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Perhaps you’ve heard of NetFlix, or perhaps you’ve been under a rock at the bottom of the ocean in a box wearing blinders and earplugs. In the case that you have found nice real estate at the bottom of the ocean, NetFlix is an online rental service. For $22 a month (among other pricing options) you can “rent all the DVDs you want”. How does it work? Well, NetFlix has a library of over 20,000 movie titles. You pay your money, make a list of all the movies you want to see, and then wait for them to be shipped to you. NetFlix then ships the top three movies from your list. When you receive the movies they also include a return envelope with which to send them back. You watch the movie and then send it back to NetFlix. Once they have received the viewed movie, they send the next one in your list. Sounds simple right? The better question is: Is it worth it? Well, Dominic Bartek has spent the past year and a half as a NetFlix customer. Here are his thoughts:

This service has had many positive attributes, not the least of which is an extensive selection. Practically any DVD which has ever been released is there. Much more than you could find at a video store. This is especially true for rare or hard-to-find movies, such as independent or foreign films, as well as collections or special releases, such as for TV shows. As an example, I’m a huge X-Files fan. There are about six DVDs per season, and eight seasons released so far. There’s no way Blockbuster has every one of those X-Files DVDs on hand, but my good buddy NetFlix does.

The service is easy to use. The search interface quickly finds the movies you want to see. The rental queue keeps track of all the movies that you are interested in renting. When you decide to rent a movie, it is placed at the end of your rental queue. Whenever it is time to send you a DVD, NetFlix will send you the top movie in your queue. You can easily reorder the queue as desired, so that the stuff you want the most is sent first. If your top pick is not immediately available (for instance, if it is a new release in high demand), they’ll send out the next highest pick. I have almost always received my top pick immediately. For brand new releases, I might have had to wait a week or two at most.

NetFlix is convenient. The DVD comes in a free return envelope. When I’m done viewing, I just pop it back in the mail. I hate late fees. NetFlix will never charge you one. If you’re busy and can’t watch a movie right away, just do so at your leisure and return it when done.

This service is not all positive, though. There are a couple of complaints I have had while using their service. NetFlix does not provide instant gratification. You can’t decide to rent a movie that day and watch it that night. It takes some pre-planning to place it on your queue, and then wait for the 2-3 day shipping time.

NetFlix is not for the undisciplined. Since there are no late fees, it’s easy sometimes to forget about a movie and let it sit around for a while. This is fine, but if you do this frequently, then you are not really utilizing the system to its fullest and will end up paying a lot for very little usage. Remember, you pay $22 a month no matter how many movies you end up receiving during that time. So, watch that DVD and then return it!

The USPS is not a crack group of mail commandos. Due to the rigors of traveling through the US postal system, the DVDs have a higher risk of damage and un-playability. I’ve had several discs that were damaged and unplayable. It’s no hassle to send it back for a replacement, but the time you spend waiting for that replacement disc could have been spent waiting for a new movie. This has happened approximately once every few months. Even rarer is when the DVD in the envelope is a different one than it’s supposed to be. This has happened only once to me. Again, it is not a big problem but does cut into your viewing time.

In summary, I believe NetFlix is an invaluable service for any movie enthusiast, as long as you make it work for you. The convenience of doorstep delivery, wide selection of movies, and precise control of my personal options all combine to make it well worth the cost. Since I’ve had NetFlix, I’ve seen many more movies than I ever would have rented from the video store or seen at the theater. New releases, classics, TV shows, anime, documentaries, whatever — NetFlix has kept me well supplied with entertainment. In fact, its only downside is that it may be TOO successful. I’ve been able to rent so many movies with NetFlix that I’m running out of movies I actually want to watch!

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