Netflix Lifts Restrictions On Downloadable Movie Rentals

Netflix has removed the monthly limits on all but its lowest-cost plan in an apparent attempt to position itself more competitively against Apple, which is expected to announce a downloadable movie rental service tomorrow. Now for as little as $8.99 per month you can watch as many movies on your PC as you can download.

Granted, Netflix only has about 6,000 movies available for download—but even if their library is missing some obscure or specialty titles, that’s still not a bad price-per-movie if you watch a lot of flicks on your PC.

We hate to sound like a commercial for Netflix, a company this writer has hated and avoided since 2002 when I caught them throttling my rentals—and that craptastic 2006 “settlement” was even more offensive than TJX’s offer to hold a “special sale” for its victims of identity theft. But hey, a deal’s a deal, and $9 a month for unlimited movie and TV downloads is pretty sweet.

“Netflix Expands Internet Viewing Option” [Wired]

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  1. UpsetPanda says:

    Now here’s the inevitable question: Why would ANYONE sign up for the 1 DVD at-a-time plan?

    Anyone know why the instant watching feature has such a paltry selection (like no CBS shows)?

  2. goller321 says:

    I was pretty anti netflix myself…. until blockbuster became the defacto pile o’shit. Not only did BB raise rates twice, cut my plan (though others did not see a change) and basically told me to “f” off when I complained; after cancelling last month, they offered two free months to stay on… I agreed and not only did they proceed to charge my card for last month, they ended my membership a couple of days ago…. Additionally, they held back any other movies for the full week before my month ended. I plan a chargeback…

  3. CMU_Bueller says:

    Great how long until this costs everyone their Comcast “unlimited” internet service?

  4. goodkitty says:

    @JD: Of course, nobody does, it’s just so they can say “Netflix from $4.99/mo!”

    I’ve only recently gotten into Netflix’s on-demand service, and found it to be pretty good actually aside from it’s MSIE-only operation. They really need to work on their selection though, especially for series. I shouldn’t be in a situation where I can watch half a series via on-demand, but then get physical discs for the last half (as I am for a show now).

    If anything, this would be great if it means less broken-disc games (get a bad disc, send it back to them, get another bad disc, send that back to them, get the first bad disc back again, etc.).

    As far as Blockbuster goes, I’m still mildly in awe of how much effort must have gone into making that service suck so completely. It’s one of those things where it’s so bad, that you know it had to be intentional.

    I would think that is probably going to hurt Netflix’s bottom line since if on-demand worked, people would sign up for lower service plans.

  5. Imaginary_Friend says:

    I’m with you Chris: cancelled Netflix after they lied about the throttling in early 2000 and never looked back. I tried Blockbuster for about 6 months, but they were just as bad (and also had a poorer selection).

    It’ll be interesting to see what Apple brings to the table. I sincerely hope they spank the crap out of both Netflix and Blockbuster.

  6. new and troubling questions says:

    @Imaginary_Friend: Ditto, on Apple that is…I’ve actually been pretty happy with my Netflix service (no throttling), but seeing as I have a Mac, it’s a little bit hard to know that I pay the same amount as other people with the same plan but can’t watch on-demand movies (and there’s actually some decent titles within that 6,000, like good documentaries).

  7. smitty1123 says:

    Something about streaming Support Your Local Sheriff amuses me to no end…

  8. allthatsevil says:

    @JD: Not many would sign up for 1-at-a-time for 4.99, but I’ll bet it’s popular for gift-giving. About $30 for 6 months, maybe for someone who doesn’t watch a lot of movies anyway.

  9. FezMan88 says:

    Now if only you could watch the movies on a mac… the whole apple competition seems pointless

  10. misskatybean says:

    I’m watching a documentary on netflix right now! Just thought I’d share.

  11. BrianH says:

    Chris — I’m totally with you — in 2002 I caught them throttling me BIG TIME and they denied it — 2 years later the truth came out.

    But this deal is enough for me to give them another chance. Unless their idea of “unlimited” becomes “unlimited with an asterisk after it” again….

  12. chloelikedolivia says:

    I thought netflix’s service was streaming – is this something new?

  13. Mr_Human says:

    @chloelikedolivia: Yeah, “Download” isn’t quite the right term in this case. Maybe it is, technically, but you’re not saving any files onto your ‘puter. Streaming it is.

    And my mom does the Netflix one out plan. So there.

