I’m a subscriber to Lovefilm, and I rather like the postal service they offer – I’m currently on the highest package, receiving 4 discs at a time and a mixture of TV, movies and video games. I’ve tried their streaming service before (only films included in the package I’m on, naturally – £2.49 or £3.49 to stream a single film? I’ll pass), and it’s not exactly been impressive to date. Recently yes, it’s shown signs of improvement, no doubt boosted by the impending launch of Netflix, but I’ve always found the selection lacking on occasion, and the quality has been enough to offend my HD-demanding eyes. This comes as quite an ironic statement given that my first experience of HD was at a friend’s house and I can honestly say I saw no difference between that and standard. Oh how silly and young I was (well, younger, it was in 2008 I think…) But, I digress.

So Lovefilm’s streaming service has not seen much use since I signed up for it, which is coming up to 18 months now. The video frequently drops out and the best connection I’ve ever had has been through my iPad (other tablets are available). But then as I’ve said, the price does cover physical discs in the post as well (and games, don’t forget the games), so that’s the main reason I signed up and that’s where the bulk of my use goes. The fact I have an option to stream is a bonus, and not the main reason for my sub. Saying that, the sooner I can reduce my list to less than 100 films I’ll be happier…

Now, Netflix. This is purely a streaming-only service, so no discs or games through the post (although if you do want to stream games, OnLive isn’t too bad – not my cup of tea, mind), so naturally the streaming experience has to be top notch if it’s going to take off. After using it for a few hours this evening I’m happy to report that first impressions are very good indeed. The price is possibly the best part of it – £5.99 a month for unlimited streaming, giving you access to everything on the site. That’s pretty impressive, and the launch line-up for me is enough to justify that – I think there’s about 30-odd films  I can watch immediately, as well as a selection of TV series that I’ve wanted to watch but never got round to. I’d like to see Buffy, Angel and probably Fringe show up eventually, assuming it’s not too difficult for them to acquire the licence, as they’re all shows I want to see but don’t really want to spend money on the box set. I’ve got enough DVDs to keep me entertained until Doomsday (not the Neil Marshall film).

Secondly, there’s the streaming quality. Now, I’ve tested Drive Angry, Deadspace: Aftermath and the first episode of Spider-Man The Animated Series from the 90s. As you’d expect for a cartoon developed in 4:3 aspect ratio, the quality is fine and adequate for general viewing. I wouldn’t expect it to be amazingly high quality unless the studio decided to remaster every episode, and I don’t think there’s any call for that to be honest. As for Drive Angry and Deadspace: Aftermath, both films started in slightly lower quality before building up to just shy of standard HD. I’m no audiophile so I can’t really comment on the sound quality, and to be honest my hearing is so bad anyway it’s a bonus if they’re speaking clearly. None of this high quality audio for me thanks, I’ll settle for the picture alone.I was planning on doing some writing tonight, besides this blog, so I’ll probably get settled for the evening in a bit and pop another film on while I finish Trent Samuels series 2.

Now, even better is I told my brother about the service as well and within a few minutes we were both streaming films simultaneously. Usually when the household does anything like that, the connection slows down completely and the film doesn’t so much as judder to a halt but staggers drunkenly towards the door, raises its glass in a salute to the room in general, then falls out of the window. Not so with Netflix – perfect streaming quality for both of us for both films. I didn’t see any artifacts, lag, dragging or drunken staggering towards the exit. It was pretty much like having the DVD or knock-off Blu-Ray in the player and watching it like that, which was fantastic and totally unexpected given my experiences with Lovefilm. You can also pause the film like a DVD/Blu-Ray and return to it later, and although I didn’t really look at it in any great detail it did appear to have chapter selections as well, but I could be wrong about that (happy for someone to correct me on this!).

Admittedly the PS3 app looks a little awkward, but I understand the Xbox version looks a little better. I can happily stream via the PS3, my computer or the iPad and know the quality is going to be there. The only thing I would hope they improve is the selection available to us – it’s quite limited at the moment but for launch day this is good enough for me. The fact I also have a free trial for the first 30 days sweetens the deal more. Cancelling looks a painless process, but to be honest I think I’ll stick with this for a while and see how it goes. Besides which, I’ve got all of Spider-Man, X-Men, The 4400, Robotech, Moschops, The Thick of it and The Imbetweeners to watch before I leave. Yes, I know I should have watched The Imbetweeners, but I’m doing it now, okay? Jeez…

It turns out that Lovefilm have recently dropped their prices to compete with Netflix – £4.99 as opposed to £5.99 for Netflix. I would say that Lovefilm need to invest more in their streaming quality and availability of popular films before they can compete from a streaming perspective, but from the perspective of physical media I think they have the market sewn up and I for one am not going to cancel my Lovefilm sub just because there’s a rival on the market. Instead, I’ll play them both off against each other until I have no use for one or the other, much like a gladiatorial battle that lacks blood and anything remotely offensive. That is the natural way of things…