Netflix UK: reviewed!

Wednesday January 11th 2012

Twitter was abuzz on Monday morning with the news that Netflix, the US online rental giant that ‘inspired’ British equivalent Lovefilm, had finally launched their UK service. As expected, they’re offering a streaming-only package here, allowing them to massively undercut the competition with a monthly fee of just £5.99. They’re also offering a free trial.

Fearless investigative journalist that I am, I thought I’d take a look.

The sign-up process is simple enough but does require that you link your new account with Facebook, presumably so that your friends know to stage an intervention when you start watching Barbershop at 2am on a Tuesday morning. Luckily, it’s easy to unlink the two later. New customers are also asked to fill in a few taste-profiling questions, which range from the banal …

(I selected often for ‘dramas’, ‘thrillers’ and ‘comedies’.)

… to the deeply bizarre …

(I selected often for ‘wacky’, ‘cerebral’ and ‘violent’. But nothing ‘inspiring’, thank you very much.)

Clicking through to the next page, I was immediately presented with a number of personal recommendations, all of them bang on the money:

The system works! I quickly selected Half Baked and began my very first Netflix streaming experience, making a mental note to catch up on Poirot later.

Video and audio quality are both a significant improvement on Lovefilm’s streaming service, though the system’s insistence on choosing your streaming quality for you based on your internet connection is a little frustrating. Depending on your router you might end up with 1080p or something that would be deemed inadequate on all but the most debased of porn sites.

The presentation, too, is streaks ahead of the competition. Without the pressure of balancing physical media rental with online streaming, Netflix are free to focus on providing the best viewing experience possible. The video window is minimalistic and intuitive, menus are easy to navigate and the search field is a complete and utter fucking joy.

Films are sorted into genres (in Netflix’s world, ‘Foreign’ is a genre) but you’re also free to search from a range of oddly vague adjectives. So, for example, here are just a few of their ‘steamy’ films:

Is Hard Candy really steamy? I guess the whole castration thing might be up some people’s alleys. Or, you know, the predatory peadophile vibe. Sin City on the other hand — phwoar. I’m getting hot under the collar just thinking about Elijah Wood with all his limbs lopped off.

So, as you can see, the categorisation model leaves something to be desired, and it only gets worse once the system starts factoring in your existing taste preferences. I selected the ‘Foreign’ tab expecting to see award-winning international titles like I Am Love and A Separation, but now that Netflix knows about my penchant for ‘wackiness’ I’m instead presented with Drunken Master, Delhi Belly and Kung Fu Dunk.

The overall selection of titles is also somewhat lacking (probably more than Lovefilm have available to stream but far less than they have in total) but there a few nice surprises, not least Joe Swanberg’s Uncle Kent, which is on my Movies of 2012 list but hasn’t come anywhere near a UK theatrical release yet. In fact, the site is something of a revelation for Swanberg fans, offering up four of his movies never before available in Britain.

There’s also an impressively well-organised TV section (something Lovefilm are notoriously bad at handling) with extensive archives of shows like Twin Peaks, Breaking Bad and Damages.

Sadly, where it really matters, Netflix fails miserably …

Three fucking movies and one of them is Sirens. For shame, Netflix, for shame.