Archive for Rental

Video: To Stream or Not To Stream

That is today’s question.

Apple iTunes

I’m referring to the video streaming services that are available for the home consumer market today: Netflix, CinemaNow, Amazon’s Video on Demand, and Blockbuster. Streaming video, for those unfamiliar, allows you to watch a video while it downloads. This was available to computers originally, and has since moved on to include televisions via game consoles and set-top boxes, and mobile phones most recently through YouTube and MySpace among others.

Netflix, Inc.

I’ve read a lot of articles with a lot of opinions on which is better or best, but it seems clear to me there is no one service that works best for everyone and every viewing platform:

  • Not everyone wants to watch video or TV on their computer or mobile phone
  • Not everyone wants to pay $300 for a phone or a box
  • Not everyone watches videos on a regular monthly basis

As Tim Berry at business planning site says, “Not everyone is your customer.”

What Services are there?

Computer Services

For streaming video to your computer you have many choices: Netflix, Blockbuster, Amazon’s Video on Demand, iTunes, and CinemaNow among others. Some of these, such as iTunes, aren’t true streaming services since the video must be partially or completely downloaded first in order to be watched, but broadband Internet access is sharply reducing the amount of time one must wait for the video to download.

All you need is some video playing software on your computer in order to watch the videos. Some services use popular pre-existing programs such as Apple’s Quicktime (which is included with iTunes) and Microsoft’s Windows Media Player. Some services, such as Amazon’s Video on Demand use their own software. (Amazon has their Unbox Video player software.) Others, such as Google’s YouTube and Hulu from NBC Universal and News Corp. can be watched in your browser.

Some of these services charges have a monthly subscription fee you can use, or you can pay on demand. If you watch videos frequently, they are bound to have a monthly subscription plan that you will find suitable. Otherwise you can expect to pay at least $1.99 or $3.99 per video for on demand service. New releases tend to be harding to get as not all film distributors are willing to make their videos available in this fashion.


Netflix Devices

Netflix Devices

The number of television services are increasing rapidly, but, in my opinion, still has a way to go. Quality is still not dependable from the true streaming services.

For example, Netflix, a perennial favorite, allows you to stream to your computer, and a variety of network media boxes are available which allow you to connect your computer to your television though your home computer network. You also have the option of streaming to a TiVo digital video recorder, a Xbox 360 game console, or a LG BD300 or Samsung’s BD-P2500 or BD-P2550 Blu-ray disc players. The video will download at the highest possible speed with the highest possible picture quality, but if there is a increase in demand the picture quality reduces to maintain the download speed necessary to keep the picture moving. A recent increase in usage by Xbox 360 owners caused such an increase in demand that some experienced picture qualities they considered “unwatchable”.

Take control! Get movies on-demand. Watch instantly on your TV at anytime. Learn more.

As with the computer services mentioned earlier, there is either an on-demand fee or a monthly subscription plus the boxes themselves cost upwards of $150 and $250. TIVO has a monthly subscription of about $8 to $12, and Xbox 360 requires a $8 monthly subscription to their Xbox Live Gold service, or a $49 annual fee.

There are other set-top boxes to look at, too, such as Vudu and Roku.

Special Recommendation

Take a look at the LG BD300 Network Blu-ray Disc Player for accessing Netflix video on demand service. This player sells at Best Buy for $349, but you can get it at Amazon for $290 now.

Mobile Phones



Principal among the mobile phones are the Blackberry and iPhone. These new phones, along with Google G1 phone from T-Mobile, allow you to watch videos from any of the web based services. You laso have the option of storing video files on some of the phones with large storage capability. For example, the iPhone allows you to download videos from the iTunes service. Verizon offers it VCast television service which allows you to watch television programs on your cellphone.

Google G1

Google G1

The phones cost over $179, and then your phone service is about $39 a month (but you already knew that) plus there is a data service fee of $30 per month as well. The data service is needed for either Vcast or Internet access on your Blackberry, G1, or iPhone.

