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Canadian Online DVD Rental Comparison

While in the process of upgrading my home entertainment center, I’ve purchased a new high definition LCD TV along with a planned Blu-ray player. Next, I’ll need access to some high definition movies! As the type of person who enjoys watching a movie once, renting rather than buying movies is my preferred choice. The downside is that going to the video store to pick out a movie can be a hassle if the store is busy. Not only that, some video stores charge late fees which I’m not a fan of.

Seeing the limitations of brick and mortar video stores, I started doing some research on the online video rental stores. How do these stores work? They are basically the same idea as a regular video store, except that you place your order online and they mail you the DVD’s that you request. Once you receive and watch the DVD’s, you can return them in the provided postage paid envelopes whenever you please, so no late fees. Of course, you want to return them as soon as possible as they don’t ship the next requested item until the original batch is returned. Also, in order to get the best “bang for your buck”, the physical store location should be fairly close to your home to reduce shipping times as most of these online video stores charge a flat monthly fee.

Here are the Advantages:

  • No late fees
  • Never have to leave the house (except when going to the mailbox)
  • Potentially lower cost / movie rental

Disadvantages:

  • Depends on the mail system to get your movies, could be delayed or even lost.
  • I’ve read complaints that it can be difficult to get the movies that you want, like the latest release. Whereas big box video stores have guarantees on the latest block busters.

To me, it looks like the online video rental pros outweigh the cons. Below is what I came up within the Canadian market place as a good place to start. For the sake of simplicity, I only included the price plans for unlimited rentals / month.

Store Cost/mo # DVD’s at a time Location Selection Blu- ray? Free Trial?
Zip.ca $10.95/ $24.95 1/3 Ottawa 72k Yes Yes
CINEMail.ca $23.98 /$27.98/ $39.98 3/4/ 6 Winnipeg 25k No Yes
Canflix $21.95 / $24.95/ $29.95/ $36.95 3/4/ 5/ 6 Calgary 11k Yes Yes
Premieres $9.98/ $16.98/ $19.98/ $24.98/ $35.98 1/ 2/ 3/ 4/ 5/ 6 Kitchener 4k+ No Yes
DVDFlix.ca $19.99/ $29.99 3/5 Vancouver 8k+ No Yes
DVDHype $25.00 3 Montreal 10k+ No Yes
Cyberflix $9.99/ $15.99/ $18.99 1/2/3 Kitchener 4k+ No Yes

As an East Coaster along with my requirement for Blu-ray movies, it seems that Zip.ca is my best choice. I’m going to give the 2 week free trial a whirl and see how it works out!

If you have some experience with these stores, I would love to hear your opinion on them.

For our American readers, here is a review of Blockbuster vs. Netflix
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36 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. I signed up for Zip.ca the other day based on several friends recommendations. I filled out my “ZipList” of desired rentals Friday and come Monday morning had 2 DVDs in my mailbox. I’ve yet to hear a bad thing about them from friends that have used them for quite some time and plan to stay on after my free trial expires with the $24.95 package.

    I like how they have a check-in system of sorts. When you get a DVD, you can watch it that day, throw it in the mailbox, log in to the site and hit a button to indicate its in the mail heading back to their warehouse. As soon as you do that they begin to process another DVD to fill your open spot, even before they physically receive the DVD on their end, alleviating a lot of the potential mailing delay issues.

    Also, just for added info, I’m in Montreal so fairly close to their warehouse, but was still amazed to receive 2 DVD’s yesterday after only filling out my ZipList on Friday. One of my friends that used to use them lived in Vancouver at the time and was still getting his DVD’s within 2 days, 3 at the most and at times the next day. They seem to ship using Canada Post Express envelopes, so they’re fast.

    Hope you like their service! I’ve only been with them a few days but have been quite impressed with them thus far.

  2. Are canadian online rental stores allow you to also download movies to watch instead of mailing and shipping them to you?

    Anyways, i think that renting movies is a waste of money. There are usually some good free channels on cable with semi decent not too old movies. And if you have to watch the latest movie – go to your local library and check it out – chances are they DO have it, and it won’t cost you a dime!

