On the face of it, LoveFilm still wins on the price front right now. Literally hours after the announcement of Netflix pricing with in the UK, Amazon spat out a streaming-only LoveFilm plan rolling in at a quid cheaper than Netflix’s £5.99, and a whole £10 cheaper than Now TV.
LoveFilm’s DVD and Blu-ray library is quite sizeable, but unfortunately the same can’t be said for its streaming library. That’s not to say it’s tiny, there are over 9,000 titles currently available with over 4,000 of those being movies, and Amazon is adding new titles rapidly. The catch here is that over 1,000 of the latest films are not included with your subscription package, and you’ll have to pay up to £3.50 to watch them from LoveFilm’s “Box Office”. But having said that, LoveFilm’s streaming library includes quite a lot of relatively recently released and big-name films, including the likes of Harry Potter, Horrible Bosses, Unknown, and the Green Lantern.
With Netflix, on the other hand, you get access to everything in its library with one flat fee — there are no pay-per-view options. Unfortunately, Netflix’s movie collection isn’t as strong as LoveFilm’s on the face of it — at least compared to those in LoveFilm’s pay-per-view section — and it doesn’t publicly list how many films and TV shows it currently has for UK streaming as far as I can see. There are a few big-name and recent films, but if you’re looking for the latest blockbuster releases, Netflix isn’t going to cater for you as well as LoveFilm or Now TV might. Netflix does, however, have an OK back catalogue of older films — but compared to what’s available in Netflix’s US library, it’s hard not to feel like we’re getting stiffed a bit.
Both services also have exclusive deals sewn up with movie studios, so you might find you simply can’t get a particular film on one service because the other has it. For films though, LoveFilm is more likely to float your boat. But then again neither streaming-only service can really match up to what’s available on DVD or Blu-ray from LoveFilm still, and I can’t see that changing within the near future.
Now TV, on the other hand, is chock-a-block full of the latest movies. Sky pays a lot of money to grab films in what’s called the first “pay TV window“. Both LoveFilm and Netflix battle it out to secure films in the second of these so-called pay TV windows, which are at least a year behind the first window. The result is that Now TV has a whole lot more in the way of current or recently released titles for you to stream, including five new premieres every Friday, with quite a lot of the year’s biggest films landing on the streaming service before the year is out. Having said that, Now TV’s total movie library is pretty small, compared to LoveFilm’s at least, with under 700 films available for streaming through the Movie Pass subscription package and another 1,000 or so “on-DVD” or classic movies for PAYG on-demand. So, Now TV is great for the latest movies, but you might find its back catalogue a bit lacking or pricey.
Of LoveFilm’s 9,000 streaming titles, 4,000 odd are TV episodes. They used to be a bit of a nightmare to browse though — they were all lumped in as single episodes, not delineated into TV shows or seasons — thankfully LoveFilm’s addressing this making navigating its library much, much easier.
Most of the TV shows come from Channel 4, old BBC programs, or are kids TV shows. There’s the odd episode of Poirot, Robot Chicken and several seasons of Peep Show among the mix, so there’s normally something decent to watch in there.
On the other side, TV is something Netflix does really, really well; at least from an organisational standpoint. Each show is listed by the show title, not episode, so you can easily browse TV shows for something new to watch. Each show is divided into series, and subsequently into episodes, with auto-play for seemless TV-show marathons.
We already know that Netflix signed-up the BBC for their back catalogues, and they’re all present and accounted for. If you’re partial to a bit of British TV like Poirot, Lewis or Fawlty Towers, Netflix will do you right. Other highlights include American TV shows like South Park, Arrested Development, 24, Prison Break, Dexter, and Heroes, something LoveFilm doesn’t really offer in abundance. Unfortunately, again comparing what Netflix is offering in the UK to what you can get in the US, I can’t help but feel we’re getting a raw deal — there’s no Bones, or Monk, or the absolutely fabulous The Good Guys for instance. I’m assuming that’s down to licencing issues, and there’s a possibility that these kind of shows could be added at a later date (there have been a couple of American TV shows added to the Netflix library since launch), but for now you’re out of luck if you love watching a forensic anthropologist and a FBI agent bust down doors and lock-up murderers.
