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On the 9th of January something changed in the UK. Netflix, the American on demand streaming company had hit our shores with an unlimited streaming only service for £5.99 a month. Before January the closest us Brits had to Netflix was the Amazon owned company LOVEFiLM that delivers both a streaming and a rental by post service. An all out war has begun between the two companies and I’m here to work out who deserves your hard earned cash.
The first question any possible customer should ask before putting their money on the table is “what can I watch?”
Netflix has over 10,000 titles in its catalogue with a large focus on TV shows from both the UK and USA: From cult classic like Firefly, Weeds, Twin Peaks and The Mighty Boosh, to mainstream titles such as Doctor Who, South Park, 24, Breaking Bad, and Shameless. However its film library can be lacking at times, a majority of films are back catalogue releases (such as Kill Bill, 3:10 To Yuma and There Will Be Blood) with only a handful of new releases in its library (The Mechanic, The Expendables and Drive Angry) if you’re expecting to see the latest theatrical releases then you may be disappointed. However for a TV fanatic like myself, what Netflix lacks in films is made up in its sheer mass of Television content. It’s not the most ideal set up right now but I’m sure I’ll be kept amused with its TV library until more films are added.
With an estimated 7000 titles in its library, LOVEFiLM works in quite the opposite manner to Netflix. Until recently LOVEFiLM dealt primarily in streaming films with little attention to Television. You will find a much wider selection of recent films spanning from The Dark Knight, The Hangover and Source Code being free to play with a subscribed package, alongside a separate service LOVEFiLM Box Office where you can digitally rent new and old movies for 48 hours via a computer for the additional price of £2.49-£3.49 (much like the the service provided by Sky Box Office, iTunes or BT Vision). In recent weeks LOVEFiLM upped its game towards Television to help fight off competition, ABC TV On Demand was announced bringing the likes of Lost and No Ordinary Family to the site while content from BBC, ITV and Channel 4 were also introduces. A decent effort to build on their TV catalogue but they have a long way before they catch up with their competition.
However be warned, LOVEFiLM have a very strange way of working when it comes to streaming content. Selected films and TV shows are only available via streaming on a computer. At the time of writing, old and newly added content such as Life On Mars, Adult Swim and The Prisoner are not available via LOVEFiLM ready devices and only playable via a PC browser (or vice versa, The Pirates Of The Caribbean is viewable through a PS3 but not on a PC). I was told via a customer service operator that certain shows are only available via a web player due to copyright reasons. A member of LOVEFiLM’s PR team recently told me via email that ”everything in our subscription streaming catalogue will be available on every device.” I feel this is rather vague, simply promising that content will be added at an undisclosed time in the future isn’t fixing the problem for me right-now. It is nice to know that LOVEFiLM are currently in the process of encoding playback of these missing films and shows from their library to finally reach all possible devices available, however releasing content in phases will only leave the customer waiting longer. Content should be playable on all devices the day they are brought online. With Netflix if a programme is in their library, then it is viewable on all of their devices from the day they are uploaded. Instant, fair and simple.
Both companies aren’t perfect; Netflix UK can also come under fire when you compare our English library to its American counterpart, a service that almost houses every film and programme under the sun at this point. When can we expect to receive a service of that magnitude? This is a real one that comes down to personal preference. If you’re a TV man with a mixture of film, Netflix is for you. If you’re primarily interested in watching more recent films then you may be more comfortable with LOVEFiLM.
Upon entering the world of Blu-Ray’s a year ago I’ve become a bit of a quality nut when watching movies and image clarity plays a big part of my viewing experience. Every time I have encountered an on demand service in recent months and wanted to put its quality of streaming to the test I’ve done one thing. I’ve Watched Tron.
Let me elaborate, last year I acquired a copy of the original Tron on Blu-Ray and was honestly blown away at the level of visual clarity in the HD conversion of a film that’s now thirty years old, if an internet steam can come anywhere close to that quality then it’s doing something right. It quickly became the inaugural test drive for any and every streaming service. I played a specific scene through on both Netflix & LOVEFiLM and compared the level of quality. (Click image for HQ)
I think the winner is pretty clear. Netflix offer 720p and 1080p HD streaming with surround sound on a high number of their films (and a handful of their TV shows depending on the age) in their original aspect ratio, while LOVEFiLM shockingly crop a majority of their films and struggle to keep up with even DVD quality. If you’re a quality nut like myself there’s no real competition between the two. For a company as large and successful as LOVEFiLM, I really expected a higher level of quality than this. Hopefully the presence of Netflix will make them up their game ASAP.