  3. 3. Stephen

    I tried Zip for a while. I found on the east coast it was hard to rent more than 6 movies per month. Also, they only send the very FIRST order of DVDs via expresspost. After that everything is sent via regular mail. You’ll probably enjoy it for a while but eventually not getting the titles you want when you want them may start to annoy you. Who knows, maybe they’ve improved their system. It wasn’t bad when I used it … just didn’t suit me for the long term.

  4. @DGI- I’m not aware of any Canadian companeis offering movie downloads yet. There are rumours of one launching soon, but there are still copyright issues to be worked out.

    @FT- I’ve tried Zip and Canflix and found Zip to be much quicker with better availability. I’m not currently a subscriber, because I find that I only rent about 1-2 movies per month, so the cost isn’t really worth it. With winter coming I might be renting more so I may subscribe again.

  5. Guys, when you receive the return envelopes for the DVD’s, are they for individual DVD’s? Or a large envelope so that all DVD’s can be shipped at the same time?

  6. 6. The Rat

    I’m somewhat in agreement with Dividend Growth Investor but not entirely, that’s for sure.

    I love watching movies, i’m a movie buff all the way. However, I would never want to sign on a monthly payment plan for renting movies through any of the above mentioned options.

    First, I hate to have to commit to a CASH FLOW going in the opposite direction [i.e negative and not positive or coming in]. I realize its not an inordinate amount of cash, but it all adds up!

    What happens if you go on vacation? You probably wont be renting a lot that month. I also tend to find that when I go to the movie rental store to find some new releases, sometimes there isn’t anything great so I go to Wal-Mart instead, look for DVDs in the $5 bin (or 2 for 10 bin), and get a movie or two I can own and take my time watching at my convenience.

    I think renting movies in the manner you propose will lead you to unsubscribe as time goes by – in my opinion. Downloading may be an avenue for me as time goes by, but i spend enough time on my mac as it is, and enjoy going out to rent one with my lady, buying popcorn, etc.

    You may have a different viewpoint as you wish to truly enjoy the blue-ray experience, etc., its all very subjective!

    Hope this helps

  7. Each individual DVD comes is an envelope with its own return envelope; however, it says right on the envelope that if you lose one, you can put multiple DVDs in the same return envelope.

  8. 8. casey

    Dude, skip a technology generation. I mean skip the next stage of the disk and go right to a download site. I use Itunes, I just point click and can rent or buy any movie and then can buy any TV show I want. It is great! Just make sure you have a huge ammount of storage (1TB). The other big pay and download site is amazon.com unbox. They also sell wireless storage devices that you can plug into your TV. The future is diskless!

    Oh and your blog rocks!

  9. 9. Traciatim

    As far as I was aware only CanFlix rents console games as well as movies, so for me with a Wii and kids (who get tired of games in 2 weeks anyway) it seems like the best option. I haven’t looked at all of the other sites yet though to be sure.

  10. 10. nobleea

    While they may not have HD blu ray movies, the library will have a decent selection of SD DVDs. And like these other services, you can request certain movies and they’ll let you know when they’re available for pickup.

    Best of all, it only costs $12/yr (out here at least).

  11. 11. Frank Conradie

    Buy an AppleTV, and rent HD movies on-demand. You have 30 days to start watching the movie, and then 48 hours to complete it. You can already see what’s available via iTunes. See here for more details: http://www.apple.com/ca/appletv/

  12. 12. Charles in Vancouver

    Don’t forget videomatica.ca. They’re also in Vancouver and they have a huge selection.

  13. 13. Gates VP

    Hey FT, zip is definitely the premiere offering in this space. With quality HD home entertainment systems now under $2k, not having Blu-Ray is just unacceptable. Another problem with the mailed versions can be TV seasons. Imagine hitting the end of the 2nd Heroes disc only to realize that you have to wait a full week to get your next helping?

    Here in the US, Netflix is offering some of their collection via on-line streaming. Basically my whole little office “pod” (6 people) have Netflix subscriptions and HD TVs and they’re all quite impressed. The streaming definitely works, my buddy watched Season 2 of Heroes completely via on-line streaming (see problem above).

    Streaming also helps the “what if I’m on vacation?” problem. It makes internet == movies.

