Sunday, 12 April 2015

I've started my Netflix trial...

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Believe it or not, I've only just become a Netflix subscriber this weekend. Although, technically, I'm just on a one month free trial—having been encouraged to give it a go with the release of Daredevil's complete first season on 10 April. And here are my first impressions and thoughts:

The Pro's of Netflix

I like the design of the Netflix app (for iPhone/iPad anyway) and the website is very easy to use. Maybe it's slightly too basic in design, but obviously they need to ensure 8 and 88-year-olds can use it productively. It's fundamentally the same as Amazon Prime's own app, but there are definitely more in-play options and it feels easier to find what you want.

The Netflix app built-in to my Virgin Media TiVo isn't bad once something's playing (HD has no buffering issues because of the box's dedicated broadband line), but navigating anything using a TV remote control drives me insane in today's touchscreen world.

My LG TV also has a Netflix app built-in to its software, which is much nicer to use than the TiVo equivalent, and I was pleasantly surprised by how fast it loads (far quicker than Amazon's TV app). That said, it's still a pain to manually search for content by tapping in letters with a remote control, so I'd always use my iPhone app to add things to my watch-list before accessing them through the TV.

My TV does have a 'Magic Remote' accessory device which would ease matters a great deal easier, but I'm not prepared to pay £50 for that.

The Con's of Netflix

My immediate problem with Netflix was down to lag with the audio when I wanted the iPhone app to wirelessly connect to my WiFi-TV. There was a distracting delay with lip movement, so I instead gave the TV's built-in app a go—figuring there wouldn't be lag because it's receiving data directly to the TV, not via a phone. Unfortunately, the same issue was apparent. The only way I could get the A/V to sync properly was to physically connect my iPhone to my TV (via a HDMI port), so it was lucky I recently bought Apple's expensive iPhone-to-HDMI adaptor lead!

Weirdly, I gave it another go through the TV's app and managed to fix the issue because my LG TV has a handy A/V sync setting (where I can correct such issues). It worked! Although the problem recurred a little later, and was fixed by disabling the A/V sync! As of right now, this is nevertheless my preferred way to watch if it's sync'd well.

The iPhone-to-TV via HDMI connection is a more reliable solution, but it means you're without your phone (although that's arguably a bonus when watching TV these days). However, the Netflix iPhone app has a tendency to glitch and display an 'error message' if you pause a stream on your phone, then try to resume play from the iPhone's lock screen minutes later. I usually have to actually go into the app by unlocking the iPhone, then restart the stream from the Netflix app's menu. Luckily, Netflix does a great job when it comes to remembering where you abandoned a stream's viewing, so it picks up from exactly the right spot where the 'error' occurred, but that's still annoying if you take a lot of tea and toilet breaks.

Is Netflix better than Amazon?

I've used the Amazon Prime app on my iPhone and LG TV for a few years now, and have never had any A/V sync issues or random errors appearing. That said, I do encounter delays with buffering sometimes, but haven't had that issue with Netflix (yet?) My TV's built-in Amazon app also takes awhile to load up (sometimes close to a minute), but I can be playing Netflix content in just 20-seconds. Netflix is the only app that offers WiFi streaming from a tablet/phone, too.

In terms of actual content to watch, I don't know if there is a "better" option. It depends on what you like as an individual. I tend to watch TV shows when they first air and don't need to re-watch old shows, so each service offering me seasons of defunct dramas like Prison Break and Dexter isn't of any real interest. I'm more concerned with the variety of modern film releases and original content.

Netflix has the undoubted upper-hand with the latter—with UK exclusives like Better Call Saul, and Netflix originals like Kimmy Schmidt, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Daredevil, Bloodline, etc. But Amazon Prime does have first-run UK exclusives with U.S shows like Black Sails, Extant and Outlander; plus its own originals like Transparent and the upcoming Red Oaks and Man in the High Castle series (which should be be worth seeing).

The film archives? Quality waxes and wanes between both services, let's be honest, but you're never going to get premium modern releases any quicker than you would by subscribing to Sky Movies through cable/satellite, or buying/renting DVD and Blu-ray. Well, in the UK at least.

Of course, if you want to be a bit naughty, there are easy and painless ways to access the U.S version of both services—and the Stateside versions of Netflix/Amazon tend to have a much wider range of films and TV. The UK is a more crowded marketplace with entangled rights issues; like Sky having the monopoly on HBO's back-catalogue, or weird annoyances like The X Files being available on Netflix U.S, but not on Netflix UK (despite it not even being repeated on British TV!)

Will I become a full-blown Netflixer after my trial period?

I have a feeling I will, yeah.

I do like the quality of Netflix's original TV shows, and it feels like the service is the more genuine internet TV channel. Amazon's priority is shopping and its associated Prime membership service.

Although I'm still not a fan of the way Netflix dump entire seasons in your lap, because I could spend almost £100 on a year's Netflix subscription and actually binge-watch everything I'm interested in over 4 months. Shame there isn't a viable way to pay for the specific Netflix/Amazon shows you're actually interested in watching.

So yeah, I have a feeling I'm going to start sinking £7.99 into Netflix every month. At least until I've seen everything I want to see, and feel like there isn't enough fresh material coming down the pipeline every month. But I will be keeping my Amazon Prime account because it:

(a) It plugs content gaps Netflix has with its lineup (where's Toy Story 3, for e.g?)
(b) It has some of its own original shows I want to watch (like the U.S Mad Dogs).
(c) It operates the UK's vestigial LOVEFiLM rental service* that means I get unlimited Blu-rays sent to me through the post.

(*Physical media still being the best way to watch movies at home, thanks to discs coming loaded with extra features and better-quality DTS-HD 7.1 sound. I'm prepared to accept streamed 1080p, and especially Netflix's 4K service, is of an acceptable visual standard nowadays, but for audiophiles the disc is still king.)

More than anything, I'm wondering if I should kerb my Virgin Media cable TV subscription by downgrading to the lowest TV deal. The saving could then be used to subscribe to Netflix, Amazon and Sky's NOW TV service. That would get me access to almost everything I'm keen to see on television these days (Sky's HBO exclusives like Game of Thrones and True Detective, plus its own original shows like Fortitude), and I wouldn't be paying for dozens of linear digital channels I don't watch enough of to be cost-effective.

Anyway, those are some thoughts. What's your TV package setup like? Are you very traditional or have you embraced internet streaming? Have you sided with Netflix, Amazon, or both? If you're in a foreign country, what's the state of play there? Any better alternatives? I hear Australia's having a nightmare with Netflix because the country's internet infrastructure can't cope with the necessary speeds.