Redbox, Blockbuster, and Netflix – oh my!

This is an older article which originally appeared in the Register-News.


There are several different methods out there people use to consume movies and television programs. I believe that we have tried them all in my household at one time or another. Each has its own positive and negative aspects. I will attempt to describe each of the big three and offer my opinions about which is best.

I will begin with Blockbuster Video. Blockbuster has been around for quite some time, and was primarily a big player in the video store era of rentals. Today, however, Blockbuster has moved into the online streaming and rent-by-mail arena. Blockbuster’s streaming service is per-download, and the prices range from free to $3.00+.

We used the Blockbuster rent-by-mail service for about two years and found it to be quite fast at turnaround times. We could mail a movie back on Monday and have our next movie by Wednesday most of the time. I say most of the time because Blockbuster began ‘throttling’ our rentals once we started watching and mailing back about 2 movies per week. Once they started throttling our rentals, I decided to cancel the service. In my opinion, it is not fair to withhold service simply because a customer is using it effectively.

The online rent-by-mail service was very nice when we could exchange the movies in the local store for a free rental. That made the service much better, especially if we wanted to see a movie not available in the rent-by-mail service. Now, Blockbuster allows up to 5 of these exchanges per month. Not a bad deal in my opinion if you are lucky enough to have a store nearby.

Netflix is a service that we currently subscribe to in our home. There are several tiers of service to choose from at Netflix.  These range from a $4.99 plan with two rentals per month by mail and no streaming, to a $27.99 per month plan that includes 4 rentals at one time and unlimited streaming to computers and TV.

Our family currently uses the 2 DVDs at a time plan with unlimited streaming at $14.99/month. The streaming video is very handy since our Blu-ray player has Netflix available within the menu. Our children enjoy the streaming of many children’s titles, and I enjoy quite a few of the television show seasons that are available to watch.

Netflix is nice for their streaming library and convenience factor. Unfortunately, my experience with their rent-by-mail service has been lackluster. Generally I have seen 3 or more day turnaround time when we send a DVD back to them. Also, Netflix is up to 28 days behind video stores in getting new releases due to distribution agreements. Video stores pay more for their DVDs to have a ‘window’ of time before on-demand and rent-by-mail services are allowed to rent some titles. This has led me to try Redbox.

Redbox is somewhat unique in that it is basically a movie vending machine. With the Redbox service, I gave them my name, email (for receipts and promotions), and then used my credit card to rent the movies I wanted for $1 each. Yes, $1 each.

In my experience, reserving online with Redbox has not worked yet, but I only tried it one time. Since my failed online reservation we have used Redbox twice with no issues.  Redbox kiosks (machines) use an easy to read touchscreen to let you pick your movies (Blu-ray and DVD) and check out. When checking out, you must use a credit card or a bank card with a credit card logo.

The movies come out of a small slot on the side, and when you return them (by 9pm the next day) they slide back in one at a time the same way. Redbox allows you to return the rentals to any of their machines anywhere within the United States. This could come in handy for people flying who want something to watch in-flight, but it also means I can return my rentals to any of the four locations in Mount Vernon.

Unfortunately the machine is slow to spit out or take in the DVDs. This is not fun when the weather is 22 degrees outside. However, the machines are not unbearably slow when you consider an arm is taking your DVD, moving it to or from the slot, and putting it back or spitting it out.

Given all of these services and my experiences with them, I have to say that for us the Netflix ‘streaming only’ option at $7.99/month and renting from Redbox will be the way to go. This will save us $7 per month unless we want to go rent a new release, and even then we can rent up to 7 and still be ‘even’ with what we are paying now. If something comes out that Redbox can’t rent immediately, then we can always go to the local video store and rent the title there.