    As to TheRat’s problems: First, I hate to have to commit to a CASH FLOW going in the opposite direction, these seem to simply run counter to subscription-style services. Unfortunately, I’m a pretty firm believer that subscriptions are the future for many things.

    Fortunately there is definitely some great “pay-per-use” models out there as well (I’m a pre-paid cell phone user). Here in the US we have RedBox available at the many McDonald’s in the area. The local grocery store even has a competitor. For those unfamiliar with RedBox, it’s basically an automated DVD vending service for $1 / day.

    Walk up, pick movies, swipe card (provide e-mail if you want receipt). Selection can be somewhat limited, but they definitely have all of the new releases, right down to the kids stuff and b-movies. You can even reserve on-line.

    Watch for these to be a good solution to the type of problem that TheRat is talking about. Especially in a shrinking economy, “pre-paid” is likely to be quite popular.

  14. @Frank Conradie- I had totally forgotten that AppleTV is now available in Canada for downloading movies. Have you tried it out? How are the download speeds- can you stream the videos while downloading, or do you need to let them fully download?

  15. 15. sundae1888

    When I was living alone and away from my friends and family, I tried Zip.ca and found them to be reasonably priced to fill the evenings (I had no cable back then). However, once my social life started picking up, I found myself not watching enough movies to justify the cost, so I canceled my subscription.

    I don’t watch many movies nowadays, probably less than one every month. Considering the balance between the experience and cost, Zip is probably the worst way for me among other alternatives (in decreasing cost: go to theatre, buy latest release DVD, rent from Blockbuster/Rogers, borrow from friend).

  16. 16. Telly

    FT,

    I used to subscribe to netflix. I had the movies delivered to my work in the US. I was a big fan. I admit, I might have made a copy of one or two movies for my own use after returning the movie unwatched. It makes for a quick turnaround.

    When our campus expanded and mail delivery took an extra day or two, we switched to zip.ca, delivered to our house. I was really, really disappointed. If I rented about 10 movies through zip, not a single one I received was 1st in my queue. Instead, I’d usually get one around #6-10. With Netflix, I probably rented 40+ movies and only once received the 2nd on my queue, all the others were 1st.

    So I guess I’m saying, unless a lot has changed in the past year or two, Canadian online DVD rentals have a lot of catching up to do to come close to the service provided by netflix. I wouldn’t recommend the two I tried but you’re not locked in so try it yourself and see. With growth, it should improve.

  17. @Telly – I think Zip has gotten its act together in the past year, or at least according to friends who have been with them longer than I was. When I was a member (within the past 6 months), I didn’t have any trouble getting my top picks.

    Then again, maybe I’ve just got very bad taste in movies…

  18. 18. Frank Conradie

    I should probably have been a bit less hasty when posting my comment – I don’t own an AppleTV yet, but have been keeping an eye on it. Here are some real-world accounts from Canadians who have:
    http://blogs.nitobi.com/alexei/?p=225
    http://blog.metrailler.net/2008/02/27/itunes-appletv-movie-rentals-a-user-point-of-view/
    http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=542382

  19. 19. Frank Conradie

    Here’s another great discussion of the AppleTV by Canadians:
    http://www.ehmac.ca/ipod-itunes-iphone-apple-tv/69122-apple-tv.html

  20. 20. nobleea

    Yeah, there are simple DVD rental vending machines in Safeways here. It costs $1.88 to rent a DVD for 24 hours, I think. I’ve done it a couple times. Cheaper and more convenient than going to the rental store.

  21. 21. Unspender

    I’ve subscribed to Zip.ca but find I’m not watching movies fast enough to justify the $20/month. I think once I watch the two DVDs I have currently, I will cancel my subscription.That said, the turnaround has been very fast here. I received my next DVD within a day or two of sending the last one.

  22. 22. Shawn

    The best place to get movies is at the library.
    I don’t think I have rented one for months.

  23. 23. Graham

    I would agree, buy a apple TV, sign up for a US itunes account, fund it with US gift cards from ebay and you are off…no monthly fees, easy to use…like a video IPOD made for TV. I have one and it is fantastic. Movies, TV shows, podcast etc…you buy a show, rent a movie and seconds later it is available to watch. It is way more useful to have a US itunes account but it works just fine with the cdn one but more content is on the US one.

