Son of Filmstruck: The Criterion Channel is up and running (sometimes)

Last November, FilmStruck, the greatest cinephilic streaming service ever, was killed by its corporate overlords. As a combination of Criterion and Turner Classic Movies, it had the greatest collection of important films ever in one website.

On Monday, Criterion opened The Criterion Channel, offering about half of what FilmStruck had, which still makes it an excellent collection. But the website lacks important features, and it has some troubling blocks that makes it harder to find and watch a movie.

Browsing the website

Any streaming video website should be fun. You should easily browse and find something you want to watch. The Criterion Channel’s website gets that part about half right.

Scroll down the page, and you get tempting collections of films you might want to watch. As I write this, they include Columbia Noir (good to know they don’t stick entirely to Criterion titles), In Search of Ozu, Criterion Editions (I’m not sure how these 37 titles differ from the many other Criterion titles on this service), Newly Added (the site just opened; isn’t everything new?), Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project, and Screenwriter: Suso Cecchi D’amico.

As near as I can tell, all the films outside of the Columbia Noir series are from Criterion. But it’s pretty much impossible to see how many films they offer. I checked 30 titles that Criterion sell on Blu-ray or DVD, and 20 of them are on the Channel. Most of the missing ten were films owned by Hollywood studios.

There’s a Search tool, of course. Enter a title, star, or director, and you might get something – although sometimes it gets stuck in an infinite loop and you must start the search all over.

But you have no other ways to browse through the website. You can’t filter by country or decade. You can kind of browse by genre, but not really. The trick is to search for the genre – say, science fiction. But the results, clearly not intended for that purpose, are spotty. According to my searches, M is a musical and Lord of the Flies is a documentary.

Watching movies

But what’s the point of streaming movies, most of them intended for the big screen, if all you have is a smartphone…or even a laptop?

So, let’s get down to the most ridiculous and stupid part of the Criterion Channel’s design: You cannot watch any of the service’s videos on an external monitor. Yes, you can watch The Bicycle Thieves or A Hard Day’s Night on your laptop, but you can only do so on the laptop’s screen. Try to plug the laptop into a larger monitor or a television, and you’ll be told that this is just not allowed.

I do not understand this. What is the point? Someone must have had to write code that serves no purpose but to annoy the customers.

Of course, there are other ways to avoid your computer and send a stream to your television. I have two: Chromecast and Roku.

If you have Chromecast, you know how it works. You install the Criterion Channel app onto your Android or iOS device. You find the movie you want in the app, turn on the TV, tap the Chromecast icon, and the film starts streaming on your TV.

Unless it doesn’t. The app fails to send the stream to my television, with the message “Chromecast not available for this video.” Over social media, I’ve found others who also had this problem; and also some who haven’t. I should mention that my Chromecast is built into my Vizio TV; that might make a difference.

Luckily, the Criterion Channel became available for Roku owners Monday afternoon. And it works just fine. But someone in the technical end still has some work to do.

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