It has been a few weeks since I first mentioned my plans to review the Netflix and Blockbuster rental services. As promised, here is the first of those reviews detailing my experience with Netflix’s free two week trial. So let’s see how things went…
Netflix quotes an average 3 day turnaround on their shipping, but due to multiple shipping centers throughout the country it is usually quicker than that. They also offer the ability to add movies to a “Watch Instantly” queue and stream your selections straight to your computer, gaming console, and even some televisions. In order to stream to your computer, you must have Microsoft’s Silverlight installed on your windows machine. They can also stream to a mac. However, they don’t yet support Linux machines nor even mention any intention too. Theoretically, it may be possible to spoof this on Linux with the moonlight project’s plugin and Firefox’s “User Agent Switcher” extension.
As for performance and quality, streaming to a PC works well. The HD movies are 720p streams encoded with VC1AP at 2600kbps and 3800kbps in 24 or 30 frames per second depending on the source material. As of 2008, the audio is a WMA encoded stereo stream. The lower resolution and bit rates are to accommodate lower end broadband connections.
Streaming to the Playstation 3 currently requires a physical disc to be inserted and loaded to access your Netflix Instant Queue. I placed an order for the PS3 streaming disc on Wednesday evening and it was in my mailbox on Friday. You pop the disc in like any other movie and it pops up an activation link and a URL. It took less than two minutes to navigate to the Netflix URL and enter the activation code. Once it updates and links back home, your “Watch Instantly” queue pops up. You can then browse through your queue and select any of the movies or TV shows to start streaming them instantly to your TV. Everything appears to have worked fine aside from a major exception, but I don’t believe that was Netflix’s fault entirely.
The issue mentioned above is that with both the PS3 Instant Streaming and the Netflix streaming through the Sony Bravia Internet Link, movies will load and play for only a few seconds and then hang. With the Bravia Link, the movies get no more than 20 or 30 seconds into the movie before it just stops and freezes. It doesn’t appear to be buffering, doesn’t stutter, doesn’t become unresponsive or go blank. The movie just freezes at whatever frame it gets to and the only option is to “return” out of the movie and back to the Netflix queue.
On the PS3’s Instant Streaming it is a little better, but not much. Once you select your movie from the queue, it begins to stream and similarly gets only about 20 to 30 seconds into the movie before it begins to stutter and hang. Like with the Bravia Link, the movie will freeze or hang in the same manner. However, it will at least try to continue playing and mostly just stutter.
Both of these situations make watching Netflix offerings unbearable and, well, just not possible. However, I don’t believe the blame is entirely on Netflix for this one. I think my ISP (Time Warner) is more at fault this time. Although they would never admit to doing so, it seems as if they have decided to throttle my bandwidth for fully utilizing what I pay for. And of course you can’t verify this through a speed test since they have started using their “SpeedBooster” technology to cheat those. For those that don’t know, SpeedBooster bumps the first 10MB of any download to a speed of up to 20Mbps. So any speed test would fall under that 10MB and give highly unreliable results.
Netflix has been in this business for a number of years now and has continued to grow their collection of available movies on both DVD and Blu-Ray. They claim to offer over 100,00 choices on DVD (including both movies and TV episodes) and over 17,000 of them available for instant streaming. As of March 2009, Netflix had “over 1,300” titles available on blu-ray and continuing to add to that.
The sad part, though, is that access to the blu-ray titles is NOT included in their regular monthly pricing plans. Blu-ray access is an upgrade option that must be added to your account at an additional monthly fee. So if you want to watch the good high definition versions on your blu-ray player, you have to pay an extra $2 a month. Given their currently limited selection of blu-ray titles, this is extra fee is rather unwarranted.
As for their available plans, they come are tiered based on the number of discs you want to be able to have out at a time. The “unlimited” plans range from $8.99 to $16.99 a month depending on whether you want 1, 2, or 3 discs out at a time. They all allow you to exchange discs as many times as you want throughout the month and include unlimited “watch instantly” streaming. There is also a “Limited Plan” for $4.99 a month that allows you to have one disc out at a time and only two per month. The limited plan only allows for two hours of instant streaming online though.
