Sunday, July 17, 2016

Reelmonk - a Monk I have been waiting for.

Ever since I moved to US one thing which always made me disappointed was the lack of good quality and genuine resources to watch movies from our land. I hate piracy, I don't like to search websites for free pirated movie uploads. I feel sad for producers and studios when their movies are illegally uploaded to these sites and people watch them without any shame. I admit I have done this couple of times, but I only did so when I wanted to watch some particular titles desperately for some reason and there was no other way around. Other than the lack of content one another big factor is the lack of Quality. Yes, Quality is much more important than quantity. This piracy has made quality the least considerable one. People got used to watch sub-par prints online and they are happy with it. We do not care how the director really wanted to present the scenes with its clarity, colors, contrast, dynamic range and vividness. We do not care how the music director wants the audience hear the voices and each instrument playing its part with its depth and soundstage. We are just used to it. We just want to see it or listen to it. Take my word; there is a big difference in watching a movie or listening to a song in good quality versus below average quality. You will feel it when you see it.

Here comes a new kid in the block. Actually not in the block of what we have there already, but a new kid and a new block in fact. The I first heard about it when one of my friends, who is a good film critic and an amazing writer (thanks to Jigish), re-posted the article in FB about the “Kuttippuram Palam” movie’s online release in Reelmonk. Once I reached home that evening after work, this was my main job, to setup Reelmonk. I have not connected my HTPC to my AVR in a while since all of my shows with Multi Channel sound can be watched with my TV itself, Blu Ray player or Cable box. I use my HTPC usually for two channel music whether it is files or streaming and of course for browsing web as well as all sort of music through web. I connected the DP to HDMI cable between my PC and AVR, configured the AVR again as my 5.1 sound device and tested it. Finally opened the Chrome and opened the site.

A screenshot from Kuttippuram Palam movie

Reelmonk is a site and an app. In the site you can register and buy credits. You need to download and install the player app. Once you open the site you can see movies listed. When you buy a movie, you spend your credits and you get a code in your registered mobile phone. Once you apply the code, you can start downloading and (simultaneously) playing the movie in the app. The process is very easy and user friendly. My international card was accepted instantly and I was able to buy credits in few seconds and buy my first movie. The only problem I faced initially was the resolution and scaling. But it was my fault actually (I use a 4K UHD TV and many apps need custom scaling to fit in). As soon as I hit the play button, it started the stream flawlessly. What a relief! After so many years of waiting I am watching a Malayalam movie online, streaming, legally, in good quality from a team of enthusiasts of our own land! The few movies I have watched so far hold really good picture and audio quality. True HD looks like True HD. Audio is smooth and flawless. More than anything you are watching a fully legal copy!

A screenshot of site and app
The player app is very simple and minimalistic. I haven’t experienced any major problems with the player during playback. Beware when you drag the slider for fast forward or rewind as it can get jerky. But it catches up soon. As far as what I would like to see in the player is the support for true surround formats. At this point I am not sure whether it is the player app or the movie files itself which doesn’t support the true Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1 or any higher formats, all I can listen is the Dolby Prologic or PL II which just upmixes  5.1 channels from the two channel cues. It is still not bad, you can listen to all 5.1 speakers and a good AVR can span the appropriate audio to surround / center with proper depth. But I would like a built in control panel for the app where I can tweak the Audio filters and settings and use the full capabilities of surround formats which is supported by your Hardware, like MPC-HC. I also would envision more higher resolution formats coming in the future. I am not trying to compare it with some other giants like Amazon or Netflix at this point. But the Reelmonk looks promising for a startup service and has the right features as a base layer now from which it can be expanded to something great.

A screenshot from Aadupuliyattam movie

Reelmonk needs the files in the same folder where you configure the path in the player. Also, you will find that its just a 'file' without any extension. Reelmonk have some custom encoding mechanism to make the file only readable in Reelmonk player, from the same folder and with in the same PC and user credentials. It is to prevent copying and piracy. But you can backup the files to your external storage when you have more movies in the default location. You can always copy them back and play them again whenever you want. Good job there! I have chatted with couple of Reelmonk support guys. They are very friendly and enthusiastic. They have helped me with so many questions. Please go to the site, and take a look. I am sure you will not be disappointed, but rather would be amazed to see what is there and how cool it is!

Setup used for review:
TV – Samsung 55JS8500 55” SUHD 4K HDR TV.
PC – Dell Precision Custom PC with i7 and Nvidia GeForce 950 Graphics with JRiver Media Server.
4K Blu-Ray – Oppo UDP-203 UHD/HDR Disc Player, CD/SACD – Denon 1940CI Disc Player.
DAC – Teac UD-301 DSD DAC. 
AVR – Marantz SR6011 Dolby Atmos/ DTS:x  11.2 channels in 5.2.4 setup.
Amp – Rogue Audio Sphinx V2 Integrated Amp w/ Northern Electric Tubes for fronts/Music.
Tower Speakers – Monitor Audio Silver 6.
Center Speaker– Monitor Audio SLCR, Surround Speakers – NHT SuperZero Book Shelf Speakers.
Height channel Speakers - PSB Imagine XA x 4 Atmos modules.
Subwoofers – Outlaw Audio LFM-1 and SVS Sound SB-1000.
Audioquest, Mogami and Bluejean cables.

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