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Review: VU - MTN's Premium Entertainment Network

It seems that South Africa has suddenly been inundated with movie and television network services. MTN's VU, DStv's Box Office, Netflix, ShowMax and Google Play have entered the market with an ever-widening bouquet of entertainment choices, broadcasting capabilities and viewing options. With piracy, torrents and illegal downloads, it seems there's a ready-and-waiting market of untapped South African consumers, who have forgone the traditional bricks-and-mortar video store and cineplex experience for home entertainment on-the-fly.

The big idea (and primary defence) is that most downloaders are willing to pay for quality entertainment, but it needs to be accessible, inexpensive and watchable according to their viewing habits. Naturally, many have followed in the Netflix wake, offering a complete entertainment solution for those happy to pay a subscription for unlimited access to world-class entertainment.

VU - Premium Entertainment Network

One such network, MTN's VU (formerly known as FrontRow), a premium entertainment network in South Africa, has taken this offering to the next level. VU currently offers a full-range of quality movies, TV series, documentaries and music content with free streaming for MTN subscribers. The cellphone network have opened the service across the board and made the idea of switching over to their network even more attractive by allowing subscribers to stream via LTE at no additional cost. The prohibitive costs of working an uncapped data package into the mix, make their flat R99 per month offer a major draw card for first-time users.


Free Content Streaming at 99 Bucks a Month!

It sounds too good to be true, but it isn't. The free streaming service and competitive R99 per month positioning may not continue indefinitely, but right now it's enough for people to get onto MTN's network, even if just to take advantage of this deal. VU is still in its infancy as a brand, but the technology behind the service is up-to-scratch and reliable enough to make this home entertainment package popular and extremely viable for users with smart phones, tablets and laptops - you can register up to 5 devices to your account.

Portable Viewing

VU takes entertainment beyond the home to wherever you are. Logging into the VU app allows you to access content on the bus or while waiting in a queue. The app bookmarks where you left off with your latest episode or movie, allowing you to catch a few minutes whenever you feel the urge. Although it would be nice to be able to edit your play list by deleting half-watched episodes without having to finish them.

The pause during play doesn't really let you pause more than 5 seconds before forcing you to return to the playlist, but a few taps of the screen and you're watching again. The playback is seamless when you're receiving a strong LTE signal and still watchable when you're only getting one bar... although expect to see the buffering logo pop-up on your cellphone or experience reduced quality streaming on your laptop. It's bearable on-the-go, but you'll want to make sure you live in an area with a strong signal for the best results at home.

On-Demand Viewing

What's great is that VU offers a wide selection of TV series, films and new releases and keep up-to-date with series like Starz's Black Sails, which gets added a day after airing in the States. The MaxVU subscription enables you to access their current TV series and older movie selection, while the PremiereVU gives you the option of renting a newer film for R15 or a latest release for R27 using your airtime or credit card. VU even have an as-and-when weekend access option for R39 if you want to steamroll through a TV series or become one with your couch.

VU - Premium Entertainment Network

Entertainment Selection

VU's selection is not comprehensive, but there are enough films, popular TV shows, documentaries and music videos to keep you going, fill in the gaps or try something new and you get to watch them at your own pace. Browsing titles is quite straightforward as categories are subdivided, the details give you series breakdowns and synopses and you've got the option to search the collection too.

The film collection isn't obvious, giving you an array of films you probably haven't had access to in the past, including classics like: The Jerk, The Breakfast Club, The Princess Bride, Rear Window and Bad Santa to more contemporary popular titles like Smokin' Aces, Spider-Man, Serenity and the Scream Trilogy. The TV series collection doesn't have every season of every show, but includes a considerable selection of classic sitcoms like: The Office and Scrubs to more contemporary dramas like Black Sails, Peaky Blinders, Sherlock, Luther, House and Breaking Bad.


One of the main drawbacks is that VU isn't compatible with Chromecast or similar miracasting devices yet. This won't bother you if primarily watch content on your portable deivces, but it will restrict you to watching on your devices if you're used to watching on your HD flat screen. It's probably only a matter of time, before they update their app to allow this, but it's worth noting.

