DVD Rentals By Mail: Comparing Canada’s Netflix Alternatives

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Decision

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.

Around the Web:



  • robbi

    “There are advantages to both countries, I just found it incredibly rude to use a forum on DVD rentals to use the opportunity to bash your host country.

    Adjust your attitude and don’t take every situation as an opportunity to point out how lacking and behind Canada is and I bet people will treat you way better than you can even imagine!”

    Emily, our post was totally off subject and should have been monitored. Having said that your mind is totally small and so, yes, you belong back in the US. I am an American living in Canada much of the year.
    Yes the US has lower prices, much bigger inventory of almost everything consumers want, more people etc.
    Canada has universal health, clean air, space, less people, healthiest banking system in the world, slower life-style, better schools, broader curriculum, more democratic than its LOUD neighbor, etc.
    To me those are the qualities that matter. If people like Emily would go back to the US then the rest of us from the US living Canada will not be embarrassed by the short-sightedness, and smallness of some Americans.
    You can have also those supposed benefits, Netflix, lower prices, better health care only if you have money, etc.
    You can also have an extremely corrupt banking system, high, sometimes prohibitive housing prices, too many people, too much crime, lousy education, fundamentalist puritans trying to regulate the rest of us, lousy over-priced health run by the health insurance and hospital industries, and the tattered remnants of the worst administration (BUSH) tin the US history

  • Rick

    actually, and historians are with me on this, carter was was much worse then bush and left the economy in worse shape there robbi. And your government is extremely sociolist. how can it be more democratic?

    let me guess, iran is paveing the way for human rights
    and france is a totaly modest moral country

    “your mind is totally small and so, yes, you belong back in the US. I am an American living in Canada much of the year.”

    and you deserve never to come back

  • http://www.filmjunk.com Itchy-Finger

    I’m against abortion. Woohoo! Let’s get another useless argument going!

  • Goon

    “universal health care sucks in canada even your own politicians think so.”

    The main findings were:

    * A 70% majority of Canadians thought their system was performing either “very well (12%) or “fairly well” (58%). Only 28% thought it was performing “not well at all” (9%) or “not that well” (19%).
    * Most people (55%) favored an expansion of the public sector. Just over a quarter (27%) of Canadians thought that the Canadian system had got the balance between public and private sector health care right. Only 12% favored a tilt towards the private sector.
    * An 82% majority of Canadians believed their country’s health care system was superior to the U.S. system. Only 8% thought the U.S. system was superior.

    http://www.news-medical.net/news/20090812/US-health-care-system-e2809cenvy-of-the-worlde2809d-not-in-Canada!.aspx

    But thanks for being yet another American telling Canada how Canadians think of themselves. You really nailed it. Wink.

    And yes Itchy, this thread is ridiculous. I don’t even care to figure out who started it, but everyone including myself should be ashamed for participating. I’ll go whip myself now.

  • Rick

    all that says goon is canadians are happy to live in a country where government is the norm, and paying for other peoples problems is ok.
    tell me, through your health care system what was the last BIG medical break through you had?

    “And yes Itchy, this thread is ridiculous. I don’t even care to figure out who started it, but everyone including myself should be ashamed for participating. I’ll go whip myself now.”

    but yes goon and itchy are right. i just got involved because i like debating and i get involved into every arguemnt here on film junk. so i’ll just go now, but i wont whip myself…i’m american so i don’t have someone else who will pay for the dr.

  • Goon

    Oh jesus christ.

    It would be nice if Sean could come back home from vacation without some threads to close.

  • Henrik

    Off topic, somewhat:

    Did anybody see Oprah Winfreys “Happiest people on Earth”-episode about her visit to Copenhagen? It seems pretty ridiculous, she apparently also talked about “free this, free that” but she did highlight things like being paid to go to college. When she asked somebody about the socialism going on, she got the answer that we thought of it not as much as socialism, but more as being civilized, to take care of unhealthy and old people in our society.

    But in typical media fashion, this is what she portrayed as a “typical danish home”: http://www.oprah.com/media/20091021-tows-stine-home-tour

    I can tell you it’s pretty fucking far from typical. We usually don’t have kids rooms in little boxes in the wall ^_^.

  • Rick

    what other thread needs to be closed. As far as i know this is the only one i know of

  • http://www.filmjunk.com Itchy-Finger

    America, fuck yea!
    Here we come to save the motherfucking day, yea!
    America, fuck yea!

  • margo zak

    It is always interesting to read a site like this for the first time and I think Canflix sounds like what I would choose.
    As for emily , I lived in san francisco and prior to that the caribbean and altho they were great experiences I always felt like I was one step removed… a person misses their own country.
    No place like home!

  • http://www.dvdlink.ca James

    http://www.DVDLink.ca

    I would like to recommend DVDLink.ca as the premier online DVD place in all of Canada. Their price range is the most affordable among all of the online businesses here. 19.99 per month and a two week free trial is a big plus. They have over 25000 titles of Movies plus 1500 Blurays and over 1500 Games.

