Can Redbox Instant Streaming Compete with Netflix?
A lot of Home Theater readers still hold onto watching high quality video on Blu-ray discs with a "rather fight than switch" attitude. If that describes you, the new "Redbox Instant by Verizon" streaming video subscription plus disc rental service may be your perfect streaming solution choice. Redbox has been growing its army of video-renting vending machines (kiosks) since 2002, so that you can pick up a video when you drop by the grocery store to get eggs (or to get a Big Mac from McDonald's or a Slurpee from 7 Eleven). The company has now grown to offer online streaming and has publicly launched the Redbox Instant subscription video streaming service. You can now stream a selection of movies in high definition from Redbox Instant to computers, smartphones and tablets.
There are more than 38,500 Redbox "kiosks" in 31,000 U.S. locations. It was only a matter of time before Redbox threw its hat into the ring of streaming services as fewer people want to run out of the house in order to rent a movie.
The streaming service has been in beta testing since December 2012, but opened up to the public on March 14 with a free month trial offer of unlimited streaming plus four DVD rentals. After the trial period, a monthly subscription includes four DVD overnight rentals plus streaming titles for $8 per month or four Blu-ray rentals for $9 (Blu-rays are not included in the free trial). This disc-plus-streaming subscription follows the Netflix model (although Netflix has been paring down their mail disc rental service as more people opt for online streaming).
While similar in theory to Netflix, it is not the same. Netflix does not have a time limit on rental discs that subscribers receive by mail. A new disc simply won't be mailed out until the previous one has been returned. In contrast, Redbox discs must be returned within 24-hours of when they are picked up, or another day will be charged. The "four DVD rentals per month" are four overnight rentals and can be used for multiple days of the same disc or for four different titles.
The Redbox streaming service has the added option of renting or buying a movie that is not yet available as part of the their monthly subscription. This allows anyone (subscriber or not) to stream newly released titles. Most of these titles appear to be movies that were released on DVD 28 days (or more) ago. On the other hand, if you are a Netfix subscriber that wants a newer release, you'll have to find it elsewhere or wait a few months.
Redbox's initial offering of 4,700 titles trails far behind the number of movies and TV shows available from both Netflix, or from Amazon Prime. Most of the Redbox Instnt titles come from Warner Bros. and Epix—including films from Lionsgate, MGM, and Paramount. The disc rental also includes films from NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, and Relativity. In recent months Netflix has beefed up its streaming library with exclusive movie licensing including a deal with Disney for old and future titles. Netlix is also enjoying the popularity of its original series like House of Cards, and new episodes of Arrested Development.
Along with falling behind in the number of movie titles, it would be hard for Redbox to compete with the ubiquity of the Netflix app. Its available on just about every home theater or mobile device and many have a dedicated button for Netflix. Initially, Redbox Instant is available on computers, Android tablets and smartphones, and on iPhone and iPad. While streaming directly from the Redbox Instant iPhone or iPad app doesn't work, videos can be mirrored to an Apple TV using the AirPlay feature. Go into the settings and turn on "mirroring" in the AirPlay menu by double clicking the home button and swiping left to right until the play button and AirPlay icon appears.
The Redbox Instant website says the app is available for Samsung TVs and Blu-ray players but the list didn't include any Samsung devices I have available to test. The Xbox 360 is also compatible, but it must still be in Beta testing as it requires a special code and I was unable to try it.
My first experiences with the Redbox Instant service went without any problems. It was easy to use. I hadn't used the Redbox kiosks before, so I opted to rent a newer title Breaking Dawn Part II . The website displayed a red banner indicating that the movie was available "at kiosk." I clicked on "at Kiosk," typed in my zip code and it displayed that the title was available at a nearby Safeway grocery store. That worked for me. I could buy popcorn and pick up the movie at the same time. Once I "reserved" the movie it would be held for me at the Kiosk for 24-hours. I didn't realize that Blu-ray versions were not included in the free trial; it cost $1.50 to rent. When I was done, my non-techhy friend offered to return the movie. An email confirmed that he had put it back into the kiosk without any problems and without a call to me for help.
Next, I streamed Spring Breakdown in high definition from the Redbox iPad app (hey, cut me some slack, I used to work with one of the producers). I turned on mirroring, and it immediately played flawlessly on my AppleTV. It's not full frame on the TV because it is mirrored rather than streamed from the app, but the quality was otherwise quite good.
Redbox Instant is convenient, and if I was still renting discs on a regular basis, I might consider subscribing to the service. Until it has beefed up its offerings with more movie studio deals, I think I'll stick to Netflix. Besides, I have a few more episodes of House of Cards left to watch.