Friday, March 30, 2012

Netflix Friday: Budgeting In The Entertainment!

When it comes to budgeting your entertainment, as in everything else, it's important to get a lot of bang for your buck.With the cost of movies, plays and museum trips these days it's usually cheaper to stay at home. And, if you use the right entertainment services, it can be just as fun!

My wife and I use a combination of OnDemand and Netflix to satisfy our streaming/instant entertainment needs. OnDemand is a built-in service that comes with our Comcast Cable service. There are no monthly fees or charges unless you rent a new movie or select a paid event on concert. In the past three years, my wife has only paid $1.99 for one old Turner Classic Movie that she wanted to watch. The rest of the time we use it to catch up on TV shows and select old movies to watch.

Since OnDemand is not available unless you have Comcast Cable, I'm not going to spend much time on it. Suffice to say, it's got a lot of free content (or content that you're already paying for) and it's worth looking through it each and every month because the content changes on a regular basis. Movies come and go, so just because there's nothing you want to watch this month doesn't mean you can't watch it there next month.

Getting Netflix up and Running
Now let's move on to Netflix streaming. This service costs $7.99 a month and is a recurring charge. This comes to just under $100 a year. That's not bad for a whole year's entertainment... but there's a catch. This is an online service and you will either need a way to connect it to your TV or you will have to watch it on your computer.

WD TV Live Plus
Now, this isn't really as bad as it sounds. Most game systems can stream the content: Wii, Play Station and XBox are all set up and ready to go with Netflix. Also, most new BluRay players come with the Netflix application pre-installed. I'm lucky: I already had three Netflix-enabled devices ready (including the one in the photo) before I even started thinking about giving this service a test run. I had also already wired my living room for Ethernet (as my wife can tell you, I had a cable running down the stairs and into the living room for about a year before I broke down and wired things correctly). Which also brings up the point that you will need to have a good Internet connection for this to work. Standard cable or AT&T connections will work great, but if you're still using dial-up or have a satellite Internet connection, forget it. It won't work or you'll use too much of your data allotment.

What you get
Netflix is a great service for people like me and my wife. When we want to watch a specific movie, we want to watch it now. We don't want to select a drama and put it in a queue and have it show up -- maybe -- next week or so. By the time it shows p, we may have had a hard day at work and be craving a comedy the day it shows up. Or vice versa. That's why the streaming service is a great value for us. We can pick what we want and watch it right now... assuming that they have it, that is.

And that may be a fairly big assumption because it's rather hit-or-miss as to what you'll find at Netflix for instant viewing. For example, there are no Star Wars movies, nor are there any Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or most any Disney cartoon. But you will find A Knights Tale and all the Star Trek TV series (but not all the movies). When it comes to classics, it's also hit or miss: You'll find many great old movies like Royal Wedding, About Mrs. Leslie, Mr. Peabody and The Mermaid, Cleopatra, True Grit (classic John Wayne version and the new one), The Longest Day, and more. You'll also find plenty of classic adaptations of works by Shakespeare with numerous versious of Macbeth, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet.

For the teens you'll find lots of anime, and for the tweens and kids, there is also a decent list of DCOM movies (for us old folks, that's Disney Channel Original Movie, meaning live-action Disney movies staring young people your kids or grand kids know very well). Here you'll find Camp Rock, High School Musical, Lemonade Mouth, Frenemies, and other films staring the likes of Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Miley Cirus, Brenda Song, Mitchell Muso, Jason Earls and many other Disney Channel favorites.

Also, the service is pretty good at taking a look at the movies you've watched and suggesting things you might like. It's not perfect, but it does a good job. I think it gets confused because my wife and I have different taste in movies, so between her old classics and my strange sci-fi and anime, it gets confused. But other than that, it does a decent job of suggesting things we like.

The Bottom Line
If you are looking for a specific movie at a specific time, then Netflix streaming may not be exactly what you're looking for because some of the offerings here are hit-or-miss. But if you like browsing for movies and discovering new movies by genre (or rediscovering old classics you had forgotten about), then Netflix streaming is a great choice that offers a lot of bang for your buck. At only $7.99 per month, if you watch one movie a week, you're paying about $2 per movie. That's a great price, especially considering you don't have to go out and rent one at a Red Box (or even more if you still frequent rental stores like Blockbuster Video). And it's a LOT cheaper than going to a theater and having to put up with rude people texting and talking through the movie. Plus, you get to decide how much butter (if any) you put on your popcorn!

See ha next week for some long-overdue reviews!

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