Like it or not, the future of watching films at home looks likely to be streaming. With this in mind, over the next few weeks we’re going to look in depth at all the main players in this new video business, before rounding up the results into a handy digestible guide.
We've actually done a head to head between Netflix vs Lovefilm before, back in March. But things have changed a lot since then, especially where LoveFilm is concerned, and it's high time we spent more time with both these platforms and their main rivals.And we’re kicking the process off today with the newest kid on the video streaming block, Netflix.
Any Americans stumbling across this review will probably wonder what the heck we’re talking about here, as Netflix has been a major player in the US for ages. However, it only launched in the UK in January - but since then it’s had a major impact on what had previously been a rather small streaming world dominated by Amazon-owned LoveFilm.
For instance, Netflix’s aggressive £5.99 a month price forced a pretty much immediate price cut from LoveFilm, while the major advertising campaigns both companies launched are still running now, giving vastly more exposure to this once niche content field.
Despite its newness, Netflix is already available across an impressively wide array of platforms. The Xbox 360, the PS3, almost all brands of Smart TV, PCs, Macs, mobiles and tablets can all be used for accessing Netflix content.
Also impressive is how well the interfaces for all these different platforms work. The onscreen graphics carry the same visual identity - key for branding - and all generally try to make the most of the different platform technologies. The tablet and Smart TV interfaces are particularly impressive, working speedily and slickly.
Also commendable is the search utility carried by all the Netflix interfaces. This starts to filter titles from the first letter you type in, whittling the title list down with each extra letter you input. This is a much better approach than only starting to look for stuff once you’ve input a text field in full and pressed enter.
We also really like the look of the Netflix menus. The use of big, bold, colourful ‘DVD covers’ for all the films and TV shows available immediately draws you in and keeps you browsing the film ‘shelves’ for much longer than you would with a less attractive front end.
The genre breakdown approach used by the Netflix menus proves a pretty sensible way of organising the available titles, too.
Another great user-friendly touch of the Netflix interface is the way it tracks any viewing progress you may have made with a title even if you switch devices. So, for instance, if you start watching a film on an iPad and then decide you want to finish it through a games console, when you fire up the Netflix ‘app’ on the second (or third, or fourth, etc!) device, you get the option to resume the title you’d started at the point you left it, rather than having to play it from the beginning again.
There is a practical price to pay for the attractiveness of the Netflix interface, though. For no matter what platform you use it on, the large size of the title icons means that you can’t see many titles on your screen at any one time. This makes it hard for Netflix to ‘promote’ as much new and high profile content on its home screen as both it and we would like. And it makes browsing a little more longwinded than we’d like too.