September 23rd marked the launch of the Netflix streaming only service in Canada, we’re going to take a look at the good and the bad in this review of the service.
For those unfamiliar with the process, Netflix offers Canadians a streaming video service which is essentially an online “video on demand” service. Unlike the VOD you find on your television set top box, which usually requires you to pay for each show you wish to view, the Netflix offering is a flat rate monthly fee for unlimited content viewing.
You can view Netflix streaming content on your Windows or Mac PC, via a gaming console (currently the PS3 and Wii, support for the Xbox360 arrives later this fall), on an iPhone, iPod Touch or the iPad. Support for Android based mobiles is in the works as well. There is also Netflix support in some networked BluRay players and some internet enabled television sets, however early reports indicate that firmware updates may be required to enable the Canadian service as most units are geared for the US version.
In our review we’re checking out the service on a Mac, a PS3 and on an iPhone.
The Signup Process
Signing up to Netflix is as easy as pointing a web browser to www.netflix.ca and starting your 1 month free trial. You will need a credit or Visa/Mastercard debit card to sign up for an account but this is to be expected. Early signups also had the choice of using Paypal for their account payment option but we’ve heard that this option isn’t available now.
Once you create your account you will be asked a number of questions about the movies you like to watch which are shown in the form of asking you to give a star rating to movies you’ve already seen. This helps the Netflix system to present you with movies you may like from the selection of material they have available to you.
It should be noted that if you go into the service expecting to find the latest new movie releases and current television shows you will be disappointed. Simply put, Netflix does not deliver this type of content, and for $7.99 a month they likely never will. The studios are not going to allow this because doing so would kill off other sales channels such as DVD sales, PPV/VOD sales and of course premium movie channels such as The Movie Network, Movie Central and SuperChannel. So you need to keep this in mind when signing up, there is a decent selection of material available from Netflix Canada streaming but most of it will be back catalog content. That being said, there are movies and television series on the service that are quite recent.
At the price point Netflix Canada has started out with they certainly do provide a decent selection of content. We’re not quite sure if this is their full offering yet, since we signed up on the first day of availability there has been new material added each day. Rumour has it they are still working at filling out their Canadian library due to having to change the rating system used in their existing catalog to fit our domestic ratings system. This makes sense since the first day seemed to mostly be content with a “NR” rating. Each day we’re seeing more content added since the launch.
That being said, the Canadian library will be different to what the Netflix US library has available due to licensing. All material needs to be licensed separately for each country and as such some of it simply won’t be made available to Canadians, especially when a domestic rights holder already has exclusive streaming rights. For much of todays current television content those rights are held by CTV, Global and CityTV.
The Netflix US service is also slightly different since their basic package, priced at $8.99, provides not only unlimited streaming but the ability to have one DVD at a time mailed to your home. This allows US customers far greater access to content since not all content is available for streaming. Netflix has stated they do not intend to offer this feature in Canada due to logistics required to provide it, which would entail they establish a Canadian warehouse to handle the physical process of delivering DVDs via snail mail.
That being said, the content currently available to Canadian customers is certainly worth the price they are asking. As previously stated, those looking for new releases will be disappointed but that isn’t the market they are aiming for. The Netflix streaming service is meant to complement your existing entertainment choices rather than outright replace them.
Let’s check out some of the content available. For television series here is a sampling of what you can currently stream: The L Word, Heroes, Mad Men, Jeremiah, Earth2, Dead Like Me, Monk, Silk Stalkings, Trailer Park Boys, MST3K, Coupling, Soap, My Boys, The Addams Family, ‘Til Death, The Boondocks, Bionic Woman (2007), Highlander, The Greatest American Hero, Rescue Me, 21 Jump Street, Fame, Leverage, Hunter, The Commish, Huff, Battlestar Galactica (Original), Galactica 1980, The Rat Patrol, Fawlty Towers, The Young Riders, The Magnificent Seven, Criss Angel Mindfreak, LA Ink, Paranormal State, Hoarders, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, Invervention, The First 48, Deadliest Catch, Mythbusters, Man vs. Wild, Miami Ink, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Jon & Kate Plus Eight, American Chopper, Meerkat Manor, Little People Big World, Red Dwarf, Doctor Who (Classics), Primeval, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (BBC), Miss Marple, MI-5, Kidnapped, Inspector Lynley, The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries, Dark Shadows and much more from BBC and PBS.
