Name aside, Crackle delivers great movies

Spoiler alert! Crackle is about the best free movie app I’ve seen on the iPad, and by free I mean you don’t have to pay for the download service or the app. You won’t see what’s hot in theaters or has just been released to DVD and cable. But you will find a better selection of free movie views with better quality and just enough irritants that remind you how little you’re paying. I would still get it.


On Tuesday we looked at Movie Vault, which delivers free public domain movies. Of course, they’re in the public domain because no one renewed the copyright even after the famous It’s a Wonderful Life fiasco. 1 That must mean even the most cynical bean counter knew they would never rake in another real dime for the studios.

Crackle improves on Movie Vault in every way but its name. I feel no shame in saying that. I’ve wracked my brain to figure out how they came up with the name Crackle, and I’m certain that even if they explained the joke to me I would still wonder why they thought anyone would get it.

The idea they got right was to take the movies that are still good enough to make it to mid-day and late night cable and deliver them to the iPad at no extra charge. You will recognize as many titles as you won’t and you will probably want to see a few of them yourself. If you only have basic cable, this will certainly save you the rental fee or the iTunes download.

I mention the iTunes download because each film is linked to the iTunes store so you can purchase it for your own. I’m not saying this was a condition of Apple’s approval for the iPad, but it no doubt helped. You can also recommend the movie to your friends with email, Facebook and Twitter.

The movies available change frequently, but the list is fairly impressive. And they don’t stop with movies; they include shows like Seinfeld and Married With Children. You may even be fooled into thinking they’re offering first run theatrical films, but when you play them, you’ll find yourself watching some of the promotional drek that will end up in the special features section of the DVD release (and, frankly, eighty percent of the time it is drek.)

Film quality is far better than you would expect. Compression algorithms seem to be pretty good and the picture reasonably clear. Here is Uma Thurman’s famous entrance into fame as Venus on the Half Shell in Baron von Munchausen. It wasn’t a speaking role, but she was so gorgeous no one cared.

Playback is extraordinarily good for an app delivering free movie streaming. It can’t compete with iTunes Hi Def video, but the imperfections won’t beat you over the head like they will in other apps. The streaming is fairly fast on a straight play through, loading in the time it takes to watch the commercials.

And there are commercials. It’s the price of no subscription fee. They aren’t as frequent or obnoxious as the commercials interrupting playback on Network web videos, but you can’t avoid them and you can’t skip over them. If you try to scrub ahead to another part of the movie, you’ll have to watch the commercial again.

What’s this? A Windows phone ad being played back on your iPad? The gall. But it is the price of free playback. And you can’t skip over it, or any of the other ads.

Be careful scrubbing, however. The more you scrub back and forth, the more likely playback is to skip, jump and halt. In fact, you can’t always watch while multi-tasking. You can pause without problems resuming, but once or twice I had real problems when I tried to exit an app and then resume playback. On one occasion I simply returned to a blank screen. Other times I had no problems with playback at all. This may have been a problem with the movie files themselves rather than the app.

The ads also seemed to get longer the more movies I previewed.

Crackle’s cataloging system is limited. There are three categories—featured, most popular and recently added. In two of those, you simply have to trust the taste of others as to which title is listed. You can also find them sorted alphabetically, but for some reason there are no genres. If you’re in the mood for a comedy, you’re pretty much forced to recognize it from the title or description. You can also enter a film title in the search field and jump to the exact movie.

It’s pretty easy to find films. You can search alphabetically or use the search field. When you find a movie you want to see, add it to your queue. My queue holds Shiri, which is a superb Korean action film with Kim Yoon Jin before she was stranded in the middle of Lost.

Each film comes with a brief (very brief) description and rarely cast or director info. But if you are intrigued by a title, you can always put it in the queue and add it later.

You use the same account on your iPhone and iPad so your movie list and queue remain the same. I would like to say the service synchs movie locations the way Kindle and iBooks synch books, but they don’t seem to have figured out how yet.

All this being said, the service is free. Remember that. Free. And the app is free. In this case you truly get more than you pay for.

Jenny Manytoes rates Crackle

Jenny Manytoes would purr next to Crackle. There aren’t enough cat movies to suit her—mostly TV episodes and shorts. But she gets bored trying to paw at the controls anyway.


1For those of you who don’t know the story, Republic pictures let the copyright lapse because nobody really thought of this as a good movie, or even a good Frank Capra movie. Since it could now be broadcast without paying royalties, it became a late night Christmas staple, playing at midnight or later when people were too drunk or tired to care that it was a crappy black and white print.
Then bozos like me started watching it every Christmas, along with similar films like Good Sam, and suddenly it was popular again. Now it’s a classic. And Republic can’t collect any royalties from broadcasts, rentals and Blu Ray sales.
The lapse went on to become the subscription version of Merkle’s boner. A perfectly honest mistake that allowed people to scapegoat them forever after.</h5?back


The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat

  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

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About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 4 Stars - Purr, Entertainment, Movies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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