Last week I mentioned that we had tried out the Redbox DVD Vending Machine, so I figured it was only fair that I review the Netflix DVD rental service as well. While Redbox generally serves the impulse renter, Netflix is more for the serious consumer of videos. The reason being is that Redbox has no commitment. You walk up, choose a movie, swipe your card, and you’re done (except for having to return your movie, and even that is optional if you want to pay a hefty price tag for it).
Netflix, meanwhile, requires you to sign up. Now you can try out the service for two weeks – and during that time you can churn through about as many DVDs as you can handle – but you still have to sign up for it, meaning you have a commitment. That isn’t an entirely bad thing, however, as Netflix delivers the videos right to your door (well, the mail carrier delivers them, Netflix just sends them), and you can then drop them in the mail when you are done, shipped right back to Netflix. Postage is included in every plan. It’s actually a sweet system.
Speaking of plans, when you sign up, you have to choose which one fits you best. You can start from the one-DVD-at-a-time plan, where you can only rent two per month (just $4.99), all the way up to the eight-at-a-time plan, with unlimited movies per month (that one will set you back $47.99 per month). You would think that once you select your plan, the hard work is done, and you would be half right, because you have part of it out of the way. But then you need to start filling your queue.
The queue is where the magic happens at Netflix. You have to tell the system what DVDs you want to see, and these movies are stored in the queue. These selections consist of movies and television shows (multi-disc sets, like television seasons, count as multiple DVDs, so keep that in mind), and you can search for selections or browse. Once you start selecting, you will be offered complementary titles to continue filling, and that’s when you find that it’s very, very easy to keep adding to your queue. Within just a few minutes I had nearly a hundred items in the queue.
As you start rating items (individual items and genres), Netflix becomes smarter about knowing what you like, and can begin suggesting things you might like, without you having to even select anything. That’s when the queue grows even larger. At this point, you need to start doing some queue management. Not necessarily to shrink it, because remember – you have a commitment. But to decide what you want to receive next. Depending on your plan (how many discs you can have out at a time), Netflix will ship however many selections you can have out. Once that threshold is reached, they wait for you to return something. Once you do, the next item is shipped. And so on. It’s quite simple, and really a pretty cool idea.
The only real problem is finding time to watch everything – and trying to get through that queue. Obviously your queue should have some items in it, or they won’t be able to ship you anything. This is good for Netflix, but bad for you. I’m sure that there are some people who don’t keep their queue as full as they should, and as a result, Netflix reaps the money for not having to supply anything that month.
What you then need to do is determine the shipping times and how many discs you can process. It’s something of a balancing act, because depending on the DVD you want, you may get it the next day, or it might come from elsewhere. But it seems from our experience that most discs are in stock at most distribution points, and according to the literature at Netflix, they say that the majority of the US can get their items overnight.
We are in something of a sweet spot – we have found that because our mail is delivered early in the morning, we have found that we get the DVD, can watch it in the afternoon, and drop it off by the last pickup, and it gets back to Netflix by the next day, when another DVD is sent out. In that way, we can go through a pretty large number of discs each week – on the three discs at a time plan, it seems to be about 5-6 per week, but of course we have to have time to watch them all. It’s nice, and if you’re in an out-of-the-way location or don’t get your mail delivered early, that might not be possible.
You don’t have the impulse option of Redbox, but we almost always have something to watch – and it keeps things fresh, for just a few dollars per month (an especially low figure if you work it out by DVD).