We believe Blockbuster is the top online DVD rental choice in the UK, and it's not just us who think so; they were ranked top DVD rental company by Webuser magazine after a head-to-head test of the top four services. Blockbuster has one of the best reputations in the business for swift mail turnarounds.
Although Blockbuster's DVD inventory, some 60,000 titles, trails Lovefilm slightly, Blockbuster have more copies of new releases than any other company we've reviewed, decreasing waiting times. The title counts can also be misleading as many other companies count two-disc sets as two "titles," while Blockbuster count them as a single rental. The bricks and mortar giant (with 700+ UK stores) is clearly taking the growing online DVD rental industry very seriously and has re-energized their online effort.
In June 2008, Blockbuster relaunched their site to better allow their customers to find the films they want. For instance, you can now search on a film's theatrical release date instead of the (often more recent) DVD release date. This improves their search engine further, which we judge is the most powerful DVD search engine in the UK; you can search on title, stars, director, synopsis words, certification, genre, language, production year, sound format, even aspect ratio--more than the average viewer will ever need to use, but we're glad the options are there. They've also added a full online store where you can buy plenty of video games, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs at some very competitve prices. There's even an application on Facebook, Movie Clique, which allows members to add movies to their rental queues, make lists of all times films, and share reviews.
The latest improvements follow a host in 2007, when Blockbuster added features such as a swift faulty disc reporting system which goes further than any other UK site. If you notice a disc is scratched, you can report it through the site, and they'll send you another copy (if in stock, otherwise they'll send another new title from your list) immediately, before waiting to receive the scratched disc.) They added a "Seen It" tab by popular demand, so all the films you've rented are listed with your ratings, as well as a function to add films to the list you've seen elsewhere.
We're pleased to see Blockbuster's Blu-Ray high definition disc inventory is expanding rapidly, from around 500 or so in mid 2008 to 1,000 in spring 2009 and 1,500 by 2010--just about neck and neck with Lovefilm. And unlike US DVD rental market leader Netflix, Blockbuster doesn't plan to charge UK customers extra for renting Blu-ray.
The addition of film critic reviews by Marshal Julius of the Sunday Express on key DVD rental titles was an excellent improvement. They also have celebrity picks, inviting people like Martin Clunes and John Barnes to tell visitors about their favourite movies, as well as interviews with the likes of Tom Baker, Brad Pitt, Nicholas Cage, Matt Damon, Michael Caine, and such. They even have celebrity blogs by Bollywood star Kashmera Shah, and have had past blogs by Martin Clunes, Dirk Benedict, and others.
We especially like Blockbuster's DVD rental Film Finder, where you rate using 1-5 stars your personal preferences among their 18 genres, and they generate lists of DVDs you'd probably be interested in renting. Their genre browsing system could be a bit better if they introduced subgenres as some other companies have, but this is a minor point. We believe Blockbuster make up for this with a growing list of imaginative DVD collections (Animal Magic, Essential Horror, Before They Were Famous, etc.) to aid browsing. Another minor but worthwhile addition; when you pick a DVD, the screen doesn't refresh and slow you down, the button simply changes from "Add to List" to "In List."
There are also some extras with Blockbuster you simply don't get with a non-bricks and mortar company; they sometimes issue e-coupons. These are vouchers you print out and can use in any Blockbuster store for free in-store rentals--good for that once in awhile when you simply must immediately have that latest new release.
Despite these many good points, there have been complaints about Blockbuster's customer service--especially in the early days after their May 2004 launch. These mainly concern delays replying to emails (though all DVD rental companies get these complaints in our experience); we suggest anyone with problems go straight to the phone number listed at the right, as the number is not easy to find on their site. Starting in summer 2005, we noticed fewer negative comments, so upped their ratings gradually over the following months until they reached number two in March 2006. Given a continued trend of good customer service reviews, we raised Blockbuster to number one on the charts in January 2007, where it's stayed ever since.
Prices: Blockbuster offers a wide range of plans, many of which come with a 1 pound 14-day trial or half-price off the first month.
Blockbuster's cheapest deal is the two disc total in the month tariff for £4.99 two-disc out, and they also have a four maximum in the month package at £7.99. But the better value is definitely their unlimited plans; a single, unlimited DVD rental package is £9.99, two-discs out for £12.99, three disc package is £15.49, and a five disc package is £27.99. There are several other plans which include instore rentals as well, which is useful if you live next to a store. Again, we believe that when you consider that bonus discs count as one rental, swift mailings, and high stocks of new releases, this is excellent value for money.