There are two ways to watch movies at home – you can either digitally stream/download it or you can rent/purchase a DVD/Blu-Ray disk and play that.
Many people from my generation and older (I’m 35) have large collections of disks, and for this there’s a product called the DVDWatchBox, a $150 modified Android TV device designed to allow you to digitize your movie collection and stream from your computer to a TV.
I came across DVDWatchBox at Pepcom’s Digital Experience during International CES and they’re already sold at Best Buy, but how useful is this gadget? Here’s a quick breakdown of everything you need to know about the DVD Watch Box
Android TV Sans Android
What initially stood out to me about DVD Watch Box is it’s running the Android OS. Any Android TV box is interesting, as it allows you to access smartphone apps and features on your TV.
Except DVDWatchBox doesn’t – they actually went out of their way to throw a proprietary OS over Android, disabling any Android functionality.
But….why?!?! Why would you go out of your way to disable all the amazing features inherent to a smart TV?
Here’s a statement from Aaron Feigin, a spokesperson for VidOn, the company responsible for DVDWatchBox:
The DVDWatchBox itself is an AndroidTV based box but it runs special software that we designed so that you can use the menu system inherent on most DVDs & Blu-ray discs. It does not run any other software because to accomplish the menuing and support for special features like secondary audio and 5.1 sound etc, we needed pretty low level access to the system software so we wrote it ourselves.
Now I’m aware that Sony Smart TVs had an issue playing 5.1 surround sound when streaming videos through a Plex server, and this appears to be the problem they were solving, but Plex isn’t the only competitor for such a device.
In fact, DVDWatchBox can’t even compete with Plex – Plex is a free program that allows you to stream movies from your computer to any Android, iOS, or Windows device, along with an Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4. Anyone with a PlayStation, Xbox, Chromecast, or even an HDMI-capable phone (which is basically every phone released in the last 5 years) has literally no need for this over-priced box.
The only advantage DVDWatchBox has over a free Plex Media Server is that you’re also imaging the DVD menus, special features, etc. Of course, paying for Plex Premium opens this functionality and any pirate or hacker worth his salt knows how to do this anyway.
In addition, a large amount of disk imaging programs from Nero Burning Rom ($29.99) to Alcohol 120% ($55) have long offered this functionality. When I mentioned Alcohol 120% to the VidOn rep, he was completely unaware of its existence (his hilarious response when questioned about Alcohol 120% was “the last (question) was confusing, I am guessing because of autocorrect?“)
How does a company not know its own competition – especially competition that has been around for literally decades? It’s not like VidOn is brand new – the company has created desktop media players, XBMC decoders, and media servers, so this isn’t its first time at the plate.
Shield TV Sans Apps, Games, and Everything Else
But Plex, Nero, and Alcohol 120% aren’t the only already existing products competing with DVDWatchBox. There are interviews all over the web where CEO Bill Loesch says
Anything that tries to compete with Roku, Google, Amazon, and Apple is suicidal.
Except what’s actually suicidal is NOT competing with them, which is what DVDWatchBox appears specifically designed to do.
Including Android TV functionality isn’t a bad thing – take the NVidia Shield TV:
Anyone familiar with the Nvidia Shield line of products is fully aware of the ability to stream an Android OS to a TV, and the Shield TV at $199 is not only capable of streaming any video from your computer (not just Blu-Ray and DVD), but it also supports both 5.1 and 7.1 audio in a wide variety of formats, and 4K UHD playback at 60 fps.
Shield TV manages all of this without disabling the Android OS for its Shield Hub. So not only can it do everything DVDWatchBox can, it also includes the ability to use Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Pandora, etc. on your TV. Also it allows you to play Android games on its Android OS or stream PC games from either your local hard drive or Nvidia’s cloud servers.
How has nobody at VidOn ever heard of a Shield?
Someone needs to explain to Loesch that nobody with any sense would choose a $150 box that’s had all the functionality stripped down to focus on one task that it doesn’t even do as well as similar boxes that include 100000000x the functionality.
Disabling Android TV on DVDWatchBox isn’t a selling point – it’s a death sentence.
If I have a video game console of any kind made in the last 20 years, any kind of Smart TV device or a Blu-Ray player made in the last decade, I already have all the functionality of the DVDWatchBox. It seems insane to spend $150 to add another device and another remote to a TV that’s already running low on HDMI ports to support all the high tech available these days.
And while the developers of televisions, DVD/Blu-Ray players, home theater systems, smartphones, tablets, and video game consoles are all focused on expanding the abilities of their devices, VidOn is trying too hard to limit the abilities of what could have been a decent device.
It’s a hail mary play to lock users into VidOn’s ecosystem of media software that was thrown so far out of bounds, it’s destined for a permanent spot on top 10 sports blooper lists.
