You’ve heard of Netflix right? If you know any Americans then you probably have heard of this wonderful video service that is way cheaper than cable company xxxyyy.
Well it’s now come to the UK with a big fanfare.
So i just had to sign up for a months free trial. Of course being an avid tv and film nut and also being a subscriber of love film (a DVD through the post service) I HAD BIG HOPES…
Read on to see how I found the uk Netflix service over the fist 3 days of the trial…
Sign up and what is on offer
To be honest the signup page is rather underwhelming. It’s not really very clear that you can watch as much tv or films as you like for the £5.99 monthly fee. in fact the terms and conditions mention rental fees a few times (guess they copied the US terms wording?)
What’s more the selection of films shown in the page is very low (more on the film selection available later)
But anyhow, I signed up using my own email address and selected a password (you can also sign up via Facebook login)
You also have to enter a payment method.
Pity you can only select visa or MasterCard (PayPal anyone). Update: 09.11.2012: Apparently they are allowing Paypal now – (Thanks Chris for the info)
Platforms that you can view videos on
Netflix in the us supports many different devices. The uk service also supports them:
- PC (windows or mac) this is via the silver light plugin inside web browsers
- -PS3 via special Netflix app
- -Xbox 360 again via native Netflix app
Update: 17.01.2012: Apparently theres now an iPad app on the UK Apple appstore that works with Netflix UK. I havnt confirmed this working myself yet.
Unfortunately there is no native mac app (and plex doesn’t support Netflix because of the silver light
Mini judgement: on the face of it device support looks good, but a web interface on pc and mac is a little disappointing when coated to the very flexible native video players.
Setup of your viewing preferences
When you first login you are asked which film genres you are most likely to watch. You can select from watch never, sometime or often.
Then you are asked to rate a series of films. The idea being that Netflix will recommend films and tv shows based on what you did or didn’t like.
My partner commented that it is hard to decide a rating and that if two people in same house are sharing account, they will never agree, causing conflicting ratings and maybe many odd recommendations. Such is life in a partnership ;-)
You can also set the quality (and hence how much bandwidth the video streaming consumes).
This is done via the account preferences options accessible from the top row of the main page.
However I have found that often the videos don’t take notice of the setting (see ‘playing video section later on for details)
mini judgement: easy to setup. Use of series of quests on a selection of films is good idea. Although I wonder how many users just skip this and overtime will rate as they watch.
Net flies rating and recommendation feature
I have so far found that some of the recommendations are at best rather weird and at worth coolletely wacky. For Example. Netflix recommended a documentary called ’wild china’ (6 episodes showing chinas fantastic scenery) because I said I loved the rather gritty and violent ‘breaking bad’ tv series. I don’t see the connection!
I hope that this ranting system is just a little broken due to Netflix trying to hurryout a solution (although i would also think that any logical engineer would simply bring the US web site over to the uk for easy maintainance)
Mini judgement: rating idea is a good one for helping users find new films and tv episodes to watch, but some of the recommendations are a little wacky.
Number of films and tv shows available
This is where Netflix will Struggle to compete with love film. Netflix just doesn’t have many films or tv episodes available!
My partner typed in ‘when Harry met Sally’ (a very popular rom comedy) only to find it wasn’t there. Not being to scientific, we then started searching for any other Meg Ryan films, only to find two! Not great for all those Meg Ryan fans :-(
But it doesn’t end there, we started looking for other famous blockbusters like terminator, James bond etc (in the hope that it was just meg Ryan that didn’t want to be on Netflix ;-) unfortunately there just are not there.
In fact over the last three days I have really noticed how few films and tv shows are available.
Netflixes default view is to show a ribbon of the most popular films in a genre, but this also gives the impression of not having many films because you often get back so few that there is no films to scroll right to.
Even when you navigate to a genre from the pull down list at the top of the screen, you quickly find that there are soo few films to watch.
Plus I have found that a lot of the films are very low budget movies that have odd scripts and many unknown actors.
I can’t be sure, but I guess this is because Netflix only has rights to for films in the US at the moment and so an not simply bring that collection over to the uk?
I guess Netflix is having issues negotiating a price that they an cover by the monthly subscription fee, whilst also allowing the movie firms to make a profit. Who knows.
