I‘m not the type to dispense my hard-earned (umm…) money on a whim, I’m mindful to spend hours online searching for the best deal and the idea of soon buying my own food as a student terrifies me. I’m what you might call a tight-arse. Definitely that. Which is why the idea of paying for a streaming service like LoveFilm never really caught my eye; why part with cash for access to a skeletal and heavily flawed selection of television programmes when there exist perfectly adequate free alternatives like BBC’s iPlayer?
After signing up to LoveFilm and discovering that the physical sendouts were pointless and really not my lukewarm, unappetising cup of tea, I casually perused the catalogue of film they have made available for online streaming. Met with a disappointing and sparse selection of average-to-sub-par flicks, I took the free £10 Burton voucher they sent me for signing up and scrambled.
Et voilà! The moment I hit LoveFilm’s impossibly small “cancel subscription” (are you sure? ARE YOU REALLY SURE?!!?) button, American company Netflix decides to announce their expansion into the British Isles, offering all of us an intriguing alternative to what’s already out there. It seems that Netflix has already been a huge hit in the States, and I’m sure I’m part of a huge group of Brits who have been subjected to YouTube stars like Philip DeFranco, Kassem G and the big scary men at EpicMealTime shoving Netflix plugs down our throats without us ever really knowing what the service is like.
[pullquote_right]What I want from the service has changed since I began using it[/pullquote_right]
In truth, the selection that Netflix offers didn’t strike me as any more extensive as that of Lovefilm. What was interesting, however, was the seemingly equal weighting between the availability of both films and television series. Shows like Prison Break, Californication, Breaking Bad, The Office (of which I’ve since developed an unhealthy and perhaps pathological addiction for), Scrubs and South Park cover one side of the pond, whilst Peep Show, The Inbetweeners, Psychoville and Misfits are great for your typical UK comedy/drama hybrids. The issue is, however, that complete catalogues of shows are rare. For example, Netflix only offers the first four seasons of 24; where you watch the rest once you’re inexplicably hooked is up to you. I should imagine that over the next few months or so, as the company begins to acquire further rights to distribute certain programmes in the United Kingdom, collections will slowly grow. Fingers crossed, anyway.
The same could be said for their film library. Not perfect, and certainly missing some obvious classics, but some of the films on offer really are great pieces of cinema (Hard Candy was a particularly interesting watch), and for only £6 a month, it’s difficult to complain. What I want from the service has changed since I began using it, where I thought I was going to be watching my favourite films online and catching up on some of the year’s biggest Hollywood blockbusters, my goal has become instead the discovery of new favourites. Which is great, and I’m certainly excited to do so. But at the same time, it’d be nice to see some more familiar names on the Netflix homepage every now and then.
[pullquote_right]Being able to pause a programme from my laptop and immediately pick it up where I left off on my iPhone on the way to work is a really valuable feature[/pullquote_right]
In terms of the technology behind the service, I was suitably impressed with the user interface and the almost intelligent way that clips are buffered according to the reliability of your internet connection. My ISP is the Post Office, so I don’t need to tell you that I hardly tear up downloads with a 10MB/s connection – it’s shoddy and temperamental at the best of times. But my experience with Netflix was surprisingly easy. It streams in a quality that best matches your connection speed and then adjusts this as you’re watching as so as to avoid the dreaded moment where you’re stuck in streaming limbo; ticker ticking and you’re getting no closer to a well buffered video. Whilst this is a regularity for me on YouTube and Vimeo, it was a rarity with Netflix.
And the multi-platform functionality is a nice addition too, being able to pause a programme from my laptop and immediately pick it up where I left off on my iPhone on the way to work is a really valuable feature. Films look great streaming in 720p HD from my PlayStation 3, and if you’ve got an iPad I’m sure the experience is just as crisp and ultimately immersive as you would hope it to be.
Whilst Netflix very strongly pushes their automated recommendation service onto you, based on films and programmes you have rated and watched in the past, it seems like it might still be in Beta.
“We recommend Prison Break, based on your interest in Peep Show“.
Really? Okay. If you say so. It is a cool concept, and they’ve even incorporated a “Our Best Guess” rating for every title on the site, which generates what is essentially a stab in the dark at what you might think of a film. Again, a sound idea. It just needs a little work.
If you’re still not convinced by this 900 word ramble, then head on over to the Netflix website and sign up yourself up for a month’s free trial. You’ve got nothing to lose. Apart from if you’re me. In that case, you’ll lose 70 hours of your life watching The Office. Do it.