Archive for “September, 2012”

Netflix, Lovefilm or Now TV – which one to choose?

With summer fading and the autumn rain arriving, you may be interested in spending more time at home. Luckily there are now many choices to catch up on the latest TV series and films.

In addition to Sky, Virgin and BT Vision, there are a host of alternatives that enable you to watch entertainment on your iPad, computer and TV. I’ve tested three services over the past few weeks – Netflix, Now TV and Lovefilm – and give a brief comparison of each of them below based on a number of factors. This includes cost, titles in their libraries, navigation and playback features, picture quality, and availability on various platforms and devices.

The majority of testing was done on an iPad, for which each of the services has a dedicated app. Let’s take a look.

Cost

Netflix costs £5.99 per month for unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows. Unlike the US, it doesn’t offer a service where you can rent DVDs and Blu-rays of films and TV shows by post. Lovefilm charges £4.99 for its streaming only option and £5.99 for disc-by-post only service. You can combine the two for £7.99 if you like to watch DVDs and Blu-rays, and the cost goes up if you’d like to add more than one disc at a time or games. Now TV, which features many newer film titles, is £15 per month. This includes access to movies on demand and a live stream of the Sky Movies channels. There is also a pay per view option for the very latest film releases on both Now TV and Lovefilm. Now TV is not aimed at current Sky customers that subscribe to the movies package since they can receive a similar service already via Sky Go. None of the services require a contract, and they are all easy to cancel.

Library

Lovefilm has over 7,300 titles to stream and nearly 10 times that if you want to rent DVDs and Blu-rays by post. Netflix won’t reveal how many titles they have, which leads me to believe the number is considerably less. They did say that they’ve doubled their catalogue since they launched in the UK at the beginning of the year. Now TV gives access to more than 600 movies, including up to five new premieres each week. While it doesn’t currently have TV shows, they plan to add them in the future (along with sports). That will, no doubt, be a relief for those who can’t receive Sky but would like to watch shows like Mad Men and HBO programming seen only on Sky Atlantic. Now TV’s catalogue of older films is nothing compared to Lovefilm or Netflix, though.

None of the streaming services were hugely impressive in terms of libraries. I randomly picked 10 movies and TV series each from over the years. This included indie films to blockbusters along with popular series from the UK and US. Netflix carried four of the TV series I picked, while Lovefilm carried one TV series and two films. Now TV carried four of the movies. Nearly everything is available via Lovefilm’s disc-by-post service making it the most comprehensive option.

Navigation & Playback

All three services are relatively easy to navigate on an iPad. Now TV includes a recently added section and breaks films out by genre, including action, animation, classic, comedy, drama, fantasy, horror, romance and world cinema, among others. You can scroll through thumbnails of film posters under each category and then read a description. Annoyingly it gives a star rating for each film but doesn’t explain who rated it or allow users to rate films. Films are loaded quickly, and the control buttons are easy to use. You can adjust the aspect ratio for full screen viewing but lose some of the frame if you do. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles offered. There is also a themed section under the collections tab for films such as weepies, vintage action, back to school, alien invasion and others. You can also hit the live TV tab to view the broadcast versions of the Sky Movies channels.

Netflix offers genre sections similar to Now TV but also includes a TV show section where you can watch entire seasons, which is great for those who are into binge viewing. I watched season 4 of Damages with Glenn Close, and each subsequent episode was handily queued up for me to continue watching without having to navigate through the app. Similar to Now TV, there is a themed section with new releases and other categories such as critically acclaimed titles, inspiring movies and mind-bending films. A key feature is the top 10 recommendation section, which is based on your previous viewing. There is a description of each piece of content, and you’re able to rate anything you like as well as view the ratings. Once you begin a film or TV show, the buttons are big and easy to use on the iPad, and there is an option for subtitles. Comment sections from viewers on Netflix and Now TV would be quite useful and would give the services more of a community feel.

The Lovefilm app is divided by films to stream now or rentals available by post. The home page has sections such as pick of the week, most popular, highest rated and genres, which closely resemble what you see on Netflix. There is also a themed section called collections, which includes groupings such as bad taste, all-out action, ultimate comedy and box sets for series such as 24, Downton Abbey, Lost and others. There is a ratings system, which tells you how many others have rated each piece of content, as well as giving you the ability to comment on a film or series. Once you begin streaming, the buttons are similar to those on Now TV, and there are no subtitles offered.

Picture Quality

Netflix is the superior option in terms of picture quality since it offers movies and TV shows in HD. The general picture quality for Lovefilm and Now TV are fine, but the lack of HD support is annoying. Lovefilm content can be seen in HD on other devices, such as smart TVs and Blu-ray players, though. After watching several films on all services, there was only a problem with Now TV. While my Wi-Fi connection was fine, I had problems streaming films on Now TV on two evenings over the last month. I was able to stream content on Netflix and Lovefilm on these same nights, while the Now TV service would not work. Now TV is the newest player in the market and just launched this summer, so it’s likely they still have to work out a few technical issues.

Availability

All services can be viewed on a variety of devices, and they each vary slightly. In addition to computers, Lovefilm can be viewed on iPads, smart TVs and Blu-ray players (Sony, Samsung and LG) and games consoles (Xbox and PlayStation). Netflix is available on many of those same services, although you won’t readily find apps on older model smart TVs and Blu-ray players since it hasn’t been in the UK as long as Lovefilm. Netflix can also be found on Panasonic smart TVs and Blu-ray players, along with the Wii console. In addition, Netflix can be seen on streaming players such as Apple TV and Roku. Now TV can be seen on iPads, computers, Xbox and YouView. Of course, you can watch these services on your smartphone too, but the experience is not nearly as exciting.

Verdict

There is no clear winner in this race because it really depends on what you need as a viewer. If you don’t go to the cinema that often and want to see the latest movies, you’ll want either Now TV or the much broader offer of Lovefilm’s streaming and disc-by-post option. Of course, that will set you back quite a bit more than the budget streaming only options of Lovefilm and Netflix. These could work for the more casual user that might want to catch up on older TV series and films. The disc-by-post option of Lovefilm enables you to watch DVD extras such as cast interviews, scenes edited out of cinema releases and ‘making of’ shorts, which will likely be important to film buffs. In my opinion, Blu-rays are much better than anything you can watch from a TV broadcast or online stream, even if it is in HD, in terms of visual quality and sound. The convenience of streaming cannot be underestimated, though.

In any case, the entertainment experience at home or on the go is just getting better. It will be interesting to see how many more of these services launch in the next few years and who wins the entertainment battle for the connected consumer!