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Change of Heart: 3 DVD rental services reviewed

Can a DVD addict find happiness through a mail-order rental business?

Change of Heart: 3 DVD rental services reviewed

Can a DVD addict find happiness through a mail-order rental business?

I don't know what it is about the many DVD rent-by-mail operations popping up around Australia that initially put me off.

Is it the fact that DVDs wouldn't fit in my mailbox anyway, and walking past the video rental store to pick up undeliverable DVDs at the Post Office didn't seem like the greatest of ideas?

Or maybe it's just the fact I imagined the selection would about the same as trying to pick a good flick from the video section at Woolies.

Or is it simply the involvement of the Post Off ... erm, never mind. Don't want to upset any postal workers.

But other people I knew were joining these schemes ... and liking them. What did they know that I didn't? There was nothing else to do but join one myself.

First of all, if you've been a sceptic like me, it's probably best to take a quick look at how these things work.

Introduction
How it works
The future
Services
How they stack up
 
How it works

In general, once you've chosen which service you intend to go with, you sign up online for a specific payment plan (giving your credit card details, of course). You then can start choosing your list of preferred movies. (This, of course, means that you'll need to visit the online site regularly to manage your account.) The first-available DVD or DVDs from that list you create online are sent to you -- or to your office if your home mailbox isn't big enough -- in envelopes not much bigger than the disc itself. (Sorry, no DVD cases.) A return envelope is also included so you can pop the DVD back in the mail as soon as you've finished with it. There are no late fees, but no new discs are mailed out to you until the last ones are returned. And because you're usually charged a fixed rate on a weekly or monthly basis, taking too long to return movies just means you're spending more per movie.

When I joined at the beginning of the year, four different operations seemed to be taking in the lion's share of the business: Meteor, Homescreen, Quickflix and the Telstra-owned BigPond Movies (formerly known as Fetchmemovies). I joined Meteor because several people had recommended it. Unfortunately, Meteor went out of business in March of this year, so of the remaining three (each of which service all of Australia) I chose Homescreen, but the basics of the experience are similar for the other two as well.

The online Web interface makes it easy to select your wishlist, or "must-see" of movies (they like you to keep 15-20 movies in your list so they'll be able to send you something you want even if some of your choices are not available). The choice isn't quite as extensive as my local Blockbuster, but most of the movies I could come up with were there. And, of course, the Web sites provide a lot of features such as search, and dynamic "Top rentals" lists to make it easy to find movies. As you rate more and more movies on each of these sites, you are presented with (hopefully) better recommendations.

Once the movies you choose are in your list, they are displayed with a rough indication of availability (for example, example, "usually available", "short wait", or "longer wait"). One good thing about choosing movies this way: you'll often select films or television shows that you wouldn't when browsing through the rental store in person. One bad thing: you'll often select films or television shows that you'd have the sense not to when browsing through the rental store in person.

Introduction
How it works
The future
Services
How they stack up
 
The future

Is the demise of Meteor an omen for the future of DVD mailing services? I wouldn't bet on it. In the US, Blockbuster has already jumped on the bandwagon with a service of its own. Amazon UK now offers the option of renting select DVDs by mail.

In any case, I know of quite a few people who have joined a DVD mailing service recently and seem to be very happy with the system.

Let's take a look at how the current national competition stacks up. I asked Homescreen, Quickflix, and BigPond Movieseach the same questions, including "How many titles do you have in your catalogue?" and "How big is your support staff?".

I also created my own list of "essential" movies (focusing a bit more on the obscure titles) in order to see if any of the different services had a noticeably broader catalogue.

(There are other regional providers of this service, but I have concentrated here on those who operate nationally.) Here are the results:

DVD title BigPondMovies Homescreen Quickflix
The Party (Peter Sellers) No No Yes
The Brothers McMullen (Ed Burns) Yes No No
Capricorn One (James Brolin) Yes Yes No
The Long Goodbye (Altman version) Yes Yes No
Tender Mercies (Robert Duvall) Yes Yes No
Tender Loving Care (interactive) No Yes Yes
Hercules in New York (no, don't rent it) Yes Yes No
Waking Life (Richard Linklater) No No Yes
Classic Albums - Stevie Wonder - Songs In The Key of Life No Yes No

Tested: July 6, 2005

Many more movies were put to the test, but when they appeared in all three inventories, or none of the three, they were removed from this table.

None of them, for example, had excellent films like The Straight Story, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Stranger than Paradise, The Last Wave, Bad Day at Black Rock or Stop Making Sense.

