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Netflix vs Lovefilm (UK Edition)

September 15th, 2012

Streaming is the future. To be honest streaming is already the present. Of course I can’t speak for everybody, but for me streaming is the best way to consume every kind of content.

If you are outside the US, you could find it difficult to get the best from your streaming experience. This is true for Italy for example, where we lack the majority of the streaming services. Of course there are workaround, but it’s never like a “native” solution.

Since I moved to the UK I had the opportunity to move more of my entertainment over to the cloud, especially music and movies/TV shows.

My number 1 and only destination for music is Spotify: on my Mac, on my iPhone and iPad it has replaced the need to store music locally, saving me a lot of space on my hard drives (even if sometimes it could be tricky to use it).

For movies and TV shows it’s a bit different, because even here in the UK it could be difficult to get what you want. Since I hate to watch crappy-quality illegal movies, I tried to look at the two major players in this market: Netflix and Lovefilm. The first one is a branch of the american red giant, probably the most famous video streaming service in the world. The second one instead is a UK based society, now part of the big Amazon family.

In the past months I tested both, and here’s my opinion about them.

Netflix

When you first sign for this service you get a 30-days-free-trial that can help you decide if this is the right choice for you. You’ll be asked for your credit card info so that after 30 days they can start billing you automatically, so remember to cancel you account if you don’t want to proceed with the service. If you keep going, the monthly plan is £5.99.

Differently from the US version, in UK you can only stream content, there’s no option for a DVD or game rental. Not a big deal for me, because I hate DVDs (especially the commercials before the movie).

Now, what about the offers? Well, Netflix has for sure a very big library both for movies and TV shows, the real problem is the “freshness”. The majority of the contents are dated between 1970 and 2009, with very few new releases. You can enjoy a lot of classic and you can catch up on what you’ve missed in the past, but you can’t stay up-to-date on your favorite TV show.

There are few exceptions to this rule. From time to time there are real new releases, but they are clearly done with a marketing purpose, rather than a shift in the catalogue.

For many this could be a deal breaker, but you have to realize that outside the US (where the majority of the content came from) it’s really difficult to get good deals on fresh content.

Despite this cruel reality, I still find some very strange things going on in the Netflix catalogue. Take for example “The Office”. If you don’t know what it is, you should really check some clips on YouTube. In few word, The Office is a sitcom style TV shows that follows the life into a paper company. There are two versions of The Office: the British one and the American one. The original is the British version, created by the genius of Ricky Gervais who later exported the format in the US making Steve Carell the star there. Why I’m saying all of this? Try to search on Netflix UK for The Office. What do you get? Yes exactly, you get the american version. This still amaze me everyday.

Lovefilm

Before the advent of Netflix, Lovefilm was (and probably still is) the number 1 in the streaming market in the UK. Now that the company has been acquired by Amazon it has gained quite a lot of power that is reflected into its catalogue.

You can get instant streaming, DVD rental and games rental (for every possible platform) and you can combine these into different plans. I’m testing the streaming-only plan since I hate DVDs and I don’t have a console.

With instant streaming only, the monthly fee is £4.99 and you get a lot of movies with many more new release compared to Netflix. You also get a list of what’s coming into the future and this element gives you an idea that the platform is alive and well maintained.

TV shows are still a bit behind the american schedule but the selection is much broader.

One thing I’ve noticed is that despite the catalogue is big, the majority of the movies (and especially the new ones) are DVD rental-only and rarely you get them also as streaming. I don’t know why this is happening but it does bother me quite a lot.

Who wins?

The advantage of Lovefilm is the more up to date catalogue, but discovery it’s very hard. The Lovefilm website is quite challenging to navigate because even if I’m streaming-only I get also titles that are rental-only in my search results. Of course now that Amazon is the owner, they are applying the mentality of selling you everything-anytime.

On the other side, Netflix is much better organized and the content is the real protagonist of the website.

Concerning video and audio quality, they are pretty much the same. Netflix has a new interface that is very clean and simple to use. HD videos playback nicely even on my not stellar connection. Lovefilm is stuck with a default Microsoft Silverlight. HD plays well but you can’t really let the video buffer for a while and you can’t manually change the quality of the video (Netflix lets you go from SD to HD at any time), so if it plays in HD you may experience some lag.

So, who’s the winner? Neither of them. Or to reply better, you should get them both and then you can have a really good catalogue.

All these words may have given you a certain opinion on which one to pick (I’m keeping them both), but the best solution is to try them. You can get 30 days for free when you sign up so you can taste both world and see which one is the best for you.

Happy streaming!