Ask LH: Why Is Renting Blu-ray Movies So Hard These Days?

Hey Lifehacker, Back in the day (2010!), I could go to my local Video Busters and rent a new release Blu-ray for $3. I could browse, select my movie, and watch it that night. Life was good.

Of course, that store no longer exists. Streaming a HD movie will set me back $7 from every service I know of, and no how matter how streamlined the process, nothing is simpler than inserting a disc, pressing play and kicking back on the couch for buffer-free entertainment. Kiosks don't help either -- their Blu-ray range is minute. So my question is this: what is the single simplest, easiest, subscription-free, contract-free, hassle-free, pirate-free way to rent and watch a new release HD movie in this country, and can it be done for less than seven exorbitant dollars?

Thanks Harking (For The Glory Days)

Picture: Getty Images/Jerod Harris

Dear Harking,

There is only one constant in the world of home entertainment: things change. When our family got its first video recorder back in the 1980s, you had to pay a membership fee to even join the local video store. The rental fees back then were around $3 each -- which would equate to a lot more now. There was only one copy of every movie, and because they were VHS tapes, the picture quality was often variable. It was a massive improvement on just being able to watch the two local TV channels, but it's not necessarily an experience I'd want to hark back to.

Streaming isn't perfect, especially if your connection is slow, but you don't need to leave home, the store never runs out of titles and the range is wider than any video store was ever able to manage. At the same time, physical media is much cheaper to purchase (both outright and in inflation-adjusted terms) than it has ever been -- another factor which led to a decline in the popularity of renting even before streaming became a possibility. Even so, all the evidence suggests that Blu-ray sales have already peaked -- it's a format in decline, though that doesn't mean it will disappear immediately.

If you want to rent Blu-ray titles in Australia, the cheapest and most flexible option is to use Quickflix's DVD and Blu-ray only option. For $30 a month, you can have three discs out at once. If you regularly watch the movies and change them over, you'll easily be able to drop the cost below $7 a viewing. However, you won't always get the movie you want immediately -- something that isn't a problem with streaming services. But you'll have your physical discs (and no late fees if you fail to return them). Other than that, you'll need to live with the reality: times change.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    Find one of the many DVD kiosks that are around shopping centers these days and hire a blu ray dvd for a few bucks. There is one operated by Video Ezy at my local supermarket and their blu rays are $4 a hire. Even cheaper during some days during the week AND the first one I hired was free.

    Last edited 11/03/15 3:06 pm

      Or read the article and understand that the range available was well below their requirements.

      What part of "Kiosks don’t help either — their Blu-ray range is minute" did you miss?

    I live in a shit house country town and we still have Video Ezy. Video Ezy are everywhere, aren't they?

      Low rent and a community that probably doesn't have access to three different JB Hi-Fi stores, a mega cinema or a whole bunch of other entertainment options make shit house country town video stores work. I'm guessing you guys probably have more than your share of unreliable internet connections there too.

      Lol the reason you still have a Video Ezy is precisely BECAUSE you live in a shit house country town.

      Only in those country towns. I think there is one blockbuster in 30 mins from me these days, everything else has closed and been replaced with crappy DVD kiosks.

      Last edited 11/03/15 6:38 pm

      I've always thought shithouse was one word.
      A shit house is a toilet.

    Some areas still have video rentals. There is still a blockbuster and a Video Ezy near me. It's still possible to rent a blu-ray on Tuesday night for $2 or any other night for $6. And of course they offer specials like 2 for $10 or whatever at other times. That said, there used to be about eight rental places and most of them have closed down now.

    I honestly, hope these stores manage to stay open. It's not really a big imposition to drive five minutes and choose a movie. Personally, I find they work to expose me to movies I may not have otherwise chosen - browsing their new/recent releases is a mix of all sorts of genres. I suspect if I was using netflix (or similar) I'd probably confine myself to my favourite genre and miss out on other movies as a result.

    Besides, it's one reason to get out of the house for at least a short while.

