time and the $9.95 a month to spare, I could see it worth the money. It’s a little challenging to use the service on a UMPC, but it can be done and once you have done it, the content looks solid.

Again, I don’t blame Vongo that their service doesn’t work well on my machine. I would however, love to see these types of interfaces work on the smaller mobile screens because downloading and watching movies on the run can be a great experience! Vongo also worked without a hitch on my desktop and I would expect it to play nice with most current laptops and Tablet PCs as well.

In this article, I strictly focused on Vongo as it related to usage on a UMPC; there is plenty more to discover about Vongo and its many features, so if you’re interested, give their site a peek.

-kct

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