Round 1 : Variety
When it comes to choice, Lovefilm beats Netflix hands down. A Lovefilm subscription entitles you to stream more than 5,625 titles, with an extra thousand available on pay-per-view, and a staggering 70,000 titles to rent on DVD and Blu-ray. Netflix's limited, streaming only catalogue looks rather meagre in comparison.
However, both Netflix and Lovefilm are competing to bag exclusive partnership deals with film and TV studios, which means you'll only be able to watch certain titles on one site, or one service will get certain titles a year before the other.
Netflix will be the first site to get new Lionsgate and MGM films, including The Hunger Games, The Expendables 2 and the forthcoming Hobbit films. Lovefilm has a deal with Warner Bros for films such as The Dark Knight exclusive UK rights to Entertainment One titles, including the Twilight saga, and a deal with Sony Pictures Television for films including The Social Network and Salt. Both sites offer the same archived shows from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, including Top Gear, Doctor Who, Poirot and The lnbetweeners, some of which aren't even available through the channels' own on-demand services. But for sheer variety across its different packages, Lovefilm is the clear winner of this round.
Winner : Lovefilm
Round 2 : Ease of Use
The Netflix homepage consists of a simple, advert-free grid of DVD cover artwork, made up of personalized suggestions. As you watch more titles, these become more tailored to your tastes, and if you connect your Facebook account, you can get recommendations from friends. You can search by title, actor or director, or browse by genre, and start playing your chosen film or TV show immediately within the same tab, on a screen only slightly smaller than your browsing window.
By comparison, Lovefilm's homepage is a cluttered mishmash of old and new films and TV shows. You have to confirm, twice, that you want to watch something online and when it eventually starts playing, it's in a tiny window, with Full Screen as the only other viewing option. The site offers recommendations but these aren't much use when you're using Lovefilm Instant, the streaming-only package, because the titles recommended are only available to rent on DVD. We like that Lovefilms's search results can be filtered by a wide range of criteria, but Netflix is easier to use, so it wins this round.
Winner : Netflix
Round 3 : Features
Although Netflix's simple site makes it easy to use; this is at the expense of any extra features. There is a small collect ion of film reviews, which will undoubtedly increase over time, but it lacks the news, gossip, trailers, quizzes and community feel that make Lovefilm a must-visit site for film fans. Netflix has also missed a trick by not bringing the DVD-rental side of its business over from the US, because being able to rent and stream movies gives Lovefilm a much wider appeal.
That said, Netflix offers brilliant apps for smartphones and tablet devices (Android, iPhone/iPad and Windows Phone 7), which we think gives it the edge in this round. The apps stream content over both Wi-Fi and 3G connections, and films and TV shows will resume playing from where you left off on your PC. You can only stream to one device at a time, but given the fact Lovefilm doesn't let you stream to your phone or tablet at all (although it does offer account-management apps), this is a minor inconvenience.
Both sites stream to PS3, Xbox 360 and to various smart TVs and Blu-ray players, and Netflix also streams to the Wii, but it’s the Netflix apps that leave Lovefilm trailing in this round.
Winner : Netflix
Round 4 : Video Quality
There really is no competition in this round because Netflix is streets ahead of Lovefilm in terms of picture quality. Whereas Lovefilm streams at a bit rate of 2Mbps, in Standard Definition only, Netflix delivers its TV shows and films at the best possible quality for the speed of your connection, including up to 1080hp High Definition. If the connect ion drops, the video quality is automatically decreased to prevent the stream from having to buffer.
That's not to say Lovefilm's video quality is bad, because it's more than adequate when watching on your PC. We never had problems with Lovefilm buffering on our 6Mbps connection, but it falls a little flat on Blu-ray players and HD TVs, especially when compared to Netflix.
Some of the older titles, on both sites, looked a little grainy and the only downside to Netflix's high standard is that the inferior picture quality is instanly noticeable.
Winner : Netflix
Round 5 : Value for Money
Netflix costs £5.99 per month for unlimited streaming of everything in its library. Lovefilm Instant is a pound cheaper at £4.99 and offers unlimited streaming of more than 5,625 titles with the option to buy extra films from its pay-per-view list of 1,010 movies. This package is the closest rival to Netflix, because it doesn't include DVD or games rentals, and if you compare the services like-for-like, we think the mobile apps and quality offered by Netflix amount to better value.
However, you can't ignore Lovefilm's DVD-by-post service and greater range of payment options. There are 11 Lovefilm packages, depending on whether streaming, renting, or a mixture of both suits you best. For the same price as a Netflix subscription, you can get DVD rentals with two hours of streaming per month (although, considering that most films these days exceed 120 minutes, this seems a little mean). The best deal seems to be £7.99 per month for unlimited streaming and DVD rentals, meaning you're paying just £2 more than Netflix for extra 70,000 titles. Lovefilm's range and flexibility of prices for tailored entertainment packages means it trumps Netflix in this category.
Winner : Lovefilm
Although Netflix won three of our five rounds, deciding on the overall winner of this contest was still a close call. It really depends on what you want to get out of the sites. Netflix ticks all the boxes if you prefer streaming movies to renting discs and, because it's still a new service in the UK, it’s only expected to get better. However, its choice of films is currently a little disappointing and if you want to watch the latest releases as soon as possible, you're better off with Lovefilm. But with its superior picture quality, simpler website and the fact it lets you watch movies and TV shows on more devices, we declare Netflix the winner of this duel.
Winner : Netflix
Blockbuster recently announced exclusive DVD-rental deals with Disney, Icon and Lionsgate. New films from these studios, including Drive and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, will be available to rent from Blockbuster stores three weeks before general release. After this, they'll be available online to rent (but not stream) online.