Even though it’s got television in the name, Now TV doesn’t actually offer any TV at present. That’s set to change in the future, as Sky’s bringing both TV and sports to Now TV, but right now it’s movies only.
On the quality front, things are getting closer, but there’s still not really much of a comparison. If you have a fast enough connection 5Mbps and above should probably do it, then Netflix will furnish your screen with 720p streaming video and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound; if you’re lucky enough to have a solid 8Mbps or above connection and a PS3 or computer, you can even pull down a 1080p full HD stream. While it’s certainly not as good as the kind of video you get from a Blu-ray, it is really quite impressive and compares really well with the current broadcast TV HD offerings from Sky, Virgin, FreeSat HD and Freeview HD.
Unfortunately, this is where LoveFilm is perhaps at its weakest. LoveFilm’s recently added 720p HD streaming to certain devices, like the Xbox 360, but if you’ve got a PS3 and other streamers you’re stuck with SD for now. This essentially means that the video will look fine on a small device, but when you push it onto your TV it might not even look as good as standard definition TV — certainly it isn’t much competition to Netflix’s HD streams at the moment.
Likewise, Now TV is currently limited to SD across the board. Sky did promise to have 720p HD up and running on the Xbox 360 soon, but on launch all you get is SD for your not-inconsiderable sum. There’s also no talk of 1080p streaming, so those of us with 10Mbps+ connections won’t be able to up the quality — a shame for movie watching, where getting a really decent picture makes the most out of all those cinematic masterpieces, or trashy action romps, on show.
Again, Netflix certainly has the edge over both LoveFilm and Now TV in the delivery department at the moment. You can stream on a whole variety of devices including iOS and Android devices. The three major consoles are all supported, along with the Apple TV, some Smart TV and Blu-ray players, the Roku box, and of course, a PC or Mac.
LoveFilm on the other hand will stream to some Smart TVs, home theatre systems and Blu-ray players; the PS3 and Xbox 360; the iPad, and a PC or Mac using Silverlight. There are a few limitations on what you can watch on what device though. For instance, you can’t watch pay-per-view movies on the PS3 or other devices like you can on a PC or Mac.
Now TV will initially only be available on YouView, and Android, as well as your PC or Mac of course. Sky’s aiming to support as many devices as possible though, so the Xbox 360, PS3, iOS, and even the Roku, are on the list. Hopefully it’ll be on every device that supports streaming, considering Sky’s aiming Now TV to be platform agnostic, but there’s no telling how long it’ll take to actually arrive on your streaming device of choice.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear winner here. Both LoveFilm and Netflix have their strong points, with Now TV offering an expensive but reasonably compelling offering too. LoveFilm has more current and big-name movies than Netflix, but Now TV blows both of them out of the water for the newest big-name blockbusters. On the other hand Netflix has more TV shows than LoveFilm, and has a really great interface you can actually use without tearing your hair out. On the quality front, Netflix wins hands down too, and you can currently stream Netflix to a greater variety of devices. But it’s also £1 more expensive than LoveFilm.
My advice is to take all three services up on their free trial offers and test-drive them for yourself. I’m intending to maintain my LoveFilm disc subscription with streaming on the side (£9.99) and add Netflix into the mix for TV shows. I’m going to keep Now TV’s PAYG option available for the odd massive blockbuster movie that I can’t be bothered to grab on Blu-ray, and possibly upgrade to a full-blown subscription if and when Sky rolls out TV and sport. That little lot works out at £11 a month, plus the odd £3.49 rental, which isn’t bad in the grand scheme of all things media, especially when you look at just how expensive a full TV subscription to Sky or Virgin is.
At any rate, there’s never been a better time to cut your pay-TV subscriptions and go purely over-the-top in the UK. Neither Netflix nor LoveFilm might deliver everything you want to watch right now alone, but it’s certainly a great start and with Now TV filling in the movie-based gaps it’s a winning combination. Let’s hope having the three of them battle it out will bolster their libraries giving us more on-demand content and keep prices low. We’re still in recovery from the recession, so the cheaper the better in my book.
Image credit: Boxing gloves from Shutterstock
This comparison has been edited since it was originally published on January 10th; updated to reflect the changing libraries and with thoughts on Sky’s Now TV added.