Vidi, a subscription and on-demand video streaming service from Times Media Group, was launched at an event in Johannesburg on Wednesday, 10 September 2014.
It offers a subscription service for R149 per month which gives you access to television shows such as Breaking Bad and the Tudors, as well as a number of older films.
Users can also rent newer movies for R15 or R27, depending on when the movies were released. For example, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and American Hustle would cost R27 each to rent, while 300 would cost R15.
For the launch, Times Media Group is offering a 30-day trial membership, allowing anyone with a credit card to take the service for a spin.
Trial membership caveat
Sign-up is pretty straightforward and requires you to provide your name, e-mail address, cellphone number, billing address, password, and credit card details.
This means that you will have to cancel your subscription before the trial is over if you don’t want to be billed.
It’s not that unusual, and companies like Web Africa have offered promotions on a similar basis (R1 for 80GB).
Web Africa’s treatment of clients utilizing its promotion was exemplary, with the company sending out reminders to cancel should they not want to be billed the normal amount for its 40GB+40GB account.
It remains to be seen whether Vidi will be treating its trial customers with similar consideration.
I tested Vidi on a 4Mbps ADSL connection and a 6Mbps connection from a local wireless ISP, using Microsoft Internet Explorer on Windows, Safari and Chrome on Mac, and Firefox in Ubuntu using Pipelight to run the Silverlight plugin.
After the initial sign-up, you will have to set a separate password for Vidi’s parental control system, which you can set to automatically block age-restricted content if you wish.
Streams take a few seconds to start (I tested episodes of Breaking Bad, The Tudors, and a few films), but once they do the performance was good.
There were a few cases where the stream would stutter, replaying the last second or three, but that could easily have been caused by my connection rather than Vidi itself.
When you close a video and return to it later, you pick up right where you left off.
The bare basics seem to work fairly well, but as one might expect there are a number of user interface niggles and teething problems from the just-launched service.
For example, when you put the player in full screen mode and you have a second screen connected to your machine, clicking anywhere causes the player to drop out of full screen mode.
There is also no granular control over the size of the player — it’s either puny on a 1080p display, or full screen.
Closing the player also doesn’t just close the modal window the player pops up in, but reloads the whole page.
Another small irritation was the links in the pop-out menu.
Even though Vidi uses “#” HTML ID-based links that usually just jump to bookmarks on the same page, clicking on a menu item causes the whole page to reload before jumping to the relevant section on the page.
Android app needs work
At launch only the Android mobile application for Vidi was available, though the company promised that its app for Apple devices has been submitted for approval.
The Android app is essentially just a wrapper for Vidi’s site, and the company also promised that it is looking at developing a native app.
Further development of the Android app can’t come soon enough, because on a Nexus 5 it runs as slow as molasses. Scrolling up and down a page is fast enough, but the app’s responsiveness is glacial when navigating from one page to another.
Once you get the video started, however, playback is smooth enough. It felt jerky at times, but still remained quite watchable.
Bottom-line: worth a try
Vidi’s user interface is sluggish, but the service itself is quite functional, and could be an excellent legal option for South Africans that prefer getting their entertainment online and on-demand rather than through linear broadcast.
While not without teething problems, and still lacking the important feature of being able to easily stream to your TV via a media box, mobile device, or smart TV app of some kind, it is a great start.
If Times Media Group lives up to its promise of securing more premium content, and continues development of its apps to iron out usability issues, Vidi could easily go from “great start” to just “great”.