  14. Montaigne says:

    I have been a Netflix user since 2003. They never gave me problems for stolen dvds or ones that never came. They always ship next day replacement for those wankers that dont take care of other peoples property. Their online selection is limited, but I get dvds in one day after I mail them. Thank god for same day mail in Vermont. My stock in their company has only risen since 2003 and I have nothing to complain about. Blockbuster’s selestion is crap and they censor selection which I am not into. Netflix has the best indie/foreign out there as well as documentary. Good luck finding most of this stuff from BB or your local. Most of the time they just worry about money, which means only the new releases. If they dont have it, then they ship it from another, as in Hustle, which came from Missouri, but I still got it and there was no way I was going to get a British series in Vermont so props. Yes, the only way this will work is if our ISP do not throttle us, which they will do. Netflix, I recommend to all my friends.

  15. MonkeySwitch says:

    Yeah, but it’s only compatible with IE in Windows. That’s not very nice.

  16. tozmervo says:

    Wow, it’s like they knew I had just run out of my streaming time watching Red Dwarf. Sigh, so long, weekend…

  17. Poormojo says:

    Now how soon until there is Mac support for this?

  18. Ailu says:

    I too found Netflix throttling my rentals in 2001 or so… After 3 months of joyous renting, I filled out a customer survey answering how happy I was and how I always get my DVDs by the very next day. Right after that, *suddenly* everything I wanted to rent was “unavailable”. I was soo angry, I wrote an email to customer service and cancelled my account.

    *then many years passed*

    … and three months ago, I saw a Netflix envelope at a friends house, so I shared my experience and asked them how they were faring. Surprisingly, she said they’d been members for a few years now, and had never seen any “unavailable” notices in their queue.

    So I decided to give them another try. And I’m again a happy camper (esp love the Ugly Betty episodes on DVD – I never got to see the show as it’s been on a night I have class. Fun stuff!).

    However, I gotta say – if they send me any survey requests again – you can bet I’m not typin one jot in answer to them.

  19. caj11 says:

    @JD: The selection is paltry for instant watching purposes because Netflix needs to negotiate and obtain the rights for EACH movie it offers on the instant watching feature, whereas the rights for the movies it offers on DvD have already been taken care of by the distributors. The selection is also rather paltry on the instant watching service Movielink, but they’re adding new titles every day, as that is their core service.

    Now here’s my question for the masses…if Apple’s new service is any good and I can get the instant gratification of downloading movies on my computer, when television goes all-digital next year, will I be able to *easily* (key word: easily) hook up my laptop to my digital television so I can watch the downloaded movies there? Because I’m really not interested in watching every movie on my computer, except for long plane rides. If the answer is no, then I will stick with DvDs through-the-mail until that day arrives. Oh, and I have a Lenovo T60 for anyone who might be able to make an informed answer. Thanks.

  20. coren says:

    @chloelikedolivia: The only thing new about it is the unlimited aspect.

  21. LAGirl says:

    that’s great, but when the F*CK are they gonna have this service for MACs???!!! why are MACs still the ugly stepchild? i subscribe to Netflix and can’t watch jacksh*t instantly because i have a MAC!

  22. stinerman says:

    @LAGirl:
    Their DRM scheme probably only works with Windows.

  23. Jthmeffy says:

    @Mr_Human: Did your mom, at any point in time, ride the short bus continually? Cause I would think that would be a prerequisite for spending $5 for ~3 movies per month.

  24. groupie says:

    @allthatsevil: Exactly. I know some friends who have that plan and love it, but I chose to go for a higher one.

  25. Ghede says:

    “download”?
    Don’t you mean streaming? Download implies being able to watch it offline.

  26. SuperSally says:

    I’ve been with Netflix for a few months and service has been great–I’ve never had anything unavailable, either.

    But I will say that their downloadable movie selection is just awful. Basically some of the worst that any genre has to offer. Blech.

  27. blitzcat says:

    We have a Netflix subscription, but we have Macs. No Joy. No Hoopla. We are second class customers.

  28. stephenjames716 says:

    it will be interesting to see what happens with the mac rental service. I love netflix, but since I can’t watch online with my mac I will definitely be looking to see what apple offers in the way of rentals/viewing online.

  29. lemur says:

    @caj11:

    Now here’s my question for the masses…if Apple’s new service is any good and I can get the instant gratification of downloading movies on my computer, when television goes all-digital next year, will I be able to *easily* (key word: easily) hook up my laptop to my digital television so I can watch the downloaded movies there? Because I’m really not interested in watching every movie on my computer, except for long plane rides. If the answer is no, then I will stick with DvDs through-the-mail until that day arrives. Oh, and I have a Lenovo T60 for anyone who might be able to make an informed answer. Thanks.

    You are conflating some issues. You say:

    “when television goes all-digital next year, will I be able to *easily* (key word: easily) hook up my laptop to my digital television so I can watch the downloaded movies there?”

