Anybody who has ever paid a fine for the late return of a rented video or DVD is likely to find the new breed of online DVD rental sites pretty appealing. While most high-street video shops charge about £3.50 per disc and start to fine you for every extra night that you don’t return it, the standard procedure for the online clubs is charge you a monthly subscription (of anywhere between £7.99 and £30) that lets you hang onto your discs for as long as you like. With well over thirty different sites offering online DVD rentals it can be pretty confusing knowing which one might suit you best, so we’ve been trying out some of the different services to help you make an informed decision.
Most sites run using a broadly similar system – You sign up online and decide in advance how many discs you want to rent at a time. You then search the site’s catalogue of films and TV shows for DVD’s you want to rent, and add each disc you want to a wish-list. The first available discs on your wish-list are sent out to you first class, in an envelope small enough to fit through your letterbox. When you’ve watched a disc you can return it in the same (postage-prepaid) envelope and one the site has received it they’ll send out the next available title on your wish-list.
In practice you may find you have to wait some time to receive newly released or very obscure DVDs – While stock levels will be high on blockbuster movies, there will also be heavy demand for those titles, so you’ll need to make sure you have some older or less popular discs on your wish-list to make sure you get a constant supply of discs. If you want to rent a box-set, each disc usually counts as a separate rental. You may have to wait several months in order to receive 6 discs from a box-set in the right order – If you don’t mind watching discs out of sequence; you should get the set a bit quicker.
If you only want to rent a couple of DVDs a month, you’ll probably find that the high-street video shops will serve you better than an online rental service. However if you’re likely to rent more than 4 discs a month there’s almost certainly an online package that will suit you.
The different sites tend to squabble about who has the largest library, but having tried 4 different services, all the discs we wanted to rent were available from each of the sites, so a more relevant consideration is how long you have to wait for an specific disc. Try not to be bewildered by the vast number of sites offering similar services – In fact the vast majority of sites are powered by one of three big service providers; LoveFilm, Screen Select and DVDs365. Read on for our review of those 3 sites and of Amazon’s DVD Rental service. We’ll also tell you which other sites are powered by those services. Although the pricing structure may vary, the speed and quality will be the same for all sites powered by the same service provider.
Almost all of the services offer a free trial for either a set time period or for a limited number of rentals, so you’re able to try several services before deciding which one (if any) to stick with. Be aware that you will usually be asked to provide credit card details, so if you don’t want to continue your membership beyond the trial period, you’ll need to remember to cancel your subscription.
For a more detailed guide to how the online rental sites operate, it’s well worth reading the Q & A section on UK DVD rental guide. There are a number of sites who compare and review the different services available: Of those, the UK DVD Rental Guide is probably the most comprehensive.
We tried out four services in preparation for this feature:
RECOMMENDED SITE FOR HEAVY RENTERS / FILM BUFFS
Free trial: 14 days, max 6 discs
Subscription options: From £9.99 (1 disc at a time, unlimited rentals per month) to £19.99 (4 discs at once, unlimited discs per month)
What’s good: Best value package for film buffs and regular renters - £19.99 a month for 4 discs at a time and unlimited rentals. Efficient turnaround. Recent releases and most popular discs received sooner than from other sites running unlimited packages. Monthly newsletter aimed at film fans. Best all-round service for all except very light renters.
What’s less good: No budget option for users who only want to rent 2-3 discs a month
Other sites powered by DVDs365:
Five Movie Club | Film Four DVD | WH Smiths Movie Direct | Sainsbury’s | Last Minute | CD Wow | Sofa Cinema
RECOMMENDED SITE FOR LESS FREQUENT RENTERS
>> Amazon DVD Rental
Subscription options: From £7.99 (2 discs at once, max 4 discs per month) to £9.99 (3 discs at once, max 6 discs per month)
What’s good: Superb despatch speed and turnaround. Best track-record of all sites tested for sending out new releases and popular titles quickly. 10% members discount on all DVD’s purchased from Amazon. Best all-round service for those who only want to watch a few mainstream titles a month.
What’s less good: No unlimited packages, so not suited to people who want to watch more than 6 discs a month. No Free Trial.
>> Screen Select
Free trial: 14 days, max 4 discs
Subscription options: From £7.99 (1 disc at a time, max 4 discs per month) to £14.99 (3 discs at once, unlimited rentals per month)
What’s good: Lots of exclusive editorial content – film news etc. Offers a good mixture of unlimited packages to suit film buffs, and budget packages for infrequent renters
What’s less good: Not much! A good all-rounder but longer waits for the most popular titles than with LoveFilm.
Other sites powered by Video Island (Screen Select’s parent company):
Tesco DVD Rental | ITV Movie Club | easyCinema | MSN
Free Trial: 14 days, 3 discs at once
Subscription options: From £5.99 (1 disc at a time, max 2 discs per rental period) to £26.99 (5 discs at once, max 40 discs per month)
What’s Good: Good range of packages and flexible range of gift subscriptions. Cheapest package for infrequent renters.
What’s less good: Long wait to receive most popular discs. No “Unlimited” packages. Need to keep a large number of DVDs on your wish-list to avoid delays between rentals. Turnaround time between rentals slower than other services we tried.
Other sites powered by DVDs365:
Qflicks | Mailbox Movies | Movietrak
One final word – high-street chain Blockbuster offer their own service which is not powered by any of the other service providers. We didn’t try out their service, so you may want to sign up for their free trial to see how it compares to one of our recommended sites.