Introduction
How it works
The future
Services
How they stack up
 
Services

BigPond Movies | Homescreen | Quickflix

BigPond Movies
BigPond Movies
Though all the services were pretty similar in the breadth and depth of their offerings, BigPond Movies and Homescreen seemed to edge slightly ahead with some of the more obscure movies in our random sampling. We liked the Poplist feature, where users get to make lists of their favourite films. The user ratings and reviews adds a bit to the community feel of the site, but we have to say that BPM took the longest to respond to our queries, kept us in queue loops for the longest time when we called, and even said they could not give out the number of their marketing department!

Phone: 1800 502 502
URL: www.bigpondmovies.com.au
Free trial period: 14 days
 

Homescreen
Homescreen
The online service interface with Homescreen is intuitive and quick. The selection is quite extensive, and a large number of older films also seems to be coming in with each new batch of available movies. User reviews are not a part of this site, but that's probably a feature that appeals to some and not others.




Phone: 1300 852 812
URL: www.homescreen.com.au
Free trial period: 21 days
 

Quickflix
Quickflix
The online interface is quite similar to the other two, and the catalog of DVDs on offer is extensive. The Member Reviews adds a nice touch and community feel. Quickflix also provides a number of novel ways to help you search for discs, such as exclusive online reviews from David Stratton, and lists such as Time magazine's greatest films of all time.



Phone: 1300 138 644
URL: www.quickflix.com.au
Free trial period: 14 days
 

Introduction
How it works
The future
Services
How they stack up
 
How they stack up

  BigPondMovies
URL www.bigpondmovies.com.au
Phone 1800 502 502
Cost per month for 2 DVDs out at a time* AU$9.95
Cost per month for 3 DVDs out at a time** AU$19.95
Special deals Free 14-day trial
How many DVDs? "More than 15,300"
Do you cover all of Australia? Yes
Do movies have to be delivered to a home address? No.
Any fixed address is ok.
Do you have member profiles for recommending titles? Our recommendation engine uses a range of user behaviours to build up a preference profile. This includes user ratings and reviews, selection list contents, previously rented DVDs, page viewing history, pop-list usage and so on.
Can you get movies from any studio/distributor? Yes
How big is your support staff? Hours? We provide customer support via phone, e-mail and mail and take calls 7 days a week (except Christmas day) between 07:00 - 23:00.
Are customer details retained after an account is closed? All customer information is held in a secure database and information related to suspended accounts is retained to allow customers to re-activate (and not have their selection lists and recommendation profile lost). We do not use suspended account information for any purpose. Customers can request us to delete some key account details if they cancel permanently and are concerned about privacy.
Other features Reader reviews; Poplists (where members share their opinions of movies with other members); My Household (If people at your place like different kinds of DVDs, you use this function to make sure everyone gets a fair share of their selections).

  Homescreen
URL www.homescreen.com.au
Phone 1300 852 812
Cost per month for 2 DVDs out at a time* AU$29.95
Cost per month for 3 DVDs out at a time** AU$36.95
Special deals Free 21-day trial
How many DVDs? Over 13,500
Do you cover all of Australia? Yes
Do movies have to be delivered to a home address? No.
Any fixed address is ok.
Do you have member profiles for recommending titles? Yes, based on ratings.
Can you get movies from any studio/distributor? Yes
How big is your support staff? Hours? 9am-5pm
Mon-Fri AEST
Are customer details retained after an account is closed? Yes
Other features E-mail a friend (to recommend a movie).

  Quickflix
URL www.quickflix.com.au
Phone 1300 138 644
Cost per month for 2 DVDs out at a time* AU$29.93
Cost per month for 3 DVDs out at a time** AU$36.93
Special deals Free 14-day trial
How many DVDs? "Approaching 13,000"
Do you cover all of Australia? Yes
Do movies have to be delivered to a home address? No.
Any fixed address is ok.
Do you have member profiles for recommending titles? Yes. Movie Selector technology helps profile you based on a range of factors including the obvious ones -- movies that you’ve watched or rated. Quickflix has taken this a step further to allow members to have titles automatically added to their list without even having to come back to the website.
Can you get movies from any studio/distributor? Yes
How big is your support staff? Hours? 8am-8pm
Mon-Fri AEST
Are customer details retained after an account is closed? Members can choose to have their details deleted or otherwise they can be maintained to be reactivated if they decide to rejoin down the track. We also allow members to pause their account at anytime which comes in handy if they’re heading off on holidays (without the DVD player!).
Other features Reader reviews; First online rental service to get IPO.

* Average of 9 DVDs per month. Telstra price stated is for BigPond members with four movie rentals per month total (non-members cost is AU$16.95).
** Average of 13.5 DVDs per month. Homescreen and Quickflix have one-year-contract plans that are slightly cheaper per month than the month-by-month fee. Telstra price stated is for BigPond members with 10 rentals per month total (non-members cost is AU$26.95).