    You have to realize that when you watch Spiderman 3 on TV vs Spiderman 3 on DVD you are talking about 2 significantly different processes. The TV digital transition will affect only the first case but not the other. Streaming movies from Netflix won’t be affected by the transition to digital TV. As far as TV shows are concerned, the transition may push some producers of shows to release more shows in Blu-ray format in addition to DVD.

    Now, judging by the way you formulated your question you are interested to know whether or not you’ll be able to download HD materials to your laptop and then hook it up to your HDTV for viewing. I’m assuming you really meant download rather than stream but I will note the differences between the two methods when appropriate.

    1. You have to realize that HD sources are much bigger than non-HD sources. Unfortunately, I do not have figures to give you. I’ve searched a bit but none of what I found was reliable. (If somebody has a good source with well supported technical details, please share.) Just checking torrent sizes does not work because those who produce those torrents very often compromise quality in order to reduce file size.

    So downloading HD sources may be troublesome in practice if your net connexion does not have enough bandwidth. The provider of the source might also impose limits on how fast you can download from them. There’s also the problem of the required disk space for holding the files.

    If you are streaming, then disk space should not be a problem for normal usage scenarios. Bandwidth can still be a problem because your player has to get information fast enough to build frames for smooth playback.

    (Obviously, how much any of the above would turn out to be a problem for you really depends on how much HD material you would be viewing every week. 6 hours of HD is not the same as 50 hours.)

    2. Your laptop needs to be able to drive your HDTV and sound system. You say you have a Lenovo T60 but I don’t think that’s enough information to give a precise opinion on your specific case because AFAIK Lenovos can be configured with very different graphic cards, for one thing. (That was the case when I shopped for a laptop last summer). You want a laptop with:

    a) A graphic card good enough to drive your HDTV at its native resolution (check your HDTV specs),

    b) Optimally you want an HDMI (or DVI) output for the video. RGB works but is not as good. The quality of an RGB connexion to an HDTV depends a lot on the quality of the video card in your machine, the quality of the analog-to-digital converters in the HDTV and a lot on the quality of the RGB cable. You want a very well shielded cable for this. (Talking from experience here.)

    c) You want your laptop to be able to transfer the full audio of the HD source to your HDTV (or home theater system). Optimally, this means being able to send a digital audio stream. In theory HDMI carries the audio but how this can be accomplished depends on the specific video card you have. If your video card can’t do it, then your audio card must do it. If the audio card does it, it means that it must have a digital port.

    3. DRM can be another obstacle. If you are able to install a state-of-the-art all-digital route between your laptop and your TV, then HDCP will kick in and verify that all devices are behaving to protect the “rights” of the copyright holders. If one device has not implemented HDCP properly, then you won’t be able to play anything back at HD quality. What I am saying is that if there is an HDCP bug in any of the components (could be the video card or the HDTV or anything else that participates in the playback), you won’t be able to play your HD source. And these bugs have been known to happen way too frequently.

    I hope this gives you an idea of what to expect.

  30. alilz says:

    I have the 1 dvd out at a time plan (unlimited) because I don’t normally wawtch that many dvds during the regular tv season and also when I’m in school, but during the summer I increase my plan.

    I’ve used the watch instantly program, not really for movies, but to watch tv shows. with the 1 out program I can only have a single queue so I’m limited to 500 discs (not titles, discs and with tv shows that adds up) so I don’t put most Watch Instantly tv shows on my queue.

  31. We have zip.ca in canada which is roughly the same but no download feature. I wonder if one could sign up for netflix and then only use the download option, never recieve physical discs (since I don’t think they ship to Canada). I’m paying almost $20 a month for a max of 5 free discs and 2 at a time. It blows but there is basically no competition.
    I’d do 1 dvd at a time if I could, I can only watch one movie at a time anyway and I don’t watch one every day.

    Though I’m in the process of matching my list with the holdings of the public library system and it’s going rather well…

  32. Mary says:

    @Ailu: “Surprisingly, she said they’d been members for a few years now, and had never seen any “unavailable” notices in their queue.”

    I’ve been a member since 2001 and I’ve never gotten an unavailable notice or seen a single instance of throttling on my account. I’ve been more than happy with my experience with them.

    And there are a lot of movies in my queue in the Watch Instantly section, because I’m a big fan of documentaries.

  33. Ailu says:

    @meiran: Hmmm, maybe you got all the DVDs that were “unavailable” to me. lol But seriously, that’s good to hear. I gotta say, I really love Netflix now. With their overnight delivery, even with my “Rent 2 at a time” plan of 14 bucks, I’m able to rent about 10 DVDs a month with them. That’s more than 1/2 the price of the video store down the street.