Space Requirements and Further Downsides
But, perhaps my knowledge of digital video is too extensive. With DVDWatchBox being sold at Best Buy, the slow kids that VidOn is clearly targeting with this one-hit-wonder device may still be considering this overpriced device as a possible addition to their home entertainment center.
For these people, I’ll explain some details about how this box works:
The software itself only takes up 120MB, but the video files are what will really eat up storage space.
A DVD holds up to 4.7 GB, and the average DVD is around 3 GB. A Blu Ray typically holds 25 GB, though the technology is capable of storing up to a terabyte.
A low-end Blu Ray will take up 15 GB, whereas a 3D Blu Ray can take up to 100 GB.
So, let’s say you have a large movie collection, with 250 DVDs 50 Blu Rays, and 10 3D Blu Rays (the type of customer DVDWatchBox is targeting).
250 x 3 = 750GB needed to store DVDs
50 x 15 = 750GB needed to store 1080P Blu-Rays
10 x 100 = 1000GB needed to store high-end UHD, 4K, and 3D Blu-Ray
So, in order to backup the average movie collection, you’ll need 3 terabytes of hard drive space, which your average computer doesn’t have available, meaning you’ll need to purchase an additional external hard drive, as the DVDWatchBox has no storage space (by comparison, Shield TV can hold 16GB-500GB on its internal drive and is expandable to another 64GB via microSD).
I could almost justify paying $150 for such a box if it at least included the 3TB hard drive necessary to store a movie collection.
But DVDWatchBox doesn’t include local storage and doesn’t even support cloud storage, making it decades behind tech development everywhere else in the tech and multimedia sectors.
And that’s before we factor in the time necessary to convert your movie collection. Each disk will need to be placed in your computer (if you don’t have a blu-ray drive, you’ll need to get one) and ripped.
I’m running a 3.1 GHz Quad-core Xeon Server processor with a 6GB/s SATA HDD, 14X Blu-Ray rewrite drive, and 16GB memory. The time difference to rip a DVD or Blu-Ray using VLC Media Player, or image it using Nero, Alcohol, or VidOn is minimal, <1 minute.
An average DVD takes about 7 minutes, and a Blu-Ray takes about 45 minutes (80+ for 4k 3D). Inputting these times into the above collection, we get
250 x 7= 1750 minutes needed to image DVDs
50 x 45 = 2250 minutes needed to image 1080P Blu-Rays
10 x 80 = 800 minutes needed to image high-end UHD, 4K, and 3D Blu-Ray
That adds up to 4800 minutes to convert your movie collection to a usable format for the DVDWatchBox. That’s 80 hours, or two weeks of dedicated, full-time work.
This is, of course, assuming you run into no copyright issues. Being a pirate, I’ve never had a problem bypassing digital copyright protection, but those who aren’t tech savvy may run into a few time-consuming issues delaying the backup of their favorite movies.
It quickly becomes not worth the investment to even backup your DVD collection. Out of the 310 hypothetical movies being backed up, how many are available on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, and all the other on-demand movie services most moviephiles have?
And of the 50 or so movies you own that aren’t readily available on a legal streaming service, are you willing to spend the time necessary to back them all up? Is paying $150 to add more work to your plate worth it?
Dumping the Disks
Not long after receiving the DVDWatchBox and sitting down to run the numbers, my household decided it’s not worth the effort. In fact, even staring down that mound of mundane, menial tasks made us completely reevaluate the need for backing up these movies or owning them in the first place.
Last weekend instead of spending all the extra time and money this box required, we took the easy way out. I boxed up the movie collection, loaded them into the back of the truck, and we drove them to Bookman’s (the best used everything store in Arizona) to sell them.
After receiving $200 in trade credit and $100 in cash, for the disks they’d take, we brought the rest to the Dobson Ranch public library, who were ecstatic to receive the donation and sort through the collection for us.
We may have owned a lot of DVDs and Blu Rays, but we rarely ever watched any of them. Collecting them was nothing more than an addiction, and everyone in the house was relieved to be unburdened by them.
VidOn understands the world is filled with movie-lovers, but it doesn’t understand how we think. DVDWatchBox is an attempt to service our needs by overcomplicating a simple solution.
People who buy DVDs and Blu Rays do so because they want to feel like they own that movie. For them, a digital copy on the computer isn’t a real thing any more than an owner of The White Album on vinyl wants an MP3 playlist.
The rest of us will simply stream or download whatever media we want to watch, whether through a legal service or not, because that’s the way the Internet has worked since the pre-Napster days of warez sites and forums hiding a bread trail of individual components of the .Rar file necessary to piece together a zipped movie file.
This box is just an Android-powered device that drained all the power of Android and an unnecessary piece of equipment years behind in today’s digital world.
Final Score: F
Brian Penny is a former business analyst and operations manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work appears in High Times, Huffington Post, The Street, Lifehack, and Hardcore Droid.