My Issues, Maybe Yours

Many of us watch too much TV, and in many cases too much video. Which is worse?  That all depends on what you watch and who you talk to.  Monthly subscriptions make me feel forced to watch video or feel as though I’m throwing my money away. I was an early adopter of Netflix, among other things, and paid the monthly subscription for a whole year and only watched one video, so that was a $96 rental. Big waste. I’m more of an on-demand video watcher, not an on schedule video watcher. I prefer to be informed over entertained, and when I’m informed I like to be informed honestly and objectively whenever possible.

I also like to have maximum picture quality. I had a laserdisc player, still do, and I have several DVD players. I think some of my laserdiscs look better than some of my DVDs. The engineering quality isn’t always equal. Some manufacturers put a little extra care into the transfer, but streaming video currently has a variable picture quality to account for levels of demand. Some days are better than others. I’m just thinking about digital TV right now. The occasional picture scrambling drives me nuts. We get to look forward to that 24 hours a day when analog TV broadcasts go offline in February 2009.

I hope you’ve found this post informative today. Let me know what you think of streaming video, the different services, and anything related. Or send me a question for a future post.

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Update: Blockbuster Total Access

I’ve updated my Blockbuster Total Access review with a new special two-week free trial in addition to the original $10 off the first month offer. Click the link to read it now.

Blockbuster Online: Total Access (An Appraisal)

Your online movie fans will rave about their NetFlix service, but as a one-time user of Netflix, I get much more satisfaction from my Blockbuster Online Total Access account.

Why do I like my Blockbuster Online plan so much more than NetFlix?

With Blockbuster, I can return a DVD by mail, just as I could with NetFlix, but with Blockbuster I can return a mail rental DVD to my local store and get a free rental from the store for it.

You can’t do that with NetFlix.

Blockbuster has several plans that are very competitive with NetFlix offerings. Several plans offer the option of returning your mail rentals to the store for extra free rentals. Take a look at this chart comparing the plans.

DVDs per delivery BlockBuster Online NetFlix
1 $3.99 / mo. + tax Limit 2 / mo. by mail $1.99 in-store exchange $4.99 / mo Limit 2 / mo. by mail PC download
1 $9.99 / mo. + tax Limit: 2 / mo. by mail 2 free in-store exchanges / mo. $8.99 / mo. Limit: None PC download
2 $16.99 / mo. + tax Limit: None 3 free in-store exchanges / mo. $13.99 / mo. Limit: None PC download
3 $19.99 / mo. + tax Limit: None 5 free in-store exchanges $16.99 / mo. Limit: None PC download

Now, even though the Blockbuster plans cost slightly more, and include taxes, the extra free rentals at the store do quite well to make up for that, in my opinion.

Netflix and the Waiting Game

With Netflix, you have to mail the DVDs back, then wait for NetFlix to get them back, and then wait for NetFlix to mail your next set of DVDs to you. With Blockbuster Online you can return your DVDs to your local Blockbuster and pick up a free rental at the store while you at it. Meanwhile, while your watching that free rental, Blockbuster is already preparing to ship your next mail order delivery.

What About Those PC Downloads?

Netflix fans will cite the free PC downloads, but I don’t know many people, let alone whole families, who look forward to huddling around their desk mounted PC monitor for two hours to watch a movie. Also, without a high speed Internet connection you could drive to Blockbuster and back faster than that download.

Of course, later this year Netflix will be offering downloads to your $300 Xbox 360 with a $5 to $10 per month Xbox Live Gold package. That makes NetFlix convenient and pricey. Maybe some non-gamers will find the convenience to be an incentive to get an Xbox, but I doubt it.

Try Blockbuster Free for Two Weeks, then plans as low as $3.99 per month or you can get $10 off  BLOCKBUSTER Total Access – First month $9.99, Rent Online, Exchange In-Store

You can always cancel your plan after the trial, or downgrade to a lower level plan that suits your movie watching frequency.