How it works
To get started, you sign up for a free account and purchase credits for renting movies (new users who sign up before March 31 get two free movie rental credits). At launch, Zediva offers single credits for $2, or (for a limited time) 10 credits for $10. Rent a movie, and at the company's data center a physical DVD owned by Zediva is placed into a commercial DVD player—one tweaked with some custom hardware and software. You then get control over that DVD. (Right now the services uses standard definition DVDs only, no Blu-ray, but the company plans to carry HD content soon.)
Because you’re watching the actual DVD, Zediva can offer access to all of the language and subtitle tracks it provides, including director’s commentary. Unfortunately, you can’t watch deleted scenes or other extra features. This gives you more flexibility than with a typical streaming rental, but not as much as with an actual DVD.
Each rental gives you up to 14 days of viewing. Each time you rent a movie (the company calls it re-renting every time you check it out during the two-week period), you have control of the DVD for four hours. There's no additional cost for re-renting a movie. The company purchases multiple copies of movies, but if a movie is rented out (all copies are in use by other customers) you’ll have to wait until it’s available again. (If you pause a movie for more than an hour, it's returned to the library to give other users a chance to watch it).
Rather than offering a huge library, the company’s goal is to provide the top 100 movies of the past year. This provides Zediva with a competitive advantage over services such as Netflix that are limited by contractual agreements to when they can offer recently released movies. Although the company did indeed have many movies available to stream before Netflix when I tried out the service—and in fact before Netflix even had some of the DVDs to offer—I didn’t find anything that I couldn’t also rent from Amazon or the iTunes Store. The differences are price (as low as $1 a movie on Zediva versus $4 elsewhere) and rental period (14 days unlimited for Zediva instead of 24 hours once you’ve started, within 30 days for others).
Because Zediva uses Flash to stream movies you’ll need a Web browser with the Flash Player installed. The company also recommends a Mac, Windows PC, or Linux computer with a 2GHz dual core processor or better and 2GB of RAM. You’ll need at least a 1Mbps Internet connection, although the company says a 3Mbps connection will offer superior results. I tested the service from my office on a quad-core 2.66GHz Mac Pro with 6GB of RAM, and 10Mbps Internet connection.
In addition, Zediva says its service works on Android 2.1 or later devices, as well as Google TV hardware. The company is working on HTML5 support, and says in its FAQs that, “we are working hard to add support for iPhone/iPad and game consoles like Xbox, PS3.”