Currys and PC World take on Netflix with Knowhow Movies streaming service

Retail chain Currys and PC World has announced a new movie streaming and download service for the UK, to launch on 1 March. Knowhow Movies will take on Netflix and Lovefilm head to head by offering films and TV shows to stream over the internet to computers and connected devices but, unlike its rivals, there will be no subscription fees - initially, at least.

Instead, like with Apple's iTunes, movies can be rented or bought outright, and even downloaded for mobile use. To begin with, that will be confined to PCs and Macs (with the latter able only to stream titles at present), but more devices - such as tablets, smartphones, Blu-ray players, connected TVs and games consoles - will be added in the coming months.

"From 1 March, the service will be available on PCs, laptops and Ultrabooks," said Niall O'Keefe, Knowhow development director told Pocket-lint at the PC World store in Tottenham Court Road, London. 

"That will be followed up in spring with the service being available on tablets and on mobile phones operating on Android and the iOS systems. In the summer, we'll follow up with Smart TVs - first with Samsung, soon following with brands like LG and Panasonic - and also on PVRs.

"And then in the autumn, there will be access to Knowhow Movies through games consoles."

Also in the process of expansion are the number of studios Knowhow has on board. For launch, content from Disney, Warner Bros, Momentum and Pixar will be available, but the company is in talks with three other big studios at present. It expects to sign contracts with them in the next couple of months.

Another one of Knowhow Movies' strengths over its rivals is that it will heavily feature new, day-and-date releases. The new service will be offering films to rent on the same day as they go on sale on Blu-ray and DVD. And TV shows will be available to view the day after their on-screen airing.

There will be around 1,500 movies or TV programmes available on the service from 1 March, with many of those being back catalogue material or series rental prices are expected to range from 99p for a TV show up to £3.99 for a new release. Films to buy will cost from £5.99 to £12.99.

Many titles will also be offered in Full HD with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, thanks to DivX Plus encoding with adaptive streaming (the quality will be better the greater your broadband bandwidth).

The latter is only possible because the company has partnered with Rovi to supply the back end, metadata (for search and information) and content management. David Cook, senior vice-president of Rovi Entertainment Sales, told us that the adaptive streaming through DivX Plus technology is a massive benefit to a service like Knowhow Movies - something that could give it an edge over competitors.

"The problem that many people have is that the amount of bandwidth they have going into their home actually fluctuates - when the kids get on and download music or when someone's playing a game or something like that," he said. "But instead of stopping and starting the movie, what it does is soften or crisp up the picture based on the amount of bandwidth that's available."

Up to five devices will be able to be registered to a Knowhow Movies account, with pause and play on offer across them. Effectively, if you pause a film on a tablet, you can continue to watch it on a separate device from where you left off.

PC World and Currys will be ensuring that its customers will be talked through the process in store and over the UK-based customer helplines.

From what we've seen, it's impressive stuff. Whether it can take on Netflix and Amazon at their own game? Only time can tell.

Do you think Knowhow Movies could topple Netflix or Lovefilm? How do you feel about a no subscription service? Let us know in the comments below...