  24. 24. canabiz

    A problem with borrowing movies from the library (and I am not saying these are the issues, they are what they are) are the movies may not be very recent and there is usually a long queue for the recent ones that the libraries do carry. Not to mention that the discs may be scratched (going through many hands/disc players)

    I am not ashamed in saying that I like to collect DVDs, especially action ones which is my favorite genre. I only have about 30 so far but it’s growing. I can watch them again when I have company or I can bring them while I travel with my laptop. It’s personal preferences, some people like to drink, I don’t and I use some disposable income for my movies and books. It’s all relative.

  25. 25. Maiku

    I am a member at zip.ca and I agree that I probably don’t watch enough movies to actually worth it (although it depends on the month). However, I still leave my account open as I don’t have cable so I see this as a more convenient option since I can watch the show/movie when I finally have time to.

    Also, zip recently came up with a feature that allows you to suspend your account:
    “We are pleased to inform you we have added a feature that will allow you to suspend and automatically reactivate your rental account after an extended period of time (minimum 3 months to a maximum of 7 months). ”

    (I should really make use of that during the school year….)

  26. 26. Amit

    Since I am in Vancouver, I find DVDFlix very convenient, but their website is very basic, and you can see that their selections are pretty less. Also, within Vancouver to Vancouver, it somtimes takes me 1 full week to receive the next set of movies. If I post 3 at one time, they almost always send 2 in 3-4 days, and send the other a day later. I recently upgraded to their 7 DVDs a month option, and since then I am noticing that consistently, they always send 5 together, usually not my first choices, and then 2 are sent the next day. Never do they send all 7 together, and the wait is still 7 days from the time I return a set.

  27. 27. brad

    I watch a DVD once every three or four months so these plans don’t make sense for me, but I do rent movies occasionally through iTunes. The selection is pretty limited, especially for someone like me who can’t stand most Hollywood films and prefers alternative films, but there’s some good stuff on there.

    The main drawbacks to downloading films are 1) time (it takes a couple of hours even with DSL or cable) and 2) many ISPs have bandwidth limits and if you’re not aware of them you can get saddled with extra fees. I have an unlimited bandwidth plan, but the big internet providers are trying to switch people over to bandwidth-limited plans by enticing them with cheaper monthly rates.

  28. 28. Kathryn

    We signed up for the really frugal plan at zip.ca of 2 DVDs a month for $5.95. We have a family movie night every other weekend and have been spending $6.00 a movie at Rogers. Then we had to take it back the next day.

    Now we’ve halved our costs and all we have to do is drop it in the mail! Yee Haa! I’m happy so far!

  29. 29. Len

    I use the following flow chart:

    For std format movies :

    1. Check library (order online, are free, often 7 days before late fees apply)

    For HD (and SD):

    2. Apple TV (note hi Def movies can only be ordered via the Apple TV, not itunes on your PC). They are 5.99 in Canada. Downside is still limited selection. And as noted – it can take a frustratingly long time to download HD to the ATV (6-10 hours on my DSL!). So plan ahead. Quality is amazing. Also a very good selection of HD video podcasts are coming online.

    3. Rental store – the last resort….

  30. 30. Jeremy

    In addition to Frugal Trader’s list for DVD Rentals there is another name that he is missing called DVDLink.ca (www.dvdlink.ca). I have been using their service from couple of months and very happy with it.

    Haven’t had any issue with them so far, far most important navigation on their site is much easier in comparison 2 other companies I’ve subscribed earlier.

  31. 31. Brendan

    Gates VP: Re: lack of high-def “unacceptable”: that is absurd. Think of all the ways you could invest that 2k! Standard DVD quality is certainly good enough for me.

    Telly: I agree. I was a Netflix subscriber in the US from 2004 – 2006, and their service and selection is much better than Zip (which I have been using since Summer 2006). The major problem with Zip is that they are not very good about honoring your priorities, esp for recently released movies, though even for titles that you would not think would be in high demand. I almost never get shipped the disk that is at the top of my queue. That being said, the services had been “good enough” and is certainly better than brick-and-mortar options if you watch enough movies to justify the cost. One point in Zip’s favor though is that they have never shipped me a damaged or incorrect disc, which happened once or twice with Netflix.