Mini judgement: far too few films. If you like tv or film you will soon run out of content Tom watch. There his also a lot of questionable quality content. Hopefully Netflix will quickly add more content if the movie industry agrees.
The interface for film selection
All the interfaces on the devices work by showing several ‘ribbons’ of scrolling film/tv thumbnails. There is a ribbon for each genre.
I will focus on the mac web based interface for simplicity (as I’m using my mac mini connected to a big tv in living room)
You can scroll left and right through the thumbnails in the mac browser based interface by hovering over the far right or left of the lists.
If you hover over a thumbnail, a short description and a guess of what y would rate it shows up in red stars (it shows in gold if you have already watched and rated it)
You can see more detail on the film by clicking the ‘more detail’ link or play the film by clicking ‘play’ button.
Once you click on the more details link, you get a nice detailed synopsis of the film and a series of user reviews. The reviews I have read are generally of good quality and I have yet to see any spam comments (showing Netflix are moderating reviews)
Generally speaking, this interface works quite well.
Only small gripe I have is that it would be nice to be able to add films to a ‘watch list’. This would be useful as you find films that you actually would like to watch (when the recommendation system hits gold), but have a short amount of time at that moment.
Plus a watch list would avoid having to remember which genre a film is in and also stop the frustration when Netflix randomises the ribbons film order on each page visit!
Mini judgement: simple and logical idea, well implemented. Please add a ‘watch later list’
Once you have selected to play a video, you see a black themed page with the video shown in the middle of the web page and a strip running along the bottom of the video. You get the usual play/pause button and timeline which shows you how far through the film as well as allowing you to click to jump to any part of the film.
You also have volume, full screen toggle, subtitles toggle, a hd button and a ‘go back to browsing’ button.
The videos are quick to play and I haven’t had any stuttering or glides during playback. At most i have only seen an initial delay of a few seconds at most while the video buffered.
However I have found the quality to be very variant. Even when selecting in my account preferences that I prefer the highest hd quality ( I have unlimited uncapped broadband), videos will often say that HD is available but never play in it!
While the video playback interface is ok, it doesn’t have the usual features that a native video player would have. For example even plex and Xbmc allows for skipping forward or back by increments of say 10 or 60 seconds.
Plus so far I haven’t found a way to get my apple remote to navigate forwards and backwards through the film ( I can do volume).
Mini judgement: playback is quick to start and has basic playback controls. But ultimately a little limited compared to native video playing apps. Selecting HD doesnt always give HD. Don’t even get me started on video acceleration!
On every login you are offered to turn on Facebook integration. When enabled, Netflix will post on your Facebook wall the film or tv show that you are watching.
I can understand in theory that some friends might like to see what films I like, but I don’t think that spamming the hell out of them is going to go down too well ( I may be wrong).
I suppose it comes down to what people use Facebook for, but I personally decided not to enable the feature becuase like to only post quantity, not quantity, but my friends may disagree!
Just a pity that Netflix is really pushy. They keep asking on every visit to the main page. Christ isn’t once or twice enough. Suggest a setting in the account preferences page.
Mini judgement: maybe useful for some nosy friends who want to follow along with what they are watching. But it’s not for me. But I can see how Netflix will benefit from the users advertising that they are using their service.
I’m currently at the early stars of my months free trial and so the many user interface niggles and lack of video navigation controls are certainly bearable. But the main issue I see with Netflixes current offering is the severe lack of films on offer….
If I was paying for the service, I would be views it as a replacement for the love film service; Unfortunately at this time the shear number of films available via love films DVD service is leagues ahead of Netflix.
It’s a pity because the ability to stream immediately a film is a winner (love film have been dipping their foot into streaming for a while, but on a pay per view model).
What’s more the price per month of £5.99 doesn’t seem unreasonable to me (Amazons love film is only £4.99 but limits you to two films a month).
Plus that price is all you can eat business model.
It may be that the price is in fact the main culprit for the lack of films. As Netflix will be forced to offer such a low price to each movie company that they won’t be attractive.
However I really do hope this won’t be the case, as it’s a great way to watch films.
Only time will tell how Netflix will fair (whether they get the film contracts done and whether they fix the niggles). But there is one thing that may help consumers.. Competition from Amazon (be it via their current lovefilm offering or a port of their US branded offering) or a Google tv service.
Do Leave me a comment with your view.