    Best thing i like is you can get both Movies and Games at same time. Before this I was having two account with two different companies, One for Movies and One for Games, Now I enjoy both things with DVDLink.

    I have been a member of DVDLink for over one year and have been more than happy with their level of service to me personally. Most places just send out an email. The guys at DVDLink actually CALL you to see how things are. More importantly is the turn around time.
    Even though headquartered in Vancouver I recieve movies here in Halifax within 3 days at latest.

    If anyone wants to take a chance on a Canadian web-rental company. This is the one to take your chance on.

  • anonymous

    I find it funny that so many Canadians are quick to bash Americans yet call yourself open minded.

    Emily is clearly an idiot, but that does not give people on the defensive the right to bash every single American.

    Get a grip.

  • Goon

    No need to be anonymous. But let me put it in terms that as an American you may sympathize with. Canada has about a tenth of the US population. We are domiated by your culture, whether we like it or not. When it comes to entertainment, we’re pretty okay with it by now. Other things – mixed bag.

    I can’t speak for every Canadian whatsoever, but we’re kind of defensive rather than outright offensive. If we have a forum where the Canadians somehow dominate the Americans, the teeth will come out if someone starts something, as its not so often the average Canadian gets the opportunity to spout off like that and be the majority opinion. On most forums the smug Canadian is the troll.

    Basically what I’m saying is sometimes Canadians feel like how a lot of Americans feel when the rest of the world is against them – a need to vent, to lash out, to give back what you’re getting, even if it as at the expense of furthering a stereotype or negative impression. I don’t think Canadians are nearly as fiercely patriotic as Americans, but you’ll still find people with hurt feelings when people like Emily turn an article about one little service into a full on rant against their home.

    btw as for the friendliness thing that kept coming up – if we must stereotype based only on our experiences: I go to Edmonton pretty often and the people here are either way friendlier or way meaner, but generally more ignorant. At malls they don’t move to the side on escalators, and at theaters they don’t move their feet back as much when you’re trying to get in and out of an aisle. Little things. In Ontario the friendliness I encounter is more natural rather than down-home-aw-shucks-pleasant, which is good or bad depending on your mood or where you’re at. The meanness though is more smug/entitled rather than outright nasty. I grew up in New Brunswick. They’re generally friendly, but I actually think its “dumb friendly” if you’re not in what they’d consider a “city”. I always hate being there.

    My own US experiences were varied too – they were mean in New York and Ohio, very mean in Georgia, absoutely awesome in Tennessee and Virginia, and too busy to care either way in Pennsylvania and Florida. Massachusetts and Kentucky was mostly retarded, the rest of New England was basically Ontario. I’d rather hear some more localized ignorant stereotypes than grand national ones :)

  • Tracy

    I stumbled onto this looking for alternative to netflix and WOW!! I’m American but getting married to a Canadian. I lived in Germany for 4 years and lost it’s charm quickly bc of the lack of choices I’m used to in the US. I have a feeling Canada will be the same as my experiences shopping,phoneservice, tv and so on. I do love my bf so I will adjust but just wanted to add that Americans are so used to the best of everything…fast paced life we just may all need to take a breath…but please Ca. Mullets?? Still!

  • http://www.canistervacuum.com.au/Ijus Gab

    I just hope Netflix in Canada is better than Netflix in Australia… here the service is simply horrible…

  • Erich

    LOL its awesome how the comments on the DVDLink site are so blatantly advertising. The most recent one must say DVDLink about 8x in the message! DVDLink!

  • http://Mike@medicalansweringservices Mike

    “Do you have any experience with online DVD rental services in your country? What are your feelings on the matter?”

    They are offering affordable online DVD rentals here. What I like with their service is that they offer promotions. For example, free one dvd for every 5 dvd rentals. In this case, they encourage their clients to rent for more dvd.

  • Marcus

    I moved to up here to Montreal (Quebec) from DeRidder Louisiana last year. I had been with Netflix since the beginning of time, so I thought I’d find one here as well, that’s what brought me to this page originally! So, I tried zip and canflix, but either had issues with delivery or customer service, so I transferred to a company based out of Montreal, http://www.kaku.ca. They rent out movies and games too, so I can get the occasional PS3 game with my movies, that parts pretty cool. Also found their customer service to be real friendly. I’ve been with them for 3 months now, and I can easily say that 95% of the time I get my top 5 picks, and the rest of the time I get at least my top 10. They seem pretty new, so the selection isn’t as high, but they have a request feature, I’d been dying to watch Dillinger & Capone for some time, so I asked them to get it, they had it there and ready for me to rent within 2 days! That’s actually one of the main reasons that I wanted to come back here to make a comment, I find there aren’t enough businesses out there now that actually listen to their customers, to me kaku.ca does, do I recommend them to anyone else that lives in the great north ;)

  • Jon

    Incredible. My mom in Canada says my brother there rents movies just about every night. So I do a Google search of Netflix alternatives available in Canada.

