Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bye bye DVDs, hello Netflix streaming

I've always had a comparatively large collection of videos and DVDs, numbering well into the thousands. Even before I inherited my uncle's movie collection, I had a lot, but then it got ridiculous. However, when I came to the US, I left my entire collection behind apart from about a dozen I couldn't bear to be parted from. I was a little apprehensive about how I'd feel about that, but as it happens, it's worked rather well.

Recently, we've started using the Netflix streaming more and more, ever since we got a disk that allows us to stream video on demand through the PS3 directly onto our TV (as well as being able to watch on our computers). The quality's fine, with just the occasional hiccup, it's very affordable ($15 a month, which also gets us unlimited DVD rental), it's convenient, in that we can watch stuff wherever and whenever we want, and the range is staggering.

Right now, we have about 200 items queued up, including the following:
  • The whole of Xena, Heroes, Jeremiah, Californication, Weeds, Star Trek: TOS and many other American TV series I never got round to watching or which didn't make it to the UK
  • Classics like You Can't Take It With You, The Palm Beach Story
  • A bunch of silent movies, including Fritz Lang's Destiny
  • A huge selection of foreign language films, covering not just European movies, but Moroccan, Israeli, Korean, Japanese (live action & anime), Chinese and lots of Bollywood musicals
  • British film & TV ranging from Merchant Ivory classics and BBC dramas like Pride & Prejudice to Mighty Boosh, Eddie Izzard, All Creatures Great and Small, Coupling, Little Britain, and Dr Who from Troughton to Tennant
  • Weird indie & art-house movies I've never heard of but which look like they could be interesting, or which I loved and want to see again, like The World's Fastest Indian
  • Documentaries galore, from Ken Burns to Walking with Dinosaurs
  • A ton of kids' movies and kids' TV, from Golden Compass to Prince Caspian by way of The Storyteller and High School Musical.
There's more appearing every day, faster than we can possibly watch them, but it's quite manageable, because their recommendation system is quite astoundingly good. It really does seem to have a handle on what we like: it will suggest things like "period romantic movies with a strong female lead", and as often as not, it's pretty well spot on. We never have problems finding something to watch, although making a choice is sometimes hard! We don't have cable, and we don't miss it. Between this and music, we're pretty well covered for evenings in.

Obviously it doesn't have everything on here that I could possibly want to watch - it's noticeably short on recent blockbusters, but I can still get those from Netflix on DVD - but that's not the way to look at it. My DVD collection, extensive as it is, doesn't have everything either. However, Netflix' collection is growing a damn sight faster than mine, it has stuff on I wouldn't mind seeing but don't necessarily want to pay even $5 to own, and it has more than enough to provide me with entertainment whenever I feel like it. And, to be quite honest, I can find things a lot faster electronically than searching through shelves and shelves of boxes. It's also completely legal. No torrenting, and no overnight waits.

Since between all four of us we probably watch about five things a day on average, that works out at 10c per item. (That's 6p in English). Or, to put it another way, we watch about 150 movies for the price of owning one or two. When I look at it in those terms, I'd have to really, really like a movie to make it worthwhile buying it.

I've said for a while that eventually we'll get to a point where we can watch videos by paying a flat rate subscription to watch anything we want on demand. That's nearly there. I don't really see much future for DVDs, Blu-Ray or the like. The only real advantage of a DVD is that it has extras which I may (but usually don't) want to watch. This is cheaper, more convenient, more extensive, doesn't rely on a platform that may become obsolete (like the thousands of VHS videos that ended up in landfill) and doesn't fill up my house.


Richard Grove said...

Great post, Matt. I used to use Netflix but left because they just didn't have enough variety in their collection (esp. foreign language), but looks like I've got to go back and take a look. Lots of films I have on DVD I don't really want to own, but enjoyed watching them the first time. Much better to stream them as you suggest.

I do think that films in HD are going to grow (blu ray publishing is growing at an amazing rate), but not necessarily in the format we see today.

Appreciate the info, Matt. Very helpful! Have fun watching movies (current fave "Tokyo Gore Police")

liquidcross said...