Of course LOVEFiLM has a larger focus on renting physical DVD’s/Blu Rays via a postal services, something Netflix will not be venturing into in the UK anytime soon. After discovering LOVEFiLM’s rather questionable instant streaming collection, I began using the Disc postal service far more frequently. With my current package of Unlimited discs rentals per month (with a limit of two discs in my possession at any one time), I began putting it to the test and I quickly built up a respectable rental list. The set up is easy and accessible when organising the priority of your rentals and reserving upcoming releases. There are times where I would receive a new disc 2-3 days after returning the previous disc, however there are other times where the powers that be decided to send me a low priority film on my list when I had two films sitting comfortably as high priority. It’s a satisfying service when you want a little more out of your movie (e.g. special features) but not one without problems.
If you’re only interested in subscribing to instant streaming services then you need to know what devices you can watch on. Both companies can be accessed through a variety of streaming ready devices: LOVEFiLM has struck partnerships with Samsung, Sony and LG to make their TV and Blu-Ray Players compatible with their service while offering playback on Set top box’s, games consoles (Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3) and via the iPad (however strangely no playback function for the iPhone). While Netflix has less support from electronic companies (with only Samsung supplying compatible HDTV’s and LG with Home Theatre Systems), they make up for it with a far stronger emphasis on playback via Games Consoles (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 AND the Wii), Mobile Devices & Tablets (iPhone, iPad, and Android devices all have unlimited playback with HQ Streaming).
Some customers may prefer watching certain films via disc, hell I’m one of them at times, especially if you have interested in watching special features (something unavailable on a streaming service and I wouldn’t expect them to supply it). But that 2-7 day wait for a new film is becoming more unbearable when I can push a button on my remote and within thirty seconds, I’ll have a film up and running on my screen. This one really falls down to personal preference, but with the rise in digital streaming and boarder online libraries I’m expecting to see a drastic drop in the demand for renting by post services over the next few years.
Value For Money
Looking back over the past few months I’ve spent with instant streaming it becomes apparent just how much stuff I’ve watched (kudos to both companies for having a very clear and detailed list of my playback history). I’ve tallied up everything I’ve watched through both companies since day one with them and I was quite surprised at the results. Throughout a span of two months with LOVEFiLM I have viewed 26 Hours of content and rented 7 Blu-Ray’s. Throughout the span of fifteen days with Netflix I have watched over 44 Hours of content. Wow. I’m trying to be as fair and unbiased as possible but this only emphasises just how much more online content Netflix delivers when compared to LOVEFiLM.
If you’re only interested in instant streaming service packages and you look at each companies prices back to back (LOVEFiLM at £4.99 and Netflix at £5.99), you may be tempted to side with LOVEFiLM. But I can’t stress enough how much more that extra £1 will get you: with a far larger library of content (especially in television and no added costs from additional rental charges), HD streaming and a much broader selection of devices to watch from I’ve fallen in love with Netflix.
If you are a quality nut and watch your fair share of TV along with your films then Netflix will get you countless hours of viewing for days on end. If you’re more interested in recent films at a cheaper price but at the price of lower streaming quality then you may be more comfortable with LOVEFiLM.
When I joined LOVEFiLM I was pretty disappointed with the line up I had to work with. Sure it has a nice selection of recent films such as The Dark Knight and The Hangover, but try and name me a film fanatic who would use this service and not already own a copy of those films on Blu-Ray (no, saying your Nan doesn’t count). I would be more tempted in the service if HD streaming was available, as watching The Dark Knight in a sub par 480p resolution, when my Blu-Ray is sitting comfortably on my shelf really doesn’t appeal to me.
One of video on demands greatest strengths should be bringing you your favourite films and TV shows instantly, while introducing you to shows and films you may have missed at the same time. Netflix’s recommendation system is a fantastic concept. For every film or show you watch it will recommend at least ten more straight after, that’s how to keep the public watching.
The ability to instantly play that content on countless devices throughout your home, especially your television should also be noted and is a must for a service like this to survive. LOVEFiLM’s decision to not allow access to some of their strongest content through device streaming is a very poor decision and the additional rental charges to stream back catalogue movies baffles me to this day.
I’ll admit I’m far more likely to stick on a TV show over a film on most occasions and the fact that LOVEFiLM still hold back access to a majority of their “newly added” TV shows won’t help them get on my good side anytime soon. I had exhausted LOVEFiLM’s streaming catalogue within a month and with very little new content being added I question how long I’ll be sticking around for.
I won’t deny that the wealth of a companies catalogue is in the eye of the beholder and I’m certain that some people will get much more enjoyment with LOVEFiLM than Netflix, however I can’t say I’m one of them. The amount of time I’ve logged with each company over the past few months says it better than I ever could.
With the arrival of Netflix, LOVEFiLM moved things up a gear and has begun fighting back. At the end of the day these companies will battle to drive down prices and fight for new content, leaving the customer the true winner. Video on demand is finally taking up firm ground in the UK and I can’t wait to see my digital catalogue grow and becomes more vibrant than ever.