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On the first day of Netflix… (First Impressions)

February 7, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

…my postman gave to me: a Princess Mononoke! On the second day of Netflix, my postman gave to me: two Cowboy Bebops and a Princess Mononoke! </song>

As this post suggests, my family just got Netflix, a popular DVD rental and streaming service, recently! I’ve tweeted and dented about it on Twitter/Identica respectively, but I waited until now to give my impressions of their service so far (with updates to follow). So far we’ve received two DVDs, the first of which is Princess Mononoke, an awesome Japanese anime film, and the second is Cowboy Bebop vol. 4 (I’ve seen the first three volumes-worth on TV before), an awesome Japanese anime series that happens to air on Adult Swim. I’ll post reviews of these eventually, but for now I’m just going to talk about the overall Netflix service so far.

Princess Mononoke showed signs of being rented a little too often; scratches were everywhere on the back of the disc. After washing it as it suggested on the back of the DVD sleeve it came in, it played perfectly on two DVD players, but it skipped every once in a while on my brother’s laptop. The movie was mostly watchable though and I was delightfully surprised at that, considering the disc damage. Cowboy Bebop, on the other hand, was almost spotless and looked brand-new! Unfortunately, certain things on the disc were corrupted and played back with glitchy sound and graphics, so I couldn’t finish watching it. I asked for a replacement online and they sent it away this morning; it will probably arrive in a day or two, which brings me to the shipping times. Princess Mononoke came in the mail only two days after we ordered it, and the same with Cowboy Bebop! Not being used to local, one-day shipping, this seemed incredible to me and my family that, even after a recent snowstorm, we got our second DVD only two days after we sent it in!

Of course, we’re using the $10-per-month “DVDs with streaming” plan, which gives us access to a huge online catalog for instant streaming of TV shows and movies. This is, without a doubt, my favorite part of Netflix. There are tons of movies and shows to watch, though you won’t find everything you’re looking for. Most of the things available are mediocre (or worse) movies and old TV shows, though some really good ones are present like Hey Arnold!, Invader Zim, Gurren Lagann, Fruits Basket, the Cowboy Bebop movie, Ponyo, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, all 8 seasons of That 70s Show and so on. You just have to look very closely to find some awesome shows and movies sometimes. You can skip to any part of the show or movie you want, stop it and resume later at any time, select individual episodes for TV shows, rate movies so you can get better suggestions, and add them to an “Instant Queue”, which is sort of like an easy-access list. My experience has been very positive and the quality is surprisingly good even though my bandwidth is only 3Mb/s down, though I did have one minor hiccup: episode 8 of Gurren Lagann, on their servers, was episode 9 instead, even though it said it was episode 8. A quick call to tech support fixed the issue and it played fine, but Episode 9 spoiled the entire previous episode within the first few minutes, so that’s a drag.

The website interface is very easy to use, well-designed, and simple enough to navigate without any major hiccups. It gives you movies and shows to rate (and even has a page where you can rate various things in bulk), and the more things you rate and the more preferences you set, the more accurate Netflix’s suggestions are. For example, rate a lot of kiddie movies high and you’ll get more child-friendly suggestions, beginning with the ones that are most similar to the ones you liked. Underneath every show or movie, there’s a 5-star rating widget. However, the widget does not show the average rating (you can get that from the media’s page); the rating shown is how Netflix expects you to rate the movie, which is more or less than the average. The suggested rating is amplified by your preferences and previous ratings, so it’s easier to find things that you might like that you haven’t seen before based on what Netflix suggests.

When ordering DVDs or saving media to watch later, they’re put on a page called a “Queue” which I mentioned earlier. There are two of them: one for DVDs and one for watching instantly, though they differ in how they work. The DVD queue is a list that Netflix itself uses to determine which DVDs are sent to you and in what order. You can drag and drop DVDs into any position, rate them, view information about them by hovering over their name, remove them, and see which DVDs are shipped/shipping to your house. The “Instant” queue works similarly, but it’s more of a “to-do list” that can be accessed in any order, so the order that the shows and movies appear in is pretty superficial.

So far, Netflix is really awesome and has a wide selection of stuff to rent/stream, but the streaming library isn’t nearly as big as I’d like it to be. The DVDs aren’t perfect, but hey, what do you expect from a national, online, mail-delivery rental service? I haven’t had it for so long, so I can’t write an accurate review at this point, but if you have some spare cash then try it out for two months! They have a one-month free trial where you can try it out and see if you like it.

PS: One last concern: parental controls are pretty weak. You can have multiple accounts with different privilages, but all of your devices linked to “Watch Instantly” are permanently tied to your main Netflix account and not the sub-accounts. If you set parental controls to block anything besides “nothing”, you can’t stream unrated shows and movies (like Ken Burns’ documentaries, some movies, and some anime shows), so you might want to consider that. Instead of actually blocking programs, I personally think a smarter and much more convenient way of doing it is to just keep tabs on what everyone watches. Netflix lets you look at your “Watch Instantly” history as well as DVD shipping history online and doesn’t let you remove things from the lists, so you can see exactly what the people in your house watch, what they’re rated, and look them up to see if they’re appropriate. If not, just talk to them about it and why it’s not good for them (and maybe threaten to ground them, if they’re kids :P).

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