So for the most part, the Netflix online rental experience was decent, but a little lacking. Their mailing side of the house is rather well defined by now and works fairly hassle free. They ship your movies, you watch them and ship them, then they ship your next ones out to you. Wait times are longer than going down to a brick and mortar video store, but not that bad at an acceptable 2-3 days. Their instant streaming service is still lacking though and has some kinks to work out. If we can ever get the broadband providers to get over their greed and put some of their profits into improving their services to provide consumers with higher quality broadband service at lower, more reasonable prices, then services like Netflix can begin increasing the quality of their streams so that we may one day have a full 1080p movie streamed right to our television over the interwebs. Once Netflix irons out some of the bumps along the road of streaming to gaming consoles and TV’s, I think that their Instant Streaming service is where they have the most opportunity to grow and shine. Overall, I enjoyed the free 2-week trial and the freedom or flexibility of the instant streaming but I do not think I will be continuing my membership until some of those mentioned issues with the streaming are resolved and the ridiculous additional fee for blu-ray is removed.
If you have tried or currently use Netflix, please leave me a comment letting me know your thoughts on some of the issues I pointed out above as well as on their service overall.
UPDATE: The Instant Streaming issue has been resolved. It was an issue with my gateway antivirus causing problems by disabling HTTP resumes. Streaming services, such as Netflix, use HTTP resumes to enable the ability to fast forward and rewind throughout the video. Re-enabling HTTP resumes in the gateway antivirus allowed the Netflix streaming to work properly again now. I am now happily streaming to both my Bravia Link on my TV and my PS3. However, Netflix’s selection available for streaming is still lacking as far as new releases go.
The number of DVDs you rent depends on a number of factors, including how often you watch and return each of your DVDs and which plan you have selected.For example, on the $13.99 a month Unlimited plan, you can have 2 DVDs out at-a-time. You can exchange each of those DVDs for other DVDs from your movie list (Queue) as often as you want. Return each DVD in its individual, pre-paid envelope to get the next available DVD from your Queue. On this plan, you can also instantly watch movies (some new releases) & TV episodes (including current season), streamed instantly over the Internet, right on your TV via a Netflix ready device. In addition, you can watch instantly online on your PC or Mac.
Our 100 shipping points across the United States allow us to provide more than 97% of our members with delivery within about one business day following shipment.
Your free trial will last for 2 weeks. Click here to learn more about the free trial offer details.
Absolutely. You can easily cancel your membership anytime, online, 24 hours a day. There are no cancellation fees. To avoid being charged after your trial, simply cancel your account before the trial ends. However, there are no refunds for partial months.
Yes, you can if you are on Unlimited plan and own a Netflix ready device that is connected to the Internet. With an Internet connected Netflix ready device, you can instantly watch movies (some new releases) & TV episodes (including current season) right on your TV – as often as you want, anytime you want. The ability to do this is included with your membership for no additional monthly fee and doesn’t impact the number of DVDs you get by mail.
Yes, you can. The ability to instantly watch movies (some new releases) & TV episodes (including current season) streamed from Netflix to your PC or Mac is included with all plans. Choose from over 17,000 movies & TV episodes. With an Unlimited plan, you can watch as often as you want, anytime you want. This is included with your membership for no additional monthly fee and doesn’t impact the number of DVDs you get by mail.
- Windows XP requirements: Service Pack 2 or higher or Windows Vista; Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher or Firefox 2 or higher; 1.2 GHz processor; 512 MB RAM.
- Mac OS X requirements: an Intel-based Mac with OS 10.4.8 or later; Safari 3 or higher; Firefox 2 or higher; 1 GB RAM.
Starz Play service choices are incremental to the continually growing Netflix library available to watch instantly. Starz Play includes approximately 1,000 movies, Original Series, and other entertainment. These choices include new releases from major Hollywood studios such as Walt Disney Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Overture Films, Revolution Studios, Miramax Films, Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Pixar, TriStar, Screen Gems, Sony Classics and Warren Miller Films. Select first-run theatrical films The Weinstein Company, IFC and Yari Film Group are also available. Starz Play also supplies access to a streaming version of the live Starz TV channel on all unlimited plans at no additional cost.While access to instantly watch choices from the Starz Play service is included with all Unlimited plans, we do have a plan that limits what is available to watch to Starz Play service choices only. While this plan does not have any DVDs, it does offer unlimited streaming of these choices to your PC or Mac only for $7.99 a month. This plan does not have a free trial. To sign-up for this plan, please click here.
- 1 DVD out at-a-time (exchange each DVD as often as you want)
– additional $2 a month
- 2 DVDs out at-a-time (exchange each DVD as often as you want)
– additional $3 a month
- 3 DVDs out at-a-time (exchange each DVD as often as you want)
– additional $4 a month
- 1 DVD out at-a-time (limit 2 per month)
– additional $1 a month