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You love movies but you simply can’t spare the time to go to a theater, and when you can the only films showing at the local multiplex are mediocre Hollywood product. What to do? Well, why not rent movies online? I know, you want the communal experience of watching movies in a darkened theater, but consider the advantages. By using an online DVD rental service, you have your pick of a wide range of movies, for a price substantially lower than a trip to the cinema. You also don’t have to put up with the rude guy behind you who’s narrating the entire story to his girlfriend, and kicking the back of your seat to boot.
The market leader in online DVD rentals is Netflix, which was founded in 1997. Netflix claims to have some 100,000 titles in its library (which includes both movies and TV shows) and announced in February 2009 that the number of subscribers to the service had already passed ten million. Cineastes in particular will appreciate the fact that Netflix’s library features many classic and art house movies. The major features offered by Netflix to those who want to rent movies online are: affordable membership fees, quick arrival times (an average of just one day) and a two-week free trial for new users. In addition, the Netflix site offers an easy-to-use search interface that allows users to search by title, director, actor, genre, even by awards the movie has received.
You can also easily access information on a particular film simply by moving your mouse over the movie image on the site. Netflix works by charging users a flat monthly fee that allows them a certain number of rentals. You create a list of DVDs, called a ‘queue,’ that you want to rent. You only receive the next movie or batch of movies once you return the ones already in your possession. There are no late fees. Netflix’s closest competitor is Blockbuster. Blockbuster was originally founded in 1985 as a chain of video rental stores, but started its own online rental service in 2004. It has a substantially smaller number of titles in its library, 75,000, and focuses on newer titles that have higher consumer demand. Movies arrive at your door in between one and two days, but you can also exchange your movies at any brick-and-mortar Blockbuster store, depending on your membership plan.
Apart from these differences, Blockbuster’s rental service offers features similar to those of Netflix’s. DVD Avenue has only a fraction of the movies of its two competitors but does offer something they don’t: adult video rentals at no extra charge. But a major disincentive for using the service, aside from the paucity of their library, is that it takes longer for the movies to reach you: two to five days; however, if you live in the DC Metro area, you can get your rentals in one to three days. Cineastes with more exotic tastes looking to rent movies online can also avail of more specialized rental services such as eHit and Cafedvd, which have broader selections of obscure films and Asian cinema, but substantially fewer features. With such a bounty of choices, you may never have to visit the multiplex again.