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Experiments in online DVD rental services

I’ve been a Netflix customer for over six years. I had been pleased with their service, until a couple years ago when I noticed that they stopped Saturday shipments, as well as began throttling the delivery of the DVDs.

Needless to say, the newer, slower service disappointed me.

I heard about GreenCine last year. They’re located in the Bay Area, and their collection overlaps more with my own video preferences: independent and international films, animé, documentaries. I recently started a subscription there, so will be comparing their service with Netflix’s (both at the 2-disc at a time level) over the next several months.

Current observations

Netflix’s advantages:

  • Huge collection. Distribution centers throughout the United States.
  • They list the contents of each disc for each DVD series.
  • Overall clear, straightforward webpage design and navigation, except as noted below.

Netflix’s disadvantages:

  • Nasty throttling, resulting in delivery delays.
  • No more Saturday delivery.
  • Don’t carry some hard to find independent, non-domestic or animation pieces.
  • RSS feeds behave badly (at least the one I had used for new DVD releases): Kept updating the same articles over and over, which applied to dozens (sometimes 100+) at a time. It didn’t matter if I removed the articles from my reader, they just…kept…coming…back. Seems like they programmed the feed incorrectly (e.g., messed up pubDates?). Had to delete the feed to keep myself sane, so lost an easy way to hear about new releases.
  • Annoying Ajaxy “lightbox” whenever I add a disc to my queue.
  • Annoyingly huge titletips (like Snap) when mousing over disc titles, although this can be turned off.

GreenCine’s advantages:

  • No throttling!
  • Saturday delivery.
  • Catalog includes many hard to find independent, non-domestic or animation works. Yet they also carry some mainstream movies and series.
  • Nicely detailed form for advanced searches.
  • Easy to navigate website, except as noted below.

GreenCine’s disadvantages:

  • Aggravating navigation menu at the top of the page keeps dropping down whenever my mouse moves over it. Why do online vendors persist in using this frustrating structure? Even Amazon does this, sadly. They should realize that DOM (formerly known as DHTML) bits can be designed in more elegant, accessible ways. Dropdown or flyout menus should activate on click (on focus), not on mouseover.
  • Sometimes quick search seems very slow (e.g., 1 to 3 minutes). The advanced search, oddly, doesn’t seem as slow.
  • They don’t list the contents of each disc within a DVD series.
  • They don’t carry as many old television series DVDs as Netflix. Will need to see how their request system responds here.
  • Emails are in full HTML. So far cannot find a plain text alternative.
  • Annoying Flash banners. Netflix used to do this but then stopped, AFAICT (unless it’s seasonal?). I wish GreenCine would lose them.
  • A popup window appears whenever I add a disc to my queue. I’d prefer to see such updates on the current page (inline), rather than opening another one.
  • Only one distribution center in the Bay Area, which is fine by me, but might result in slower shipments for customers outside of California.
  • If you get three or more discs at a time, the service rate is more expensive than Netflix, by an additional $2 to $4 more per month.

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