Next Generation Online News and Features

The Debate: Is the future of film really online?

With Netflix stock soaring from news that the streaming service will be compatible with the new Xboz and PS, we at Next Generation Online News, have become fragmented. Some believe it is the future, a service that will replace the need for massive DVD collections and will essentially become the ‘iTunes of Film’. Others believe it will diminish the impact of cinema in the home, turning it into a sub-par, unreliable service that won’t do justice to the films you want to see.

Netflix movie streaming
Netflix movie streaming

Where do you stand? Read the cases for and against and pick a side!

NetFlix – The Prosecution by Timon Singh

As a lover of all things cinema, I should be embracing NetFlix with open arms, but instead I’m viewing it with suspicion and – to be honest – a large measure of contempt.

Now I am a big film fan and, as such, have built up a large DVD/Blu-Ray collection. For me, nothing is better than finding a movie on offer, getting it home, unwrapping it from its cellophane and enjoying it in all its crystal clear clarity: its 5.1 digital, home-shaking surround sound. AND, because I’m such a fan, I love the extra features that come with the films, be they documentaries, commentaries or deleted scenes.

However, NetFlix will give people the ability to stream movies to their computer or personal computer device so they can watch them on the move, such as on the bus or train. Now, whilst this may at first appear to be convenient, it really isn’t.

Firstly, you can’t enjoy a movie on a bus. It’s not a few tracks of music that can help you kill a 20 minute bus ride, it’s a two-hour story. You especially can’t appreciate it on a tiny phone or PSP screen. Films were made for wide-screen glory with surround sound and a bass line to shake the fillings out of your teeth, not for you to sit on a bus, listening to it through headphones trying to drown out the noise of rush hour and the strange lady next to you talking about her eight cats.

But lets put that aside. What if you wanted to use the service at home on your living room TV? Well, firstly NetFlix is completely reliant upon your internet connection, meaning that, unlike “on demand” movies from your cable TV provider, NetFlix is entirely dependant on you having a decent broadband connection.

As such, if you opt to watch a movie at peak times, especially in Hi-Def, unless you have an industry-sized connection, your film will constantly be stopping and starting.

Sure, NetFlix will say that when you stream a movie it’s just like playing a DVD, in that you can “pause, fast-forward, rewind, or watch a favourite over and over”… but it isn’t. A streaming film will nearly always pause, stutter, skip and, worse case scenario, crash.

AND they don’t even come with surround sound! Sure they might in the future, once consumers’ internet connections can handle the extra data, but who wants to watch a pared-down movie? Who wants to watch the latest Bond or the new Batman movie with sub-par sound?

Films were made to be watched in all their glory, not some tiny, easy to digest medium. For that reason, I will continue to suggest sticking to DVDs and Blu-Ray.

Sure, I’m aware that I sound like the people that rallied against mp3s, brazenly defending their CD and vinyl collections, but there’s something to be said for the joy of having a collection and having a film on a physical hard-copy that you can watch anywhere, anytime and take to a mate’s, without having to worry about whether their broadband connection is good enough to handle the ride.

Netflix – The defence by Tom Stone

Personally, I cannot wait until the day rolls around, when all material media assets are realised in true digital format.

I mean ridding yourself of the clutter and chaos that a whole movie collection brings is what the digital minimalist dreams of. Don’t get me wrong, I can see a place for the odd special edition boxset here and there, but as for the rest of it, it should be shipped off to a special media museum.

Apple did it with the iPod. Whereas once you used to carry around 20 tunes on a portable CD player, now you can carry a few decades worth on a device a few inches tall. You can access all your songs from anywhere where there’s an internet connection, and it’s so easy to use. It’s no surprise, it is now the turn of the blockbuster.

Services like YouTube and Hulu make it possible to watch videos online and technology offered up by Playon allow you to stream this content around your house via PC, XBox, PS3 and, soon to be, the Wii. But mass adoption comes when the services like Netflix are integrated into existing tech, and offer an easily accessible service.

Engadget produced a particularly useful guide to streaming Netflix on particular devices which included Xbox, Roku and LG TV sets and now a NetFlix press release announced the arrival of streaming HD movies coming to the PS3.

There’s a serious upside to all the media we consume to be offered up as a subscription based service – just like SaaS or software as a service subscription models online, such models minimise the initial outlay for hardware such as a DVD or Blu-ray player which can be hundreds of dollars.

Then there’s the cost of hardware upgrades. Look how many people were left out of pocket when Blu-ray prevailed over HD DVD? With a subscription based offering like NetFlix, you don’t need to upgrade your hardware, software or anything else. All upgrades are carried out courtesy of the service provider.

There’s also the environmental issue. Now I admit I’m not Patrick Moore, but there are obvious environmental benefits to owning a virtual movie collection over a material collection. First there’s the packaging reduction, no more need for cases and CD’s, no more need for ink to print on the CD and cases and no pollution caused by transport and distribution by the movie companies.

When it comes to choice, subscription based services win hands down. Have you ever been to a movie store and they’re out of stock of the movie you’ve had your heart set on watching? This is a thing of the past with NetFlix. Order what you want, when you want it and you don’t even have to go to the store (or get up and load your DVD player!). Currently Netflix offer over 17,000 titles!

Another major win for Netflix and the like is cost. Compare $9 for an “unlimited” plan per month for a single movie rental, to around $23 for the latest Transformer movie from Amazon. You can’t argue with that.

But what about the sharing debate? What if you want to watch a movie of yours at your friends? Then just log into your account.

But what if they haven’t got an Xbox, PS3? Well, that can be said for people who own Blu-Ray and take it around to a friend who only has a DVD player.

It’s fact that until the service is widespread then there will be some issues, but that day is coming and digital Neanderthals need to take note.

Internet connections are getting faster, compression technology is becoming more advanced. Obviously the early adopters with see some performance flaws but that is to be expected in new technology. What is for sure is that subscription based models are here to stay and the benefits are numerous.

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