Zip.ca is better offline than online

zip.ca A few weeks ago, Sharon and I signed up for the free trial at Zip.ca, which is Canada’s equivalent to Netflix. We rent movies fairly regularly, usually at the local Blockbuster. The appeal of Zip.ca was the larger library of titles – Blockbuster’s selection is pretty limited. When our free trial expired at the end of last week, we decided to pay for the 1 DVD plan which costs $5.95 per month. Why? Not because we fell in love with Zip.ca, but because it will save us money.

You can fairly easily break the Zip.ca experience into two parts – the online part and the offline part. The former is where you search for titles, select the ones you want to rent, and pay for your account. The latter is receiving the DVDs in the mail, watching them, and then returning them. In my experience thus far, the online experience sucks and the offline experience rocks.

Where should I begin with the website…it’s slow, awkward, confusing, and worst of all, it’s inconsistent. Depending on where you are on the site, you’ll see either the old look:

Or the new one:

The logo, navigation, colors, and page width are all different between the two – it’s very annoying. Another thing that bugs me about the site is the rating stars (sometimes they are yellow, sometimes they are red, sometimes mousing over them changes them, etc). Like everything else, they are confusing and seem inconsistent.

zip.ca Thankfully, the offline experience is much better. Our DVDs arrived quickly, and the packaging was simple and effective. It’s lazy but quite enjoyable to have movies simply arrive at the door! Sending them back is a breeze too – just stick them in the already prepared envelope and drop them in the mail.

New releases at Blockbuster cost $5.97 to rent, and “favourites” cost $4.19. Then on top of that you’ve got to factor in gas prices and the fact that they may not have the movie you’re after. For $5.95 at Zip.ca we get two movies with free shipping, and as many additional movies as we want for $2.49 shipping and handling provided we only have one DVD out at a time. Combined with the larger selection of movies, it’s simply a better deal.

Rob recently wrote about Zip.ca at Techvibes, pointing out that the four-year-old company recently shipped its 10 millionth DVD. Quite an accomplishment, I agree, but Zip.ca is still no Netflix.

Until something better comes along however, I’m happy enough with Zip.ca.

Canadians celebrate new Xbox 360 dashboard, long for Netflix-like partnership

xbox 360Xbox 360 owners should be excited about the announcements Microsoft made today at E3! A number of new games were shown, including Fable 2, Gears of War 2, Fallout 3, and Resident Evil 5 (interesting that the most anticipated games are all sequels). They announced a bunch of new downloadable games, and will finally make community-designed games available in the next update. They’re enabling “play from hard drive” functionality, and have added a few new display support options.

Other new features include the ability to browse Xbox Live Marketplace content on the web, and the Xbox Live Party System which enables up to eight friends to connect to watch a movie, play a game, or share photos. Related to that feature are the new avatars, an extension to gamertags akin to Nintendo’s Mii.

And then there’s the two biggest announcements of all: the dashboard is getting a makeover, and Live Gold members will soon have access to Netflix streaming. When I heard about the dashboard update I thought, “finally”:

“When people turn on their Xbox 360s this fall, they’ll get an entirely new interface and Dashboard, an entirely new Xbox through the magic of software,” said John Schappert, head of Live services.

Microsoft is a software company after all, it’s about time they take advantage of that to do some cool new things with the console.

When I heard about the Netflix streaming feature, I thought “cool”. I agreed right away with MG Siegler:

With one fell swoop, Microsoft may have dealt its strongest blow in the consumer market to Apple in years.

Then I realized I live in Canada.

Netflix only serves U.S. customers at the moment, and as far as I know plans to expand to Canada and the UK were shelved a long time ago. The amount of content on Xbox Live for Canadians is already far behind our American counterparts, and this announcement just means we’re even further behind. As Mathew Ingram says:

If what you like is anything made by the CBC and the occasional CTV show like Little Mosque on the Prairie, then you are probably going to be in heaven. Otherwise, you are out of luck.

Sad, but true. I’m excited for the new dashboard and other features, but once again disappointed that as a Canadian my access to media via the Internet is severely limited.