LOVEFiLM rental service

You can’t help have heard of LOVEFiLM thanks to their wide advertising over recent years. But have you ever considered using a postal service for movie rentals? We decided to check them out.

For most people, renting a film involves browsing through racks of empty boxes at the local Blockbuster, returning home with a couple of films, and no doubt some of that popcorn that is always on offer. Whilst Blockbuster have their own online postal rental service, LOVEFiLM think they have the superior offering, having recently added Amazon.co.uk’s rental offering into the mix too.

The basic concept is simple: you use the website to manage your selection of DVDs or Blu-ray titles. Once you have made a selection, your choice is mailed out to you. You get to keep your selection for as long as you like, with no late return fees. You then use the supplied freepost envelope to return your disc(s) and the process repeats itself. The options available to you depend on your subscription, which we’ll come to later.

This might raise some concerns, as obviously the advantage of a high street store is you can walk in and choose a film you want to watch. LOVEFiLM is really aimed at those who want to watch films on a regular basis, rather than occasional viewers who only watch a film every couple of months.

The website feels like a mine of cinematic information as you dive into the depths of their online world. You can not only read up on a huge number of films and engage with the wider-LOVEFiLM community, writing your own reviews and rating films you’ve seen, but also (and most importantly) make your own selections.

The best way to do this is to wade in and explore – you can browse through genres, charts, or search directly for anything you want. The search can be a little poor at times – for example, "Iron Man" returned no results, but "Robert Downey" returned, you guessed it, the forthcoming release of Iron Man, so there is room for improvement. Overall the website opens up something of a black hole into which any movie fan can fall and lose several hours of life.

To get started you need to line up a list of titles: about 20 gives a good starting point. The beauty here is you can select forthcoming releases as well, but be sure to get some current titles in there too. A great feature is the ability to prioritise titles, so "High" will be given delivery preference over "Low". We selected some old classics as "Low" and newer titles as "High" which delivered a good balance.

Of course, if you want a particular film, you are at the mercy of stock levels and overall demand and there is never any guarantee that you’ll have a particular film at a particular time. That element of "Outpost comes out next week, lets get the boys over" doesn’t really work. What you get instead, is a good mixture of titles dropping through the letterbox.

The website also allows other users to set up lists, so we were able to run a list for Mrs Pocket-lint which she populated with rom-coms and Disney flicks. A wonderful contrast to my hankering for War classics on Blu-ray. The Blu-ray selection is pretty good (636 titles at the time of writing), certainly better than our local Blockbuster, so if you want to enjoy your high-def player to the max, then this is a good way to go about it.

For those that want to enjoy a selection of adult titles, ahem, they are also available, including Blu-ray for some of the higher-budget glossy titles, and saves the embarrassment of stepping up to the counter with grubby disc in hand. Of course, content filtering is available so if you share your LOVEFiLM account with the family you can protect your kid’s innocent little eyes.

We found that the postal side of things was actually very good, with a swift turnaround of titles. We were on the two disc unlimited option, which, unless you watch two films in one night, means you can establish an almost constant flow of films. Returning a disc on Monday would see a new disc arrive on Wednesday. Disc selection is also good and despite a varied selection of old and new titles, we weren’t just being sent old titles.

The discs arrive in an envelope which doubles as a return envelope, all pre-addressed with postage paid. Extra envelopes can also be requested, so returning a film is never a problem.

Games are also available (with the right type of account). Avid gamers will be able to play to completion before returning a title. Ok, you may have to wait to get your hands on new releases, but you’ll save a lot of cash in the process. However, we didn't review this side of the service.

LOVEFiLM have also ventured into downloads. To use this feature you have to use the LOVEFiLM Download Manager and pay the respective price for your option. You get the option to rent or buy downloads in different quality formats, up to DVD quality, which might appeal to those who have networked their home entertainment. The Download Manager handles the download and can open at startup to run in the background (you can disable this too, which mobile users might want to do).

It is worth checking out the details before you get carried away to see what you actually get. Some titles are download to rent, some are to buy only: for some you get posted the DVD disc as well. There are then DRM issues to consider as downloads need Windows Media Player. Currently there is no Mac offering.

Prices in the UK for film rentals break down as follows: £3.99 a month allows members to have one DVD at a time (limit of two per month); £7.99 for two DVDs at a time (limit of four per month); £9.99 a month for one DVD out at a time (but unlimited across the month); £12.99 for two at a time (unlimited) and £15.99 gives you the option for three DVDs at a time (unlimited).

Verdict

From the engaging website to the swift postal service, LOVEFiLM certainly delivers a great movie rental experience. The game and Blu-ray selection might appeal to those with a PS3 or with a shiny new Blu-ray player and the download service will please those with networked media solutions at home, assuming you meet the criteria.

Having lived with the service for several months, it is always nice to come home and find new films waiting for you. The frustration of not being able to have the film of your choice when you want it is an obvious drawback – heading to your high street video store is then just an additional cost, but LOVEFiLM is really about a movie rental lifestyle.



>