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Netflix offers a movie streaming service, so why aren't we reviewing it alongside the others?
Netflix is legitimately awesome. For a few bucks a month, you get all the movies you want delivered straight to your door, and if you’re committed to a monthly subscription plan costing $9 or more, you get access to Netflix’s streaming service at no additional cost. This gives you instant access to hundreds of movies, ranging from direct-to-DVD releases such as Superman: Doomsday to cult classics like A Boy and His Dog.
But the service isn’t perfect. Netflix relies on WMV, so its video quality suffers many of the same problems as the other WMV-based services we tested, namely, soft edges and resolution limited to 640x480. The service is included with the company’s existing disc-rental subscription plans, so they don’t offer newly released feature films (and they’re contractually barred from streaming any older films that Vongo has the rights to).
You can use the freeware program MyNetFlix (the author accepts donations) to browse Netflix’s offerings within Windows Media Center, and the program will even allow you to stream movies from another PC on your network using a Media Center Extender, but the software is Vista only. Netflix says it plans to build a set-top box in partnership with LG Electronics, but that announcement was way back during CES in January—the hardware is looking pretty vaporous right now.
Still, the convenience of having access to a large online catalog of back content, while simultaneously getting new releases on DVD—or even Blu-ray for the same price—renders Netflix a compelling solution in our eyes, even if you do have to wait for snail mail.
Divx was supposed to change the movie rental scene—what happened?
In 1998, Circuit City and the Hollywood law firm of Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca and Fischer launched the Digital Video Express (Divx) format, a direct competitor to DVD. The idea was that you would rent movies on disposable discs that gave you 48 hours of viewing time once you started watching the movie (you also had to buy a Divx player and plug it into a phone jack). If you wanted to watch the movie beyond the 48 hours, you could extend the viewing time for another rental fee or permanently unlock the movie by buying it.
Divx ultimately failed due to consumer backlash: Environmentally conscious folks didn’t like the idea of disposable DVDs clogging up landfills, and movie buffs didn’t like the fact that Divx discs lacked the extra features—commentaries and “making of” segments—that they’d come to enjoy on DVDs.
The people had spoken. By mid-1999, Divx backers cancelled support for the format, destroyed all the unsold media, and prepared plans to discontinue the service entirely. When you think about it, the only difference between today’s downloadable movie rentals and yesterday’s Divx is the disposable disc—and 24 extra hours of viewing time.
|Movie Download Service Comparison Chart|
|Amazon Unbox||BitTorrent||CinemaNow||iTunes||Movielink||Vongo||Vudu||Xbox Live Market-
|Business Model||Rent or Buy||Rent or Buy||Rent, Buy, or Subscription||Rent or Buy||Rent or Buy||Subscription and Rent||Rent or Buy||Rent|
|Video-Encode Format||WMV||WMV||WMV||MPEG-4, H.264||WMV||WMV||MPEG-4||WMV|
|Monthly Subscription Price||N/A||N/A||$8 to $30 (optional)||N/A||N/A||$10||N/A||N/A|
|Price Per Movie Rental||$4||$3 to $4||$2 to $4||$3 to $5||$3 to $4||$1 to $4 (if not included in subscription)||$3 to $6||$3 to $6|
|TV Episode Purchase Price||$2||$2||$2||$2||$2||$2||$2||$2|
|Movie Purchase Price||$10 to $15||$10 to $20||$9 to $20||$10 to $15||$8 to $20||N/A||$10 to $20||N/A|
|Hardware Required||PC or TiVo||PC||PC||Apple TV||PC||PC||Vudu Movie Box||Xbox 360 w/ hard drive|
|Media Center Extender Compatible?||No||yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Resolutions Supported||480p||Up to 1080p||480p||Up to 720p||480p||480p||Up to 1080p/24||720p|
|Portable Devices Supported||PlaysForSure||iPod or iPhone||PlaysForSure||iPod or iPhone||None||PlaysForSure||None||None|
|Burn Purchased Content to Disc?||No||Yes, with restrictions||Yes (limited titles)||No||Yes, but only as a data file||No||No||No|