The Play Books update from a couple of days ago turned up the first sign of life for the Family Library we've seen since mid-November. At the time, I made a quick prediction that matching strings would pop up fairly soon in Google's other content apps, and Play Movies & TV is the first to follow through. But this wasn't just a mirror image of the same strings, there's actually a bit of new information regarding movies sold as a bundle and seasons of television shows.
In case anybody is curious, this update doesn't have anything in the way of notable new features.
Amazon's little plastic cylinder packed with electronics has one purpose in life—to answer whatever inane questions you send its way throughout the day. Okay, if you happen to order products from Amazon in the process, that would be nice too, but the other stuff is more interesting.
Take, for instance, the new ability to ask Alexa (that's what you call the lady that lives inside the cylinder with all the electronics) about movies and showtimes.
This is HUGE. It might be the best news to come out of CES this year. Scratch that. It is the best news to come out of CES this year. Not just because it affects the way millions of people could potentially enjoy and experience TV and movies, but because it proves that when a company has enough clout and will, it can make licensing arrangements globally instead of tiptoeing around each country's policies and agencies.
Remember cable? It sucked. You had to deal with commercials, and you could only watch what the network decided you should watch. It was a nightmare that many of us couldn't wait to — oh, some of you still have it? Oh, you like it? But... but why?
Anyways, times have greatly improved for cord cutters. There's YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, Crackle, HBO Now, Showtime, Google Play, Watch ABC, CBS, Comedy Central, PBS, and so many other options for streaming video.
The downside? We have to keep up with what's available where. This conundrum has led to the proliferation of TV guide-ish apps that will tell you what's playing on which services (oh how things have come full circle).
Google is continuing to refine what data you can access without ever leaving its browser-based search interface. A few of the more complex options for searching popular culture have now made their way from the desktop to Android, and they've also been given some impressive layout adjustments. According to Google's own search blog, contextual information for music, movies, and television shows will now appear in a dedicated sub-section of Google Search. Some of this was already available, but some of it's definitely new.
Google keeps giving away freebies to customers who buy its hardware. The latest is a trio of free movies from the Play Store for owners of Chrome OS-powered laptops. It's quite nice, but don't head out to buy a copy of Age of Ultron just yet - you get three movies from a relatively limited selection, and they're only in standard definition. So, nice, but not amazing.
Here's the list, or at least the one that we've seen on our personal accounts in the US. Your results may vary:
Mission Impossible II
Mission Impossible III
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
The Spongebob Squarepants Movie
The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water
The Last Airbender
Charlotte's Web (2006)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
I'm no movie critic, but I'd say that the clear winners among that limited selection are Mission Impossible, Forrest Gump, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
Streaming movies from Google Play is rather nice. I sort of scoffed at the feature at first, wondering why I'd want to spend that much money to rent a movie when I could wait and buy a physical copy later. But hey, $3 to $5 really isn't that much compared to watching a film in theaters, and it lets you see a movie much sooner than waiting for the DVD version to drop in price.
The thing is, Play Movies isn't available all over the world.
Don't think I'll find where a show is available online? Just watch me. There's an app or two for that, and now that JustWatch has brought its search engine to Android and iOS, there's another one. And it's capable of searching through Amazon Instant Video, Crackle, HBO Now, Hulu, iTunes, Netflix, Play Movies, PlayStation, Showtime, Vudu, Xbox, and a couple other online streaming services.
JustWatch's grid layout looks like those of the services it interacts with, and it feels like a natural companion, like the modern-day equivalent of a TV guide. You can create a watchlist without having to create an account or provide any credentials.
Android TV and similar set-top boxes are incredibly popular with the cord-cutting crowd. But if you still subscribe to cable, the various networks included with your package are finally getting their respective acts together and creating decent online options for streaming shows and movies. EPIX, a channel that's mostly focused on playing older and second-run movies, has finally made its way to Android TV. The app went live back on June 9th, but for some reason the company is just announcing it now.
You might have heard that Disney is releasing a new Star Wars film at the end of this year. You might also have heard that it has tossed out almost all the non-film pre-acquisition content produced under license from Lucasfilm. That leaves a lot of gaps in Star Wars canon, but the upcoming mobile game Star Wars: Uprising might get things back on track a bit. It's set between Return of the Jedi and the new film.