There comes a point in every DVD collector’s life when you realize that you probably don’t have the money or the storage space to own every single movie ever made. You look back over your collection and you start to notice more and more titles that you regret buying. Movies that you took a chance on and bought without having even seen. DVDs that you had every intention of watching and yet for some reason they remain on the shelf unopened.
Earlier this year, I resolved to start curbing my DVD buying habits, and decided to see what the whole rent-by-mail craze was all about. The prices seemed reasonable, the process sounded convenient, and the selection was virtually limitless (or so I thought). Here in Canada, however, Netflix is not available, which meant that I would have to compare and contrast a number of other services instead. I chose three of the more popular ones, and took them for a spin using their free trial periods.
The following is a summary of what I found. While the specific results may not be all that useful for non-Canadians, it should at least give you some insight into the process of renting DVDs online.
Now owned by Rogers, Zip.ca is by far Canada’s biggest online DVD rental outlet. With almost 55,000 titles to choose from, I felt pretty confident that this would be the only real choice I needed. Their main offices are located in Ottawa, and since I live near Toronto, it seemed like shipping would be very quick and efficient.
While the wait times were indeed only a day or two long, I started to notice a problem with their service right off the bat. While their selection was vast and contained almost every title I attempted to search for, I found that very rarely could I ever get any new releases. I don’t know if this is because their quantities are very low for each title, or if it’s because they had such a large number of subscribers, but I would add all kinds of new releases at the top of my queue, and would consistently be getting shipped my #30 choice on the list, if not lower. A lot of times it wasn’t even just new releases that were hard to come by.
If you are only interested in renting obscure, hard to find catalogue titles, or expensive box sets and Criterion releases, then Zip could work for you. Unfortunately, this wasn’t stopping me from going out and buying new DVDs every Tuesday, so I didn’t stick with Zip for very long. It’s too bad, because their website was also the most professional and offered some great community features that I didn’t see anywhere else.
Based in Calgary, Canflix is perhaps the strongest competitor to Zip right now from what I’ve seen. Despite being located on the other side of the country, their ship times were almost as fast, and their 3-at-a-time unlimited monthly subscription was a few dollars cheaper at $21.95. They also had video games available for rental, which was a bit of a selling point for me.
The trade off with Canflix is that their selection is much smaller. Their library contains approximately 11,000 titles (one-fifth of what Zip offers), and since they are a newer company, they didn’t have as many older movies. They also had almost no documentaries at all. However, Canflix was the only place where I ever got shipped new releases within a week of them coming out. I was consistently able to get most of my top choices, and it was much easier to tell on their website when a title is actually available (Zip’s availability bar is still a bit of a mystery to me). As a nice bonus, they were also forward thinking enough to create a Facebook app and Firefox plug-in for customers.
The third online rental outfit that I tried out was Winnipeg’s Cinemail. They are slowly gaining ground on Zip as well, and despite having a much more amateur-looking website, great customer service and strong word of mouth are helping them to gain a loyal following.
Their selection is about twice as large as Canflix, but only about half of Zip’s. At first I thought it might be the perfect compromise because I did get shipped a lot of movies that I couldn’t get from the other two, but unfortunately being out in Manitoba their shipping time was a lot slower for me. If you do their 2 week trial, depending on where you live, there’s a good chance you’ll only get to the first 3 DVDs. Also, a couple of the DVDs that I received from them were snapped in half. To be fair, this is a risk you run with any online rental company (you don’t have to pay for it) but it seemed like maybe the cold climate of Winter-peg took its toll on the discs while they were in transit. The other drawback to Cinemail was the fact that they had no high-definition titles at the time.
My initial decision found me sticking with Canflix, since it seemed to be the only place where I could depend on getting movies that I actually wanted on a consistent basis. I stayed with them for a few months, however, as of right now, I have currently canceled all of my subscriptions for the summer. I haven’t decided if I will go back to any online rental outlets in the near future.
Selection seems to be a big issue for online DVD rental places in Canada because there is a lot of geography to cover, which makes it harder to keep things in stock, but there aren’t always enough customers to justify multiple copies of movies. Unfortunately, the whole system really falls apart if you’re not getting shipped DVDs from the top of your queue. If you’re not in any hurry to watch them, the discs sit around for a couple of weeks, meanwhile you are still paying the same amount, and someone who really wanted to see that movie can’t get it either.
I think I may wait this out until digital downloads and/or online streaming become a bigger factors in the equation. I know Netflix in the U.S. currently offers a lot of movies streaming online, and they now have set top boxes available as well. This is the future of movie rentals, because once the quantity of a particular movie stops being a bottleneck, everyone will be happy.
Do you have any experience with online DVD rental services in your country? What are your feelings on the matter?
For more info on all the alternatives currently available in Canada, and plenty of user reviews and feedback, visit onlinedvdrentalguide.ca.