mSpot launches really sucky movie-streaming service for phones

Streaming video directly to cellphones? That's not new. Streaming full-length movies directly to cellphones? OK, mSpot, you've got our attention. Claiming to be the first service to stream entire movies to phones, mSpot gave us a trial account for its new service, launching tomorrow, so we could see what it could do. The result: sucky.

First off, you should know we've only been able to try out mSpot with one device, the iPhone (3G, not 3GS), but it supposedly works with most phones with an HTML browser. There's no iPhone app for the service — you need to log in and watch through Safari.

From our short time using mSpot (and even taking into account AT&T's crummy network), it's clear this service has tons of room for improvement. Hit the Continue jump for the full hands-on.

mSpot may have beat Netflix and Blockbuster to the punch in offering movie streaming to phones, but it's quickly apparent what they sacrificed to do so: content. There are only 200 movies available at launch (though the service plans to add more "rapidly"), but even that seems to be an exaggeration based on the titles available. The only titles I recognized were Zack and Miri Make a Porno and The Reader; most others have names like Shark and Cherry Ridez. Rentals cost $4.99, which lets you stream it within a 48- or 72-hour period. Considering iTunes lets you rent HD movies for that price and gives you a 30-day window to watch — and you can transfer those files to phones — mSpot's pricing is pretty nuts.

To the heart of the matter: The streaming over 3G is sketchy at best. I tried repeatedly to stream Zack and Miri…. First time: no audio. The second time it worked for 77 seconds before the audio cut out. The third time it played for a full four minutes before the whole stream stopped. In every case, it took about five to six minutes for the stream to start (presumably for buffering), and you'll see that delay whenever you try to jump to a different point in the stream. In fairness to mSpot, AT&T's network failings aren't their fault, but this is ridiculously bad performance.

Video quality was bad, with visible pixelation of varying intensity most of the time, and a frame rate that was clearly south of 30 frames per second. mSpot offers a "High" quality stream, but I never got it to work. A Wi-Fi connection might help with streaming (one wasn't available for my test), but mSpot says says Wi-Fi streams are limited to iPhone customers only. Finally, the content has aspect-ratio issues; all the streams I watched looked slightly stretched horizontally.

Taking a step back, it's impressive that there's any service that streams movies to your phone over 3G. In rushing out this service, however, mSpot isn't doing itself or its customers any favors. The pricing, the quality, and the content simply aren't there. Don't waste your money.