The pros and cons of Lightbox

Our technology writer has been trialling Spark's new service.

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Lightbox has announced its launch date: Thursday 28 August. I was given access to the beta and here are my first impressions.

  • The user interface (UI) is exactly the same as Netflix, but with one important difference - it’s much easier to find the stuff you want.

  • There is a good selection of content with a lot of older TV shows and some newer ones. This includes a lot of shows they have yet to announce, such as shows from Comedy Central like South Park.

  • It’s very simple and intuitive to use.

  • I used Lightbox on my iPad and streamed it through my Apple TV using AirPlay. This all worked very well and without glitches.

  • Watching the shows on a TV was a much more pleasant experience than viewing on my tablet. But I was only able to do this because I have an Apple TV. We have to wait and see if Lightbox develop any apps for TVs like TVNZ and TV3 did.

Right now, I would say that Lightbox could be a great option for streaming entertainment in New Zealand. For the content that’s available in the beta I don’t know if it’s worth $15 a month. The addition of newer shows and more New Zealand content may bring that worth up.

I’ve done a brief comparison of the services currently available in New Zealand for streaming, which may give you an idea of the market at the moment.

The new Sky service doesn’t have a name yet (SVOD stands for “streaming video on demand”) or many details but it is going to be launched sometime this year. We do know that it will have content from HBO (Game of Thrones, True Blood, et al) that other services don’t have, but we don’t know how current it will be. If you are a Sky subscriber it will be free with your package, there are no details for the price for non-subscribers.

Sky have also partnered with Vodafone to launch this service. Again it’s unknown if this will mean Vodafone customers get a better service than non-Vodafone customers.

Lightbox Netflix Quickflix TVNZ On-Demand TV3 Now Sky SVOD iTunes
Cost/month ($) 15 15* 13 Free Free ?? 0*
Movies no yes yes no no yes yes
New releases no no yes no no ?? yes
TV shows yes yes yes yes yes yes no
Latest season yes some no yes yes ?? no
Full series yes yes yes no no ?? no
Pay per view no no yes no no ?? yes

Guide to the table

*The cost of Netflix is actually a combination of the subscription cost (~$9.50) and the price of a service like Unblock-Us (~$5.50). If you are using Slingshot’s Global mode, the cost will only be ~$9.50 on top of your monthly ISP fees.

**Quickflix has new movies and TV shows that they list as “Premium” that cost extra to view on top of your monthly subscription.

***An Apple account is required. There is no monthly fee, just pay per view or you can purchase a digital copy to own.

UPDATE (26 August) : Sky TV have confirmed that they will have movies available as part of their SVOD service.

The legality of Netflix

We consulted with a number of copyright law experts and all of them agreed that accessing Netflix from New Zealand is in no way illegal. For this section I'm going to use "Netflix" to represent all online streaming services not based in New Zealand such as Hulu and Amazon Prime, but also services from Australia and the UK.

First, as we have mentioned many times in the past, in New Zealand you are allowed to legally circumvent geoblocks. For example, you are allowed to buy a multizone DVD player in order to watch Zone 1 DVDs that are meant only for the US. Similarly if you find content online that says "this is not available in your country", you are legally allowed to get around that block.

The broadcast rights for a lot of the content on Netflix is owned by local providers such as Sky or TVNZ. New Zealand has parallel importing laws which allow you to bypass the local distributor. This is true for the physical goods that you might buy from The Warehouse and it's also true for digital products, such as movies and TV shows online.

There is no differentiation in the law between physical and digital objects. So in essence watching Netflix is simply a new form of parallel importing.

The main reason accessing Netflix isn't illegal though is that you are paying for it. The content you are accessing is being sold to you legitimately. It is in no way piracy.

About the author:

Hadyn Green is a geek. He loves shiny new tech and the chance to try to break it. Because it's the kind of thing people ask, here is the tech Hadyn currently uses. Phone: Samsung Galaxy S5 Tablet: iPad mini retina. Music player: Spotify. Headphones: Sony MDR-G55 (for walking because I hate earbuds) and Beats Studio noise-cancelling (for sitting at my desk and tuning out the world). E-Reader: Kindle Touch. Gaming: PS4, PS3, Xbox One and Xbox 360. Internet Service Provider: Snap.

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