Blockbuster Movie Pass Test Drive: Some Flash, Little Substance

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Back when Dish Network’s Blockbuster Movie Pass was first announced, there was one obvious problem with the idea that it was a true competitor to Netflix: It was only available to Dish Network customers.

Now that I’ve had a chance to test out the online streaming portion of the Movie Pass package for myself, another problem seems just as obvious: The poor selection of what’s available to stream.

(MORE: Netflix: Who Could Take the Streaming Video Crown?)

If you can imagine a version of Netflix’s Watch Instantly that pretty much only has content from Starz and little else—to be fair, the Blockbuster Movie Pass also offers some content from Epix, Sundance and other smaller vendors as well, but I suspect that titles like SOS Iceberg and Terror on Tour aren’t exactly what people are looking for—then you have a pretty good idea of what you’d be able to stream through Blockbuster Movie Pass right now. It’s a shame, because there are things that make it competitive with Netflix’s Watch Instantly offering otherwise.

At least upon my first investigations, Movie Pass seemed faster to load than Netflix and offered a higher quality image, although that may simply be down to the fact that it has nowhere near the traffic that Netflix has to deal with. I missed the ability to close the browser and return to a movie later from the same point I’d left it—something that was surprisingly absent, I must admit—but there really is something to be said for not waiting for buffering, loading or streams cutting out mid-show.

(One day, let me bore you about the frustrations of trying to watch the final episode of Friday Night Lights, only for it to fail to play past the fifteen minute mark for three days straight. Actually, maybe don’t).

In terms of ease of use, the interface is both easy to use and somewhat frustrating. Inexplicably, there’s no search function, meaning that you have to choose movies or shows via drop-down menu or work through all the movies page-by-page on an alphabetical basis (Update: See note below). I say movies, because the selection of television series on offer is really poor. Of course, considering that Movie Pass is only available with a Dish Network subscription, television is content is already available via Dish’s programming.

Overall, there’s not a lot to heavily recommend Blockbuster Movie Pass unless you’re (a) already a Dish customer and don’t mind the $10 additional fee, or (b) really, really trying to make a point about Netflix by going with the competition, no matter how inferior it currently is. There isn’t any problem with the infrastructure that a good search function wouldn’t solve, but any offering like this really stands or falls on its selection of content. And right now, this isn’t offering anything near enough to make it feel like much beyond a pale imitation of Netflix’s superior version.

Update: I’ve received word from Dish that there is, in fact, a search function, which I couldn’t see because of “browser issues.” For the record, I tried the service on multiple browsers and multiple machines.

MORE: Dish-Blockbuster Deal a ‘Stream Come True’ Only for Existing Customers

Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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