This is the second half of a post comparing the good and the bad of some of today’s online video services.
Today let’s look at Netflix.
Netflix was the first online company to offer DVD rentals via mail. When you start an account you choose the number of movies you can have out at a given time. When you return one the next DVD in your queue is automatically sent to you. This is very handy if you do not have a reliable video rental store nearby. It’s also good for those of you who, like me, hate Blockbuster with every fiber of your being.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, Netflix allows their users to watch movies over the internet. Their Watch Now feature is being rolled out progressively through June 2007. And it is wonderful!
At the top of the page are recommendations for you from their Watch Now titles. Directly below is a list of movies that are in your queue, so you can choose something that you already want to see. Very handy. Below that are other featured movies and collections grouped by genre. And if you are familiar with Netflix, then navigating these pages is a cinch.
I chose my first Watch Now movie from my queue (Reality Bites). After clicking the “Play” button I was prompted to download and install a plug-in for Internet Explorer. (I know; I don’t like it either. But with the IE Tab extension for Firefox this process is actually very painless.) Once the plug-in installed the movie began buffering. Soon, I was watching. The whole process, clicking “Play” to watching, took less than one minute. And half of that time was downloading the plug-in. This is by far the fastest service I’ve tried.
At this point I’d like to mention the player. The movie plays right inside your browser window. The background is black with the movie screen in the center. At the bottom you have a play button, a slider that shows your progress in the movie, a volume control and a “Full Screen” button. When you switch to “Full Screen” mode it changes without missing a beat. Your minimal (but sufficient) control bar stays in the center and promptly hides itself once you stop moving your mouse. You can start and stop the movie with just a mouse click or by using the space-bar. It really could not be any easier.
I’m very happy with the Netflix experience. I expect I’ll push the envelope each month with my allocated number of movies. More on that below.
Comparison: How do all of these services rate when compared to each other?
Vongo: $9.99 per month for unlimited downloads.
CinemaNow: pay per movie. Rentals range from $0.49 to $3.99. Purchases typically run $9.99 to $19.99
Netflix: included in the price of your subscription. Your “allowance” corresponds to your subscription price. I pay $17.99 per moth so I can watch 18 hours of movies every month. Subscriptions range from $4.99 to $47.99. They’ve got a plan for everybody.
Winner: Netflix wins because it doesn’t cost me anything extra. I already have a subscription.
Vongo: over 2000 titles. These are mostly what I would consider “backlist” titles. They tend not to be big hits. They do have some newer titles but those are usually pay-per-view. Pay-per-view movies are not included in the monthly subscription.
CinemaNow: brand new movies and some backlist. You can watch quite a few new movies on the same day they release on DVD. However, these popular movies seem to only be available for a short time.
Netflix: mostly backlist titles. I don’t think they have new release movies at all. According to Engadget, they have about 1,ooo titles available now but hope to increase to 5,000 later this year.
Winner: CinemaNow wins this one because they have the latest and greatest available for download now.
Ease of Use
Vongo: not easy at all. You have to download their software and open an account (with a credit card) just to view their selection. When you want to watch a movie, it usually takes about 5 minutes of buffering before you can start viewing.
CinemaNow: fairly easy with some minor inconveniences. You need to use Internet Explorer with CinemaNow’s plug-in. You must enable cookies for the site otherwise you risk losing the movies you paid for. Once you choose a movie you have to pay for it. They require your password at this point. Then, you have to wait about 5 minutes while the movie buffers.
Netflix: very easy. Again, you’ll need Internet Explorer and a plug-in. However, once you find the movie you want it’s just one click to start it. This time you only need to wait 30-60 seconds for the movie to start.
Winner: Netflix by a landslide. They cut out unnecessary steps and shortened the wait time dramatically.
Vongo: very portable. You can watch your downloaded movies on multiple devices including laptops and some Windows compatible portable media players.
CinemaNow: portable. Most movies you purchase can be viewed on up to 3 devices. This includes Windows PC’s and the Archos 604 portable device (flash site).
Netflix: kind of portable. Netflix movies are not downloads. So, you can’t bring them with you. But, I suppose you could watch them on any computer that meets the specifications and has a high-speed internet connection.
Winner: Vongo wins because it provides you with more options.
Netflix is the champion! I choose Netflix because the price is right and the service is great. Vongo is too restrictive. CinemaNow is too pricey. However, even though I’ll primarily use Netflix, I will buy from CinemaNow when there is a new movie that I’d really like to download. Plus, they usually have coupons on Tuesdays.
Do you have any experience with these companies?