Netflix is an online movie rental service that I'm sure you've heard of. But should you try it? Read on to see if this service is right for you.
How it works: The overall concept is pretty simple. You start an online account, entering personal data such as your name, e-mail address, and credit card information.
After that, you browse the titles of movies you want to see and add them to a list (or QUEUE). You can either watch titles online (streamed to your computer, XBOX-360, or other Netflix-enabled viewing device) or via a DVD that is emailed to you.
The DVD-mailing portion of the service is now known as Qwikster.
If you opt for the Qwikster deal, DVD copies of the movies you've selected normally arrive within one business day. When you're done watching the movie, you send mail it back, and once they receive it (again, after one business day), they'll send the next movie in your queue.
As mentioned before, you can also watch certain movies online, streamed directly on your home computer via the Netflix website. Game consoles such as the XBOX-360 also have this feature. Just be sure you have a fast enough internet connection (like one that's faster than dial-up).
COST (in USD) - keep in mind that this is subject to change once Qwikster comes into being:
1 DVD at-a-time: $7.99. This option allows you to rent as many movies as you want per month, but you can only keep one at home at a time. To get your money's worth you'll probably be spending a decent amount of time going to and from your mailbox. Worth it? You make the call. Again, if you're renting the the entire season of 24 or Lost, those frequent runs to and from the mailbox might make you wonder if Netflix is doubling as a weight-loss plan.
There's also a Streaming Only option (no DVDs) that also costs $7.99. The company's selection of movies available for streaming is relatively strong (and will likely increase in the future).
An option to have 1 DVD at-a-time (plus unlimited online viewing) will run you $15.98. This is a controversial move by Netflix, since this plan used to cost just $9.99.
2 DVDs at-a-time (no streaming): $11.99
2 DVDs at-a-time (plus unlimited online viewing): $19.98 per month. This option is good if you're an avid movie watcher. Yes, it's a little pricier, and it's worth it only if you really make the effort to watch at least 4 or more movies every month. If that's the case, you might as well start your own website where you review movies. But what kind of a loser has time for that?
3 DVDs at-a-time (plus unlimited online viewing): $23.98. If you think about it, that's a lot of time to spend watching movies. To get your money's worth, you may find yourself organizing your entire schedule (meals, laundry, work, family, dog-walking, homework, lawn-mowing, snow-blowing, napping, etc) around your Netflix time. Worth it? Again, you make the call.
4 DVDs at-a-time (plus unlimited online viewing): $29.98. You are a moving watching freak. Good for you. Thanks for keeping Netflix alive during these economic hard times. How do you find time to shower? Never mind. I don't want to know.
Additional notes: The prices above do not include taxes. Once you sign up, you get a free 2-week trial. If you don't like it, you can cancel any time.
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The Good: Netflix is an ingenious and very simple method for renting DVDs. With gas prices fluctuating these days, cutting out trips to the video store may add up to some decent savings after a while. And now, you can get movies streamed directly to your computer or TV!
The movies ship free, there are no late fees, and the selection is pretty strong. They've got the latest Hollywood blockbuster as well as a good collection of foreign films. Before renting, you can read customer reviews of movies, and add your own. There's also an online shop where you can buy previously viewed DVDs.
The interface if the website is very easy to use, and switching plans is very simple too. You have the flexibility of changing your queue any time, and you can easily add and remove film titles instantly. Cancellation of the service is simple, and you have the added flexibility of suspending your account for specific periods of time.
Every so often, you'll also get special offers in the mail, such as referral discounts, coupons, etc.
The Bad: Sometimes I get a little nervous about the paper envelopes that the DVDs arrive in, and wonder if they're really adequate enough to protect the disc. But for the most part, I haven't had much trouble with damaged discs although I've gotten a few damaged ones in the past. The company is pretty good about taking care of that issue once you let them know.
The written summaries on some movies (particularly foreign films) aren't 100% accurate, and some harder-to-find titles may take an additional day to reach you.
The latest price hikes and changes in service have understandably upset customers, including myself. With other services like Hulu+ and Amazon.com also offering cheap online rentals and streaming services, there are alternatives to choose from.
Final verdict: Overall, I think this is a great, convenient service for DVD rentals that offer a lot of flexibility for the customer.
The streaming feature is an added convenience as well. This, of course, depends on the quality of your internet connection (and assuming that the recent price increases haven't annoyed you too much).
As a film reviewer who has to watch movies quite often, Netflix has been very reliable and friendly (I only endorse products that I've actually used). And on a stormy afternoon, going to your mailbox will always beat going to the video store.
However, other competing services are coming into existence, and Netflix's supremacy is by no means guaranteed. But that's good news for the consumer, since more choices in the marketplace are never a bad thing.
It remains to be seen if Netflix (or Qwikster, or whatever) can retain their customer base. As of mid 2011, I've actually cancelled my account and now view films through Amazon.com's streaming service.
Looking forward, I believe Netflix has a good chance of moving past its most recent stumbling block and appealing to a large group of new users. But with the gradual phasing out of DVDs and rise of streaming options, there will certainly be stiff competition on the horizon.
If you're interested in trying out this service, click on the button below or on any banner that's seen this site: