Netflix vs Lovefilm

Netflix has landed and immediately gone for the jugular of the most popular movie streaming service in the UK - Lovefilm. Netflix are pushing out an immense amount of content at launch and, like its rival, granting new users a month's free trial to check the service out. But who needs two streaming subscriptions? Surely no one watches that many movies? Heck even Scorsese himself probably only subscribes to one.

So, which should be the TV and film streaming service that you go for? Is it all about the price, the perks, the catalogue or just where and how you can access them? With a week's worth of play using both, we think we might have an answer.

Price

1st: Lovefilm
£4.99

2nd: Netflix
£5.99

Before you even get started on making a decision between the two we need to get down to the fundamentals of cost. Both Lovefilm and Netflix offer unlimited streaming as standard. Don’t forget though that whatever deal you have with your ISP could end up restricting how many movies you manage to get though as streaming takes up a lot of data. You might reach your cap and you don't want to start having to pay for it.

Lovefilm is £4.99 for streaming only, Netflix is £5.99. The difference is that if you up the ante in the price stakes with Lovefilm, then you can get physical discs to play with too. Increase your monthly payment to £7.99 per month and you can get one disc delivered at a time as well as streaming which, provided you post back after watching, could mean multiple films delivered monthly. Go up to £11.22 and you can even get games, something that Netflix does not currently do. Either way the emphasis on both is that everything is unlimited and Lovefilm has the edge here at the moment.

Devices

1st: Netflix
Lots including Apple TV and Android

2nd: Lovefilm
Lots but no Apple TV and Android playback

Both Lovefilm and Netflix services are available on an incredible number of platforms. Developers often struggle to get apps out on both iPhone and iPad (we mean you, Facebook) but these guys have embedded their streaming into just about every piece of AV equipment known to man.

Those with LG and Sony TVs can get Lovefilm as well as on Samsung Blu-ray players, TVs and the iPad, Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Mac. Netflix goes one better though, as we will discover later in the apps section, running on things like the Apple TV, Roku players, Philips players, the iPhone, the Wii and, crucially, Android tablets. With Netflix you can pretty much guarantee something you own in your house will be able to play it. If you're still worried, check out Lovefilm and Netflix’s device lists.

Setup

1st: Netflix
Easy Facebook connection

2nd: Lovefilm
More steps in process

Setting up both Lovefilm and Netflix is incredibly easy. We opted for the Facebook sign in route for Netflix, which meant we avoided all the details input that Lovefilm makes you go through. Both did require a card to be entered despite the fact we were opting for a months free trial, which annoyed us, but then that's the catch of these things.

Once you are setup and ready to go, the rest is easy as pie. Download the relevant apps to whatever devices you have - in our case the Xbox, iPad, iPhone (Netflix only) and our MacBook and Windows desktop browsers - get yourself signed in and let the streaming begin.

Apps

1st: Netflix
iOS, Android, Nokia

2nd: Lovefilm
iPad only

It's a close run thing but both apps on the iPad are quite frankly brilliant. Netflix does an awesome job of giving you access to content instantaneously, whereas Lovefilm is more fun to browse. It all depends what you want.

Let's say, for example, that you want to watch The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which appears on both Netflix and Lovefilm. The Netflix option will get you to the movie in just two taps - a simple search and then hitting the play button. It will also buffer up a tad quicker.

Lovefilm will have more to read about The Hitchhiker's Guide as well as trailers, reviews and the option to rent the physical disc by post. For some this is better but we personally like to just go straight to a film and watch it. Minimum fuss.

Netflix’s trump card in this category is that it runs on the iPhone and over 3G too. This means we can start a movie at home, then pick up the rest of it while sat on the bus. It's also an amazing amount of entertainment to have sat in your pocket and that goes for Android and Nokia owners too, something which Lovefilm, whilst having an Android app, cannot offer. You can browse on the Lovefilm Android app and curate your postal account, but not stream.

On the Xbox and PS3 front, the apps are slightly more varied. We only tried the Xbox version of Lovefilm and Netflix, but found both extremely good. Again here the quality is so high that it is difficult to pick a winner. Netflix keeps up a more unified approach to its user interface and looks very similar to the iPhone and iPad. Lovefilm on the other hand takes a leaf out of the new look Xbox UI. It is slightly slower, but ultimately you get to the movies just the same.

Quality

1st: Netflix
1080p, 5.1 Dolby

2nd: Lovefilm
1080p on PC and Mac, 720p on Xbox 360 and Samsung and LG TVs

 

 

If you're into video quality, then streaming is not normally what you think of first. This is all to be changed with Netflix who delivers a quite frankly astounding level of quality should you have the bandwith that allows it.

Lovefilm has now given itself a much needed update an gone HD as well. It's only 1080p on PC and Mac mind, dropping to 720p on the Xbox 360 and Samsung and LG connected TVs. This ensures that Netflix still has the trump card when it comes to quality. Samsung connected TVs also apply quite a lot of picture processing to streamed video, which doesn't always help. 

It might not be Blu-ray but 1080p streaming on Netflixwith without stuttering and 5.1 channel audio is brilliant. Not everything can run at the top resolution and it takes about a minute or so for the video quality to stabilise, but Netflix definitely takes the win here.

This is due partly to the clever way that Netflix manages its streaming which, without getting bogged down into technical details, uses very intelligent selective buffering that allows 40 per cent spare bandwith so your movie plays smoothly.

In the end, Lovefilm has definitely taken a step in the right direction, but Netflix still comes out in front on quality for us. 

Catalogue

1st: Lovefilm
Blockbusters and indie stuff, 6000+

2nd: Netflix
Good for TV, lacking in big names, 10,000+

This is the category that will ultimately influence the decision as to which of the two services you go for and it's also where the biggest differences between the two appear.

Netflix has a deal with All3Media, the BBC, CBS, 4oD, Disney UK & Ireland, ITV, Lionsgate UK, MGM, Miramax, Momentum Pictures, NBCUniversal, Paramount, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox and Viacom International Media Networks. Lovefilm, on the other hand, has a slightly beefier library with agreements shared with Entertainment One, Studio Canal, Sony, Warner Bros, BBC Worldwide, ITV, Channel 4, ABC and now Universal.

Netflix currently has a library of what it says is tens of thousands of titles (it wouldn’t give specifics) and Lovefilm has around 6,000 but, ultimately, it's less about numbers and more about who has the better quality of film deals. At the end of the day, it's no use having a library of 20,000 Bulgarian art house movies.

Quantifying which service is better than the other in terms of content is incredibly hard. Say, for example, you like Manga, then Netflix is definitely for you, but this is a niche type of cinema and won’t satisfy everyone. The best way to do it is look at a specific genre and think what we would like to watch. Both services' heavy hitters will be in the action/adventure section, so what do you get there? 

Lovefilm comes straight in with The Dark Knight and the Matrix. Netflix trails well behind with the likes of Das Boot and Planet Terror. There is also a lot of Hong Kong and Asian cinema stuck in Netflix’s selection, which is great but might not be for everyone. Personally, we think Lovefilm claims the title here quite easily, but we will say that if you are unsure which to opt for, then a month trial on both will cure your woes.

Verdict

1st: Lovefilm

2nd: Netflix

It seems wrong for Netflix to better Lovefilm on so many categories and still come out second best overall but that's the way it has to be right now. The service Netflix offers on different hardware is just that tiny bit better and the ability to stream on your iPhone over 3G is an absolutely brilliant one. Netflix does everything right on the application front and is a unified experience on every device. We really like the fact that even newbies to the service can pick it up and use it on whatever hardware they have without having to re-learn much for each device.

When it really comes down to it though, what you're after most from all these services is good films for a good price and that's where Lovefilm wins. It just has a more current selection of content to watch with most of it films that you're more likely to want to view. Ultimately this, coupled with the fact that it's just a pound cheaper, means we have to give the title to Lovefilm. Don’t get us wrong - taking the month free trial for both and seeing what each has to offer will easily sort out which is more relevant for you. Just make sure you go for Lovefilm first. Right now, we think it's better.

Which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below ...