    I am actually considering a new scheme though: buy movies from Amazon.ca, and then sell them after watching using the Amazon marketplace. I suspect the overall monthly cost would be competitive, and there would be no waiting in queues for titles.

  32. 32. Gates VP

    @Brendan: Think of all the ways you could invest that 2k! Standard DVD quality is certainly good enough for me.

    The argument for “you could have invested that money” died a long time ago. It’s rude, judgment imposing and kind of moot, so we don’t do that here.

    To support the argument, Blu-Ray already makes up 8% of the home video market. Analyst expectations have 25% of households with Blu-Ray players by 2011.

    I don’t even own a Blu-Ray player or a high-def TV, but I would question membership that didn’t offer such service. I mean, would you sign up for a cable provider that had zero HD channels and didn’t plan to offer any? What if you were a sports fanatic? (HD sports are very different from regular TV) If you have 5 movies on the go with DVDFlix, you’re definitely a movie fanatic.

    Even without owning the HD TV, it’s nice to know that the provider has thought ahead and is offering the type of stuff you’d want in the future.

  33. 33. Dave

    Is there any companies that DON’T require you to have a credit card? IE Paypal, Debit, Email money transfer?

  34. 34. Traciatim

    Dave, just go get a Titanium Pre-Paid Mastercard, or Much Music Pre-Paid Visa . . . or even a Capital One Secured card if you need one. CanFlix you can use gift certificates, so if you gave someone you know with a Credit card the money they could buy you a gift certificate, that works too.

  35. 35. amit

    I have had a lot of issues lately with DVDFlix.CA and I would advise against these for everyone. Please stay out! Since September when I switched from 3 DVD a month option to 7 DVD a month option there have been a lot of issues with DVDFlix.CA. I have been a DVDFlix.CA customer since beginning of 2005. And, the problems that I have been seeing lately are just becoming unbearable.

    In January there were some movies that they said that they sent to me but I never receieved them. At first I used their website to let them know that the movies haven`t arrived for over 5 days since being listed as “sent”. They don`t have any phone number listed on their website. So, after that, I tried to send them e-mails. Someone replied back to me after a lot of e-mails apologizing for the problems and asked me to move my billing date by 15 days. So far so good. I was happy that I will get extra 15 days to recover from the lost 15 days when I hadn’t received their movies. But since then I noticed that 3 more movies had the same issue. They are listed as being sent on Feb 9th and Feb 10th. I never received these either. I reported the issue to them on Feb 14th, Feb 16th, Feb 23rd and again on March 1st. Noone responded to my e-mails. With no phone number to contact them at the only way to contact them is via the e-mail. Their website doesn’t let you report issues with the same DVD after you have reported the issue once. So, since Feb 9th they haven’t sent me the DVDs that they claim to have sent and they don’t respond to my e-mails.

    Today morning I received an e-mail that my account has been de-activated and I have to return all the DVDs that they believe I have (including the 3 that they never sent to me). I suspect foul play here. I have read on other forums and realize that according to their terms and policies they can charge me for missed DVDs. I am suspecting that they are doing this on purpose so that they can charge me for the lost DVDs or worse – keep charging me a monthly charge without sending me any DVD at all (something that’s quite common for StarFlix – another online Canadian DVD provider).

    I have written several mails to DVDFlix asking them the reason why my account was suspended, and why are they expecting me to send the 3 DVDs back that I have been reporting as missing since Feb 14th. No response till now. It’s like talking to a wall. So, the 15 extra days that they gave me for messing up earlier is all gone now that my account is suspended. This is what I get for being a loyal customer for over 4 years. I report a problem and they try to defraud me.

    Is there anything I can do about this? Should I launch a criminal investigation/go through a small claims court if they charge my credit card for the DVDs that they never sent to me? Has anyone else been through this kind of experience?

  36. 36. Jonathan Bennett

    Don’t go near DVDLink! I had a contract with them, then cancelled it because their holdings are so small. The last disk they sent me didn’t arrive; but because I haven’t returned it to them(!) they continue to draw nearly $30 a month from my charge-card account. I tried phoning them: only ansering machines, and never a return of the call. And writing to them via their “Contact us” link. No reply. They just go on taking my money.

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