Keep in mind that in many instances you are getting streaming access to the entire series, for example Heroes has all 4 seasons available for streaming.
For the younger crowd the kids TV section features lots of Barney, Thomas & Friends, Dora the Explorer, Bob the Builder, Blue’s Clues, Veggie Tales, Arthur, Pingu, Iron Man, Pink Panther, Inspector Gadget, The Littles, Spongebob Squarepants, Curious George and much more. Again they all have multiple seasons, considering how kids re-watch content there are hours and hours of content available to them.
For documentary fans you’ll find a great selection, from the more known hits such as Bowling for Columbine, Super Size Me, The Corporation to obscure selections rarely aired. There is a great selection of science and nature titles, including The Blue Planet, The Life of Mammals, Walking with Dinosaurs, and features from BBC and PBS.
Movie wise you’ll find features from the recent to classic blockbusters. While as previously mentioned you aren’t going to find many recent releases you should be able to find something to your tastes, there are movies from 2009 and going all the way back to some 1920’s movies. You’ll find a selection of classic Hitchcock movies, military and war dramas, comedies, romance, musicals, foreign movies, indeed too many for us to list here.
Another great feature is the ability to view this content using a PS3 or Wii, with Xbox 360 viewing coming later this fall. We tried the service on a PS3 using the app available from the Playstation Store and it functions beautifully. When available (and it is available for quite a lot of content) you will be able to stream content using a PS3 or Xbox 360 in glorious HD and Dolby Digital 5.1. Of course to do so you will require a decent broadband connection. We’ve been catching up on Heroes using this method and the picture and audio quality are excellent. Non-HD content still looks very good and is DVD quality.
You Have the ability to view content on multiple devices, not only that, you can start viewing where you left off on another device. So, you’re half way through that documentary and had to pause? No problem, you can go back later and continue watching. You can pick up where you left off on your computer, or if you’re out and about and stuck waiting for a while you can grab your iPhone and continue watching from there. Netflix lets you use up to 6 devices on your account, you can activate and deactivate devices via their online control panel.
All in all the service offers countless hours of viewing for a very reasonable price point. Consider that you usually pay $3 or so to view a classic movie using PPV or VOD, this service will often include some of those movies for the price of only 2 orders and much less than the price of taking a family out to the local cinema.
There are of course some negatives that need to be discussed. For many Canadians the broadband connection being used is not “unlimited”, meaning that the internet provider you are using may impose caps on how much data you may stream in any given month. For example Roger’s has a 60GB cap on their most popular broadband packages and you might chew through that cap quite quickly using a service like Netflix. Streaming HD to your home does take up a lot of data transfer, so keep this in mind while you are using the service else you may end up with a surprise bill at the end of the billing period.
In fact when Netflix first announced their intent to launch the Canadian streaming service Roger’s Cable announced shortly thereafter that they were actually lowering their bandwidth caps, coincidence? Possibly.
There are options for those using an ISP with low data caps however, for eastern Canadians we recommend you check out Teksavvy.com for some options available for broadband with higher download capacity. Their standard accounts come with 200GB per month and they also offer unlimited accounts for those with higher usage needs.
Westerners are a bit better off in this regard since Shaw Cable and Telus have higher caps, indeed Shaw themselves often do not impose overage fees at all except for customers who blatantly abuse the service.
The bottom line is if you find your broadband provider doesn’t give you enough data monthly to comfortably enjoy online content you need to talk with your wallet and switch to one who will.
The service is also not for everyone. Some may find the selection rather lacking, but we feel at the price point being offered you are getting a pretty good value for your monthly fee. If you’re interested in some of the material available then it is a good deal, in our household we’re letting the kids watch Heroes, this is 4 seasons worth of viewing, to purchase those in sets at current pricing it is around $200 for the full set individually, or around $120 with some package sets. That is still more than a full year of subscription to Netflix Canada. Even renting at the local video store will likely still set us back $50 or so to see the entire series.
In conclusion, we think that Netflix Canada is worthy of your entertainment dollar. Don’t forget they are also offering you a free trial month to check them out with no strings attached and the option to cancel before the next billing period.