The Bottom Line

While VU isn't perfect, it's an incredibly attractive entertainment solution for people who want entertainment at their fingertips. You can expect the odd playback issue relating to signal, buffering, or an intermittent time out - but it's generally stable enough to keep you glued to your screen. The Chromecast compatibility thing is an inconvenience, but with several other viewing options available, you can easily overlook this and get used to watching on another screen until this becomes a possibility. The monthly subscription pricing is very competitive, the entertainment selection is broad and varied, the portability factor will revolutionise the way you do TV and movies, while free streaming for MTN users is a massive competitive advantage! Subscribe here

Talking Movies with Spling - You the Living, The Dressmaker and God Help the Girl

Spling reviews You the Living, The Dressmaker and God Help the Girl as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

Movie Review: Gods of Egypt

Gods of Egypt is a fantasy adventure from the mind of Alex Proyas. The Egyptian-born director has built a cult sci-fi empire, having directed such films as: Dark City, The Crow, Knowing and I, Robot. The story follows a thief as he joins forces with a mythical god on a quest across Egypt. Unfortunately, while the film brims with potential under Proyas and a star-studded cast, it's a complete misfire.

The ensemble includes: Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Rufus Sewell and Geoffrey Rush. Butler plays the villain, Set, and brings the beleaguered spirit of Frank Miller's 300 to the film. He's typically ferocious and professional, but restrained by the film's limitations. Coster-Waldau seems to be in on the joke as Horus, giving the odd wry smile that makes you wonder if he's thinking what we're thinking. Thwaites is likable as Bek, but easily confused with an agile hobbit. Elodie Yung is elegantly poised, while Rufus Sewell and Geoffrey Rush are at odds and out-of-place.

Gods of Egypt is derailed by a myriad of flaws from story to style. The less-than-convincing mythology is foisted upon us as we descend into a green screen world, which like 10,000 B.C. could've been set in another galaxy. Egyptian gods live among humans and the sheer size of the gods in comparison with the mortals is the first uneasy step in the misadventure as we try not to laugh as knee-high humans clear a path.

Gods of Egypt Movie Review

"I've a feeling we're not in Cairo anymore."

As if dimensions weren't enough to contend with, Proyas has given the gods alter-ego CGI warrior selves, allowing the action to enter a Transformers-style CGI frenzy. The rules governing their vampire-like transformations aren't carved in stone and they move from sword-and-sandal to superhero armour battle mode without touching a button. The progression moves from one unreality to another deeper unreality and this jars with the flow of the visuals and genre.

This fantasy adventure borrows bits-and-pieces from better films, aiming for epic but landing in camp. Almost every scene employs some CGI gimmick and while it keeps the eye playfully involved, it never engages us at a cerebral level. Bad guy, good guy, little guy... the action moves the story forward in a predictable manner, but you're too busy being distracted by the flaws to care for the characters.

Gods of Egypt is like a blend of Clash of the Titans, The Mummy II, Prince of Persia and Immortals. The epic gods-and-mortals world echoes Clash of the Titans as battles and mythology take the spotlight. However, we're less convinced of our heroes than we were of Sam Worthington as Perseus and the CGI is even dodgier. No wonder no one wants their name on the movie posters.

The Mummy II presents itself in the setting and tone, except it doesn't have the fun, charm or chops to match this CGI fantasy adventure sequel, while Prince of Persia is evidenced in the gleaming and fanciful desert adventure. Sadly, the visual decadence and name stars are the only thing going for it... echoing Immortals, but feeling more like a video game.

Gods of Egypt's uneven storytelling, CGI-heavy environment, restrained performances, less-Egyptian-than-Exodus: Gods and Kings casting and unintentional laughs make this epic... an epic failure. At one point, you start wondering if they're going to pull a From Dusk to Dawn stunt to reinvent the film, but it plods along... semi-conscious of how ridiculous it is, but too embarrassed to admit it. If Seth Rogen and his crew had been in it, it may have worked as a stoner comedy, but as it stands you'll find yourself bemused at best as you ponder this shiny mess.

The bottom line: Clunky

Talking Movies with Spling - Hail, Caesar!, Trumbo and While You Weren't Looking

Spling reviews Hail, Caesar!, Trumbo and While You Weren't Looking as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

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