  34. Chaosium says:

    @Jthmeffy: That’s a bit rude, considering that it’s still a far better deal than renting movies from a shop.

  35. Ailu says:

    @meiran: Makes me wonder… do you ever remember filling out a survey from them back then?

  36. Murph1908 says:

    @Jthmeffy:
    $1.66 per movie and never having to leave the house for them sound pretty good to me. Perhaps your short bus days prevented you from doing the math.

  37. viqas says:

    1.00 per movie/night at the redbox seems reasonable for me. its rare when i spend more than 3 dollars a month on those things

  38. thomas_callahan says:

    To whoever questioned the one-at-a-time plan, I just started a trial of the $4.99 plan because I only watch 2 or maybe on rare occasions 3 movies a month and never more than one at a time. When you add in 5 hours of online watching it’s really more than I’ll likely use, so why would I pay $9 when I could pay $5? $4 is $4.

    And if I do start watching more, I can always change plans. Even if I only watch one a month, it’s still break-even with rentals, even cheaper when you consider gas and time traveling.

  39. Trai_Dep says:

    @caj11: With two simple cables (audio and video), you can easily blast whatever’s on your Mac screen to your TV, even HD, widescreen. The better rez you’re blasting, the better it looks on your HDTV.

    AppleTV does the same, wirelessly. And stores the stuff locally by your TV.

    It’s so easy that visiting friends weep when they see my sweeeet setup. Then start browsing the http://www.apple.com/getamac/ page (yeah, I’m evil like that).

  40. Trai_Dep says:

    Holy cow. Lemur’s 3-page, convoluted process you must follow to (perhaps) play PC movies to your HDTV, versus my “yup: wire, click, play” Mac response pretty much encapsulates the whole PC vs Mac argument in a nutshell. :P

  41. gingerCE says:

    Why are Mac people treated like second class citizens? Are we such a minority we don’t matter? Nowhere does this article mention that even though Mac people pay the same price Windows people do, none of us can use this feature as Netflix does not support Macs?

    I also wonder how many Netflix users are Mac users. I suspect the number is higher than the national average of Mac users.

    Instead, they should’ve made this an option for 1-2 bucks a month that you can sign on for–so as not to financially take advantage of those of us who are not able to use this function (whether due to having a Mac, older computer, dial-up etc . . .)

  42. gingerCE says:

    I actually feel there is potential for class action (hence a dollar credit or so) for all mac users who cannot use this feature even though they are paying for it.

  43. lemur says:

    @trai_dep: The size issues of HD vs non-HD sources are the same for Macs as for PCs. As for the Mac just being plug and play… well, just take a look at these Mac users’ problems:

    This guy loses “a bunch of pixels on all sides”:
    [forums.macrumors.com]

    Clearly this user is not experiencing the joy of just plugging and playing:
    [forums.macrumors.com]

    You always need to pay attention to the specific connexions needed whether on a Mac or a PC:
    [forums.macrumors.com]

    And that’s just what I could quickly dig up. There’s more at MacRumors and more elsewhere on the web.

    Basically, if someone were to give a technical answer about how to plug a Mac to an HDTV and would want to cover all bases, the explanation would be just as long as the one I gave for the PC.

    The difference between buying a Mac and a PC is that it is quite possible to buy a low end PC that won’t be able to drive an HDTV at all. You don’t find the equivalent of that in the Mac world. The minimum capabilities of all currently sold Mac are comparable to higher end PCs. If you buy a high end PC today, most likely it will have an HDMI output and digital audio output too.

    And when it comes to HDCP bugs, those affect just as much Macs as they do PCs because a good deal of those bugs are in the HDTV themselves or are in hardware that Apple does not control (for instance the nVidia cards in Macbooks which are the same as those nVidia makes for PCs).

  44. Mary says:

    @Ailu: It’s entirely possible I did but I don’t recall it. I actually do marketing surveys for extra cash, so surveys don’t stick out in my mind at all *laugh*.

    I am frequently getting emails from them saying “When did you ship this movie” and “What day did you receive this movie?”

    It also helps that I rarely, if ever, am renting new releases. Sometimes I will, but for the most part my queue is full of tv shows, cartoons and anime, and older movies. From what I understand, the throttling was only of new releases or overly popular titles.

    I’m glad they’ve been better this time around though! I think Netflix has their ducks in a row, it’s one of the few companies that I actually recommend these days.

  45. Mizzle fo Shizzle says:

    Netflix is GREAT. The “Watch-it-now” service couldn’t be better (minus the lack of Firefox support). If you’ve got the video card for it, TV viewing is a synch. Now they just need to work on their library…