      Most Netflix type services advertise their range within the app. You can search for something specific or pick a genre to browse, but they tend to have a home tab that just throws out new releases, popular shows/movies, and selections from random genres. It doesn't sound the same but it functions about the same as going in and doing a lap of the store. It makes sense since they're both trying to achieve the same goal.
      The only real difference is that when you walk into a video store you feel sort of obligated to rent something because you've made the trip. Streaming services have almost the opposite of that. You don't feel like you have to rent something every time you browse, which makes you browse more casually and rent things when you would have normally just went to bed or browsed the internet.
      It seems like a very different alternative which makes it seem like it should be dramatically better or worse, but really it's just a slight variation that amounts to pretty much the same thing. If you've ever had a good video store that requires a car ride to get to and a crap video store you can walk to, that's about the difference between Netflix and Blockbuster.

        Maybe I didn't make my point clearly enough. What I meant was more like this - because the Rental store has a limited range there aren't say, 4000 horror* movies to choose from, only 50. As a result I may pick a comedy instead. Whereas on a streaming service like netflix you probably have a bigger range of horror movies to choose from. As a result I'd wind up renting a horror movie not a comedy because they had more horror movies to pick.

        Not saying that's bad, especially if you really, really want to watch a horror movie. But I feel like the limited range actually works to push viewers to watch other genres.

        * Insert whichever movie genres you prefer :P

    I know that this isn't a solution for everybody, but I've been doing online surveys and using the e-voucher rewards that I've earned to buy Blu-Ray movies. There is a certain well known online and physical retailer which offers "3 for $20" movie deals. Do some surveys which only take a couple of minutes here and there, and et-voila! Free movies! I'm not going to mention the survey site or the retailer, because I am no cyber whore... Anyhoo, I've been doing this for 2 and a bit months and I've already scored nine Blu-rays! Why does it feel like I've just told everybody about Fight Club?

    Civic Video in QLD has $1 Tuesday's, which include blurays. I have a nice plasma and surround sound, and it's better than the cinema's here. :)

    This is why physical media is dead. Almost every option now is better than the crappy old way of doing things.

    Download/stream, hit play. No concern about size of library (get anything that's ever been released), disc scratches /etc.

      Bitrate / quality of a streamed movie doesn't even come close to physical bluray quality.

        That all depends what your source is...

          Piratebay don't do streaming :p

            Piratebay don't do streaming :p

            Any decent torrent client would have streaming capabilities... I've streamed many compressed blu-ray movies with uTorrent that I've sourced from The Pirate Bay.

            Now if we only had a proper NBN broadband network rolling out, instead of Abbott's fraudband, then I could stream the raw file, uncompressed in it's highest quality possible.

          Would you care to suggest a digital distribution source that even comes close to the quality of BluRay?

    Ripping a Blu-Ray [or DVD] gets you a copy at whatever resolution you want. It bypasses the internet, and still gives money to the people who made it.
    Not a lot of cash, but better than nothing.

    No commentary tracks. Shitty range of overseas movies. That's where Australian online options suffer next to physical media

    Last edited 17/03/15 5:25 pm

    +1 for quickflix. I just get one-at-a-time for $13/month and probably get 5 or 6 discs (blu-rays) in that time. Enough to watch at least a film each week and some episodes. Sure, you don't always get the first film on your list if it's a new popular title, but it's nice to queue up things you want to see, so you get what you want, so long as you're not in a hurry.

    Have enjoyed reading everyone's comments, and although it doesn't sound like there is an easy answer to my yearning for the short-but-golden age of video stores lined with blu rays, it's good to know I'm not overlooking any obvious solutions. So I guess the answer is Quickflix if you're prepared to wait, or a combo of Kiosks (for physical media) and streaming if you can't.

      There is another service called moviebase. It's based in Sydney, prices are similar to quickflix but they also provide express return option. You can express return as soon as you post the disk, they will post the next lot on the same day while the previous disks are on the way. Saves you a day. Customer service is excellent.
      I also prefer blu ray over streaming services. If you have a good panel and good surround sound system, nothing can beat blu ray quality.

        I also prefer blu ray over streaming services. If you have a good panel and good surround sound system, nothing can beat blu ray quality.

        If we had a proper NBN broadband network instead of Abbott's fraudband, then we would be able to stream blu-ray quality video and audio. Unfortunately that's only a dream that we will now not see for another 50+ years...

    If you want to rent Blu-ray titles in Australia, the cheapest and most flexible option is to use Quickflix’s DVD and Blu-ray only option. For $30 a month, you can have three discs out at once.

    Don't forget Netflix is launching soon, so they'll most likely be a cheaper alternative for renting DVD's and Blu-Ray's.

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