R.I.P. BLOCKBUSTER VIDEO STORES: New ways to view movies at home by COOP

Posted on July 2nd, 2009
Posted on July 2nd, 2009

If you don’t have a big cinema multiplex in your hometown, you can venture an hour or more to a city that does or you can choose to stay home and watch a DVD. For the sake of convenience most choose a night at home with a DVD. But what are your options when your local Blockbuster Video store goes out of business as it did recently in my how town of Clarksdale, Mississippi? Or, what if you’re done with antiquated video stores and you’re looking for something better?  Fortunately, the modern age provides many options, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages…

YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY: Many libraries offer free video rentals, but include very limited selections (mostly classics and documentaries), brief hours of business (9am-5pm) and late fees.

REDBOX: Located in Wal-Mart, these automated vending machines survived test-runs in McDonald’s restaurants and have emerged to compete against larger rental stores and DVD by mail. With an extremely limited selection and no guarantee of quality control or customer service, Redbox isn’t a total replacement for video stores. It does, however, let you reserve your movie and pay for it through their website at If you want to rent a new release ASAP at a one dollar per day rental price, you might consider this ultra-cheap alternative.

PAY PER VIEW: A venerable, yet often ignored option for cable and satellite subscribers. To take advantage of this service, providers require subscribers to secure a phone line or internet connection (depending on the service) to the primary cable/satellite box. Subscribers often ignore this option because of poor browsing interfaces, the unpleasant experience of seeing additional charges on their bills or due to absence of the internet connection. Despite these downsides, PPV is convenient and providers have begun to offer exclusive movie premieres (mostly independent films) and new DVD releases. Future plans to release major Hollywood movie premieres on PPV remains in the experimental phase due to piracy concerns. On demand movies, as opposed to appointed time screenings, will become more common.

BLOCKBUSTER ONLINE: In response to the damage caused to their monopoly by Netflix, Blockbuster quickly launched its own online subscription service with some unique additions. Subscribers can choose to trade-in movies received from the mail into local Blockbuster stores for movies on the shelves at a “discounted” rate. They do offer Blu-ray disks at no additional charge (unlike Netflix) but their DVD subscription prices are 3 to 4 dollars higher per month. Blockbuster also charges $3 for online streaming movies (plus $99 for a box that accesses the online content). Also keep in mind that Blockbuster has a history of failing to replace damaged disks and for forcing additional content edits on movies to suit their own censorship policies.

INTERNET: The cheapest option is also the riskiest, poorest quality and a morally questionable option. Utilizing a fast internet connection and a computer bought within the past 5 years, anyone can find and illegally download (don’t do it!) movies from the internet. Complicated configurations stump even seasoned computer experts and the image quality ranges from HD-level resolution to the insulting camcorder-grade pirate copy. Unsuitable for more than one viewer due to the fact the computer monitor is the only easy place to set up a screening. Plus only a handful of legitimate pay services provide a watchable experience. Avoid it… for now.

BUY DVDs: With Blu-rays entering the market, the price of DVDs has dropped sharply over the past year. Bargain bins at Wal-Mart, Target and various discount stores sell DVDs for $5, sometimes less. That’s not much more than the cost of a rental. Not always the best (or new) selections run that cheap, nor do I claim buying DVDs as the best option, but I know of many people who have amassed respectable movie libraries because of these low prices. Plus you can turn around and sell the DVDs you don’t like on Ebay or Amazon by the bulk.

NETFLIX: I’ll let you in on a secret. I haven’t rented from Blockbuster or any other movie rental store in over five years. Ever since I signed up with Netflix, I’ve never looked back because their system has very few flaws and their customer service has never let me down. Their fast turnaround, excellent selection and quality control convinced me to stick with them despite the competition. Sure, it’s not the same as browsing titles at the store and the more prolific renters get lower priority for reserving the popular new releases, but I’ve had few problems with these issues. Only their free (with disk rental subscription) online streaming quality is below par, something they will no doubt improve upon quickly. Despite these shortcomings, it’s still the best and cheapest DVD subscription service around.

DIRECT DOWNLOAD SUBSCRIPTIONS: The wave of the future that will eventually dominate the market, replacing both DVD and Blu-rays within the next 5-7 years. This service will stream/download movies directly from your internet connection to your home or mobile device for a monthly subscription fee. As the technology improves, these services will provide fast downloads of HD-quality media, 3-D movies and possibly major Hollywood release premieres. Pioneered by Netflix, Blockbuster, Apple TV and various upstarts; these services should discourage internet movie piracy by providing reliability, quality and ease of use (much like iTunes did for music). Most services will probably start as high-end Pay Per View, then transition to flat-rate subscriptions when the competition catches up. Newer HD TVs, TiVo components, home theater systems, Blu-ray players and even game consoles already include the hardware needed to take advantage of this technology as it progresses.

With the exception of public libraries and Redbox, a stable broadband internet connection is the common denominator among these alternative services. Unless you’d rather pay for HBO and record those movies to watch later or worse… continue to watch movies off cable TV with more commercials than content, you might want to look into one or more of these services.

A note to DVD and Blu-ray users: If you’re hesitant to subscribe to DVD by mail because scratched disks wreak havoc with your player, do your research and get a better player. Only severely damaged disks fail to play smoothly on quality players, while the cheaply-made players often seize up while playing used disks… especially halfway through the movie. Also, purchasing high definition Blu-ray players has its own risks. Breakdowns and reliability problems have plagued the relatively new and expensive technology since its onset. Buyer beware.


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