Monday, August 27, 2007

Video stores dead... again (Quickflix review)

I've long assumed that the days of the local video store are numbered, but the reason I thought was direct rental with download over the internet. It seems there's another competitor that is very compelling - the online DVD rental businesses.

When Ingmar Bergaman died (actually a week before, which is weird) I felt a desire to watch some of those beautifully lit black and white movies. A visit to the two local video stores proved fruitless. The nicer, more disorganised store couldn't even search their database for anything except titles!

I looked for an online DVD rental service and stumbled across Quickflix. They have a 14 day free trial with unlimited rentals during that time (with 3 out at a time). You can keep a DVD as long as you like with no penalty, (except your monthly fee), but of course they don't send you more until you return some. Sound too good to be true!

They have a catalog of 25,000 titles, you create a queue of what you want, in order, and they send them out with a pre-paid return post envelope and a nice stiff DVD holder. As a new member, I've been a very efficient viewer. When a disk arrives, I watch it and post it back the very next day.

Here's what I like about this vendor:
  • Good web site, quick, good searching, queue management a bit clunky but functional.
  • Reviews by David Strattan and Megan Spencer are a good thing, I'd like more lists to prompt me as well
  • Email notification of what they've just posted and what they've just received back from me is great and clear.
Here's my pretty minor grumbles:
  • The limiting factor is the postal turnaround time. I work in North Sydney and they are in North Sydney, even so it takes three (or mostly four) business days for the posting of one disk back before the next one is sent.
  • They don't send items from the top of my queue. Perhaps they only have a few copies, but I generally get things from number four or more from my queue. It might be good to give some idea of the stock and demand.
  • After your free trial, you go on to the $40/month plan "unlimited" with three DVDs out at a time. Given the turnaround time, this doesn't seem like the best value - I've dropped back to the $20 plan which is a maximum of 5 DVDs per month.
And why is the local DVD store dead? $4 per DVD with a post paid return envelope and a catalog probably 100 times larger beats $6 per DVD and the waste of time going to the store when they are open - hands down.

How about downloading? I hear that a DVD converted to H.264 video takes up about 700Mb. For most of us on current "unlimited" broadband plans (ha!), five movies would be 3.5Gb which is a fair proportion of "unlimited". For this to be really attractive, it would need to be unchargeable download of some sort. Pretty soon, we'll all be renting HD/DVD or BlueRay and these will be much bigger to download so I predict that delivering data by disk through the post will remain pretty attractive for some time, at least in this country...

1 comment:

Alastair said...

We just did a big A/V upgrade and so I'm thinking about online DVD services again. Nice to hear about your experience.

> I hear that a DVD converted to H.264 video takes up about 700Mb.

Yes, but with noticable quality loss, a 2-ch soundtrack, no (or burned-in) subtitles, etc. I've also "heard" that these movies are bitrate limited so that they will fit onto a 700MB CD rather than hit any specific quality target (and often fall *far* short).

You'd want to hope the movie studios could do a better job, should they ever decide to embrace digital downloads. I'd guess that an SD movie encoded from source to H.264 with comparable quality to the DVD version would still be ~2GB.

I'm pretty sure the Australian ISPs would give up their quotas for this content, especially if they got a a decent kickback and/or CDN. (eg Internode lets you stream ABC with no quota)

Which is another way of saying that I'm hoping that Blu-ray and HD-DVD will both fall on their swords and so we can get on with the digital distribution.