The big problem I have with streaming is that if it supplants DVDs and other physical discs, then you don't own a collection anymore; all you have is a license to stream files. Said license is completely at the whim of the content provider, and they can take it away whenever they wish. At least with DVDs and BRDs, I actually own a copy of the media, I can watch them whenever and wherever I want on multiple platforms, no network infrastructure is needed, and the quality is considerably higher than streaming (at least with BRDs). For renting movies, streaming services are great, but for owning them, it's a death sentence.

Matt Kelland said...

Oh, agreed. But if I wanted to own all the movies I watched, it would cost me maybe $750 a month to buy them all (compared to just $15 to rent them), and I'd have a huge storage problem.

I'd also still be at the whim of technology. That huge pile of VHS tapes, sure I could still watch them if I really wanted, except that I don't have a VHS player any more... and the laser discs... and the 8-track cartridges I had when I was 7...

Frankly, for most of what I watch, once is enough. I don't need or want a copy sitting on my shelf at all times.

(Yeah, I read library books too. Or buy second-hand ones and sell them when I've read them, especially for lightweight fiction.)

What it comes down to is that I'm just not that bothered by "owning" all that media when I know I can get what I want when I want it for a much lower cost. In 1995, I used to save Web pages to my hard disk too, so that I knew I'd always have the data and wasn't relying on someone keeping the site up. I can't remember the last time I did that. :)

Armanus said...

I've had Netflix on my Xbox 360 for some time, and recently got the disc for the PS3.

I'll tell you, this sure beats buying DVDs or watching TV.

Like you I have a ridiculously large DVD library, now become an increasingly large Blu-Ray library. It's a substantial investment, and Netflix has cut that dramatically.

I've always been in favor of in-demand media, and wait for the day when movies/ television comes out completely in an in-demand form.

There isn't a substantial library of HD content on Netflix yet though, as Richard mentioned. It seems hit or miss. Some movies you expect to get streamed in HD aren't, and some things you don't expect are. It was a nice treat to stream season one of TS:TOS and find it was in HD though.

Anyway, it's nice to see that a fellow movie junkie is now a fellow netflix junkie lol

Kate Fosk and Michael R. Joyce said...

This seems very promising, not just for viewers, but for indie producers also. If the potential audience has less risk in investing in an unknown creator, it seems more likely they'll take that risk...'what they hey, the system says we might like this, let's give it ten mins and see what we think'.
I grew up reading (lots of) library books and I agree, very few need to be read again.
We don't have the means to try this yet, (I think in UK we need ps3 or xbox gold) but hopefully the options will open up.

Matt Kelland said...

Yeah, we watch a lot of things on the "what the hell" principle. One advantage even over rental is that if you give up after 10 minutes, you just find something else and move on, you don't think "damn, I wish I hadn't chosen that for tonight, now I don't have anything to watch".

tkd27 said...

Yeah, we watch a lot of things on the "what the hell" principle. One advantage even over rental is that if you give up after 10 minutes, you just find something else and move on, you don't think "damn, I wish I hadn't chosen that for tonight, now I don't have anything to watch".

Ohhh... that's why we watched Revolutionary Road.

AngriBuddhist said...

I'm a little late to the party but...

Like Armanus, I've been streaming Netflix through my Xbox for quite some time. It doesn't take long before you feel as if you've exhausted some genres but you then start doing exactly as Matt said. What the hell? I'll give something, that I otherwise wouldn't, 10 minutes and if it doesn't work out, so what? It'll take me that long just to get ready to go to the video store. I've actually seen some pretty fantastic movies by doing this. It may not have a budget of any kind, or be for everyone, but, The Man From Earth was quite surprising.

Another complimentary option is PlayOn. This is a Pay-For piece of software ($40) that creates a media server on your PC that will stream to your PS3 (I believe) and your XBox (I know). It pulls videos from many legal sources including

So, through this one device I can-

Watch DVDs
Stream music from my PC
Play games
Rent blockbusters from the XBox store
Stream Netflix movies
Stream Hulu movies and TV programs
Stream from various other sources including YouTube

My PC is slightly under the minimum specs for PlayOn but once I upgrade we'll be dropping the cable company like what it is, a bad habit.