By WALTER S. MOSSBERG and KATHERINE BOEHRET
After a long day at work, there's something calming about filling a bowl with popcorn and watching a movie at home. But the experience can be diminished if you have to drive to the video store to rent a DVD. And it's worse if you get there only to find that the film you want is out of stock.
Even if you subscribe to a DVD-by-mail service, like Netflix, you may have to wait for the most popular films, and the movies you have on hand at any one time might not fit your mood. Plus, you have to pay a monthly fee.
Now, a new company called MovieBeam is aiming to ease those DVD issues. It is selling a $200 digital gadget prestocked with 100 movies -- some in high definition -- that you can rent at the click of a remote-control button for as little as $1.99. There's no drive to the video store, no chance of a movie being out of stock, no monthly fee, no waiting for the mail.
The MovieBeam service doesn't require a computer or Internet connection, and it operates independently of your cable or satellite provider. The MovieBeam box, which looks like a slim DVD player without a slot for DVDs, is basically a smart hard disk drive that connects to your TV and receives new films every week via a small, inconspicuous indoor antenna.
MovieBeam's service isn't available everywhere, but is up and running in 29 metropolitan areas that cover a fair sprawl of the country, including Boston, Orlando, Dallas, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago and Philadelphia.
We've been testing MovieBeam, and we generally like it. But it has some drawbacks -- most notably its limited selection, which is nowhere near as large as a video store or Netflix, and omits many movies that are newly available on DVD.