    The article is informative, if dated. Then, I look down to the comments…

    How did an article about Netflix alternatives turn into a Canada-USA back-and-forth debate?

  • http://DVDLink.ca DVDLink.ca Sucks

    I see that DVDLink.ca has been posting here. I just quit there service, I’ve been with many before netflick, canflix and zip. All three are great.
    DVDLink.ca sucks, they don’t repond to your emails and charge any way they can. When I quit there service there was a missing disc and since it was missing they charged me a full months rental because it wasn’t back on time. When it showed up to them as return to sender (since it never shown up here) they wouldn’t refund me my money. They would email me to tell me if it didn’t show up I had to pay for it and the months rental, but when I asked for a refund for the months rental they ignored my emails. From all the emails I sent them they only answered 1 or 2. There excuse was when I emailed them 5 times about an error on there behalf (2 disc set they only sent disc 2) that my emails must of been in there junk mail. Not a valid excuse for a company. After 3 1/2 weeks without any response they to send it back because they didn’t have disc one. Didn’t try to pay me back for wasting 1 of my slots for a month.
    Stay away from DVDLink!!!! they are the worst service out there.

  • http://www.florasspot.com Flora Korkis

    Sacre bleu! This thread made me sick.

    Yours truly,
    A Fellow Canadian

  • ivan karanovic

    why do you people leave comments regarding netflix? There’s no netflix in Canada, so all your comments regarding Netflix are therefore useless.

  • Joey

    If you are not talking about mail order dvd’s shut the hell up go join a why my country is better forum ….dvdlink is ok if you are on the west coast I am in central Ontario and I wait up to 2 weeks for a movie most are within 9 business days . I would not want to be on the east coast and order from them !

  • Sandi

    I completely agree with post #70!! They just did the same thing to me! They are not even following their own policies of advising you when they tack additional charges to your credit card WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION! Had I read the above, I would have chosen another service as there seem to be a few more out there. What a complete rip off!! Their call center is non-existent; some backoffice re-routed answering machine. And they do NOT respond to you. RIDICULOUS CUSTOMER SERVICE! I hope more people read this and sign up with someone else. DVDLink.ca SUCKS!!

  • fred

    why do you all watch television so much?
    Don’t you have anything else to do?

    amazing.

    I’m going to the ukelele jam at the dominion.
    sure hope there won’t be any americans there.

  • ramsay

    ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW.ZIP is owned by Rogers Cable.They canceled me due to tomany stolen dvd,s.I DO NOT BELIEVE.VISA has never in 24yrs missed my bill???Its that same old MOMOPOLY,there stopping NetFlix at all costes eg. blocking new releases.They did same thing with MAGIC jack,spent millions trying to not make happen,witch in end i have to pay extra $10 month compared to US.Canadians will continue to get srewed as long as Rich Rogers keeps blocking competition.

  • Mike N

    Glad for the info regarding mail order rentals. Sorry for the off thread comments re Canada and the U.S. I know friendly and unfriendly people from both. The political rhetoric from the politicians in both makes me sick. No one likes to pay taxes or user fees but we all want the services.The most important thing in my life is not watching movies but I do like to get the most bang for my Buck. I recently subscribed to Videomatica out of Vancouver. Great selection but a little more steeply priced. Waiting to see how the turn around time sets the price per DVD I watch. I’m pretty sure that is mostly a Canada Post issue and the fact I live in a small northern town. Price I pay to happily live away from the city. Can’t have your cake and eat it too.

  • KING TUT

    DO NOT RENT FROM DVDLINK.CA Gursewak Sran pays his employees to go on message boards and refer his half assed business!

  • Dave

    I found a professional podcast that reviews movies on Netflix (Canada and the US). There are a bunch of podcasts out there talking about Netflix movies, but this is the only one I can find that discusses movies available in Canada. If anyone wants to check out the link, you can find it here: http://netpixpodcast.wordpress.com/

    If anyone finds any other decent ones, can you let me know?

  • Granite

    I’ve had dvdlink for about 18 months. One dvd did go missing when I returned it. I contacted their support and they forgave it because I had been a long time customer. The bonus for me having a PS3 is that they do 3D movies and games. I’ve had an overall good experience with them but clearly other people have had other experiences. I got an Email from them last week asking for feedback and it sounds like they are going to be doing an large overhaul of their website and service. Hopefully this will mean positive changes. If a dvd is sent to me on Monday I get it Thursday or Friday in Ontario. They do have the option to click when you return. I’m at the 4 at a time rentals and I’m able to get over 20 in a month if I get through all 4 on the weekend. I would definately recommend them. They are a bit cheaper than other places and they do games and 3d movies which is something I’m looking for as well.

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