Since posting my article on streaming Bollywood movies on the iPad last year, a new service has emerged to challenge Netflix as the best app for viewing Hindi films. How does the massive catalog of Eros Now stack up?
Eros International got its start in the 1970s acquiring the distribution rights to a host of films before entering the production business in the 2000s. As such, Eros Now features wide array of movies — new and old — that aren’t available for streaming elsewhere. There’s very little crossover between the Hindi-language catalogs of Eros Now and Netflix.
Like Netflix, Eros Now is available on desktop computers as well as Apple and Android tablets. Also like Netflix, Eros Now has a monthly subscription fee of $7.99. Both services require payment through their websites and not via the App Store, which is a disappointment.
Being both a production house and a distributor, Eros Now has the option of making home productions available for streaming sooner than Netflix can acquire rights. Table No. 21 opened in theaters on January 4, 2013, and was available for streaming on Eros Now just weeks after its release.
Eros Now went a step further on March 15, when it made the horror film 3G available for streaming in select countries (including the US and the UK) on the same day that it released in theaters in India. The film is available to Eros Now subscribers at no additional cost, but it is also available to non-subscribers for a 48-hour rental that costs just $1.99. This rental format has great growth potential, as it satisfies international fans’ demand for new content, while saving Eros the cost of shipping prints overseas and undercutting piracy.
The app itself is easy to use, with better, narrower search parameters than the Netflix app. Movies can be browsed and sorted by genre, language, and decade, with the ability to separate out trailers from full-length films. One quirk of the search feature is that it demands the input of three characters, making it impossible to search for 3G by title.
Unfortunately, the app and website lack a queue feature, and movie viewing doesn’t carry over from one device to another. In fact, the app forces the user to sign in at the start of virtually every session. Close the app in the middle of a movie to run an errand, and you’ll likely be forced to restart the film from the beginning when you return to it.
The video quality is less crisp than that of Netflix, regardless of the age of the film or the strength of the Wi-Fi network. Images never come into perfect focus, and scenes with a lot of movement, such as dance numbers, can look like a messy, pixelated jumble.
English subtitles do not appear automatically in the video but can be added by clicking on the “CC” button at the top right of the screen. This is a nice bonus for viewers who don’t need them and find them distracting.
For many fans, the biggest selling point of Eros Now is likely its impressive music catalog. The service features music videos and soundtrack albums for most of the films in the streaming catalog, as well as for films yet to be released, such as Nautanki Saala and Chashme Badoor.
Though it lacks a film queue, the app allows users to generate a music playlist. Another bonus is that the music continues to play even after closing out of the app. It’s nice to be able to create a playlist to listen to in the background while catching up on Twitter.
So how does one decide between Netflix and Eros Now? If the choice is based on video quality alone, Netflix is the clear winner. Netflix also has the advantage of having a massive library of movies and TV shows in dozens of other languages. But Eros Now’s music library may be enough to sway some customers. The choice may ultimately come down to the contents of each of catalog.
The battle between the catalogs is pretty much a draw, as both offer a lot of good options. Eros Now lays claim to movies like Omkara, Pinjar, Om Shanti Om, English Vinglish, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, and Dabanng. Netflix offers Kahaani, 7 Khoon Maaf, Jodhaa Akbar, Delhi Belly, Chak De India, and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
Eros Now gets new movies sooner than Netflix, but for every Table No. 21 and 3G, there’s a Mai — Love Your Mother or Rajdhani Express: 2013 releases that failed to generate any buzz whatsoever.
Because I can rent new movies for $1.99 on a one-off basis through Eros Now, I don’t see any reason to continue my monthly subscription. I’d have to watch at least four movies a month via the service to make it cost-effective. Since my reviews focus on new releases, I wouldn’t break even most months. Instead, I’ll track possible future rental opportunities via Eros International’s Wikipedia page (which lists the names of notable films in the Eros catalog and upcoming releases) and use the app on an ad hoc basis.