Netflix has enjoyed considerable success in the US, where most households already pay for cable TV services. In addition, online streaming of TV shows and series is ever increasing, and along the way this company, founded in 1997, has managed to attract an impressive 24 million subscribers. They have pioneered the DVD-by-mail service, allowing subscribers to rent an impressive variety of titles that they can watch in their own time, with no late fees. It’s a concept that has been successfully emulated here in the UK by LOVEFiLM (now owned by Amazon), which at the end of 2011, claimed over 1.5 million members, and over 70,000 titles to choose from.
Up until now, LOVEFiLM has fought off competition from Blockbuster, Tesco Video Rental and Video Island, which they merged with in 2006. But now Netflix has brought both their DVD-by-mail and streaming services to the UK, posing a major threat for LOVEFiLM. But which company offers the best service? Netflix launched by offering a package for £5.99 a month, which allows subscribers to stream their library of online content to televisions, computers or smartphones. LOVEFiLM then responded by announcing a £4.99 a month package for unlimited streaming. It should be noted, however, that this is currently an “introductory” price, and could change.
I signed up to LOVEFiLM several years ago to watch TV series, many of which had recently been released on DVD. It was a great way to watch these shows without spending a small fortune on pricey DVD boxsets, and not miss out on the DVD extras and Easter eggs. Even back then, LOVEFiLM had a wide array of titles, from big blockbusters to really obscure cult films. Few titles were ever unavailable, and those that were could easily be requested and added to the site within roughly a month at the most (judging by my experience).
Today, LOVEFiLM has an enormous catalogue of DVD, Blu-ray and game titles, as does the recently launched Netflix UK—albeit still only a fraction of what their American cousins offer. While this is likely to change considerably in the coming months, LOVEFiLM seems to generally have a better variety, including new releases and older, obscure films that I wasn’t expecting to see.
Compared to its DVD Blu-ray titles and game titles, LOVEFiLM’s “watch online” service isn’t quite as strong, offering roughly 6,000 titles, 4,700 of which are films. This content is available free for subscribers who have chosen one of LOVEFiLM’s unlimited monthly rental plans, and some pay-per-view content is available to all users. The films are mostly limited to major blockbusters released within the past five or so years, but I have found more obscure and older “watch online” movies, including some pretty decent public domain movies (available, of course, for free). Overall, this online content isn’t too bad, but certainly not LOVEFiLM’s main selling point.
If you have a fairly fast connection, Netflix offers up to 1080p full HD video quality. Content can be streamed on both the PC and Mac, the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Apple TV and some Smart TV and Blu-ray players. Currently, LOVEFiLM only offers SD quality, which looks fine on smaller devices, but might look shabby stretched across a stupidly large widescreen TV. It also streams to fewer devices, neglecting Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360 and Apple TV.
Which of the two services is the best overall is largely a case of preference. Unfortunately, there's no real winner as such. Readers who are interested in these services are best taking advantage of both LOVEFiLM and Netflix’s free trial offers before committing to either one, and decide for themselves. Netflix might be £1 more expensive, but on the plus side, it can stream content to a greater variety of devices, in HD, and has a wider selection of TV shows to choose from--particularly online titles. LOVEFiLM, in addition to being cheaper, gives you access to a lot more new releases and also has an enormous catalogue of DVDs.
As a long time LOVEFiLM subscriber, I’m sticking with them for the time being. While Netflix UK looks good, there’s simply not a big enough difference between what they offer to justify switching. Perhaps in the following months, that will all change. And hopefully, with any luck, the competition Netflix poses to LOVEFiLM will result in lower prices for members of both services.