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Review: Redbox Instant & why I canceled my trial

by Philip Sellers

A few weeks ago, I was excited to receive the “You’re In” email from Redbox for their new Redbox Instant streaming service.  I was excited to see a competitor to Amazon and Netflix for lots of new movies.  But today, I closed my account.  I’m still optimistic to revisit Redbox Instant in the future, even though I closed it.  In the end, convenience won out of some of the Redbox service’s very compelling features.

An Enticing Bundle…

One of the things that I found really enticing about Redbox Instant is the way that Redbox is bundling the streaming service along with video rentals at the kiosk.  My family loves Redbox from the kiosk and we generally get one or two movies a month.  So, a combination streaming subscription with kiosk credits from the ‘box’ is a really nice proposition.

The price of the standard Redbox Instant service is in line with Netflix and Hulu – $8 a month.  It makes it a no-brainer to replace one or the other in your monthly budget – and that’s a strong play from Redbox, considering it bundles 4 DVD rentals with the subscription.

Redbox Instant comes with a variety of devices compatible to view the content – a native iOS apps, Android apps and you can use your Windows or Mac computer to stream.  The Redbox Help site also shows some Samsung Blu-ray players and TV sets.

The service includes parental controls which will help to manage your kids viewing.  Netflix parental controls is a big let down since its an all-or-nothing setting where you block the parents as well as the kids from content with higher ratings, but sadly, it seems that Redbox Instant is in the same boat.  Perhaps future apps can set this on a per-user basis, but for now, its all-or-nothing like Netflix.  That a big let-down for a parent who doesn’t want my child wondering into Showtime programming and would prefer them to stay in the Barnie realm.

In addition to streaming and kiosk credits, the service also offers the ability to rent or buy streaming movie rentals and purchases similar to iTunes or Amazon.  You would own the digital streaming rights of these movies and would be able to stream them like the subscription movies.  The rental prices seemed to be around $4.99 for SD and $5.99 for HD. Purchase prices appear to be $16.99 and $21.99 for HD. In general, the prices are about $1 – $2 higher than iTunes.  And many of the same movies are a quick drive away at the Redbox kiosk in addition to purchase/rent.  Fortunately, the Redbox Instant website intuitively lists the purchase, rental and kiosk availability of titles so you know.  For movie rentals, $1.20 versus $4.99 is a big difference worth getting in the car to go and pickup.  I’m surprised the instant rental prices are so much higher.

What to do to win me back?

In the end, convenience really was the primary factor in my decision to cancel.  Netflix is integrated on our Apple TV boxes at home – so its easy for my daughter to navigate and find her kids shows in the library and she doesn’t need Mommy or Daddy to navigate the menus for her.  For Netflix, its easy from the iPhone/iPod/iPad app and its easy from the Apple TV itself and Airplay works like Airplay was designed.  No so, for Redbox Instant.

For Redbox Instant, the best we could offer is Airplay mirroring (in letterbox from the iPad) or Airplay audio-only from our iDevices.  The experience is just not as good.  Its not as intuitive for a 6 year old – or my wife.  Airplay is easy enough, but the Redbox Instant app doesn’t allow for full Airplay of movies (why restrict this people?  seriously, why?).  Netflix has this figured out, so I hope that Redbox will get whatever approvals from content providers to turn this on – it’d make a big step towards ease of use.

I agree with analysts that I’ve read – people don’t want to watch movies on their 2.5″ or 10″ screens – they want to watch it on the big nice 60″ in the living room – with surround sound and popcorn.  Sure, streaming wherever you are, on whatever device you own is a great add-on feature, but restricting folks from being able to use your service in the living room is a colossal letdown.

A native Apple TV app would be great too for the Apple households, but cooperation with streaming, Blu-Ray and TV manufacturers to get their app on their set-top boxes is a must and it seems Redbox is destined to go there.  Engadget reported (via a Redbox Press Release) in December 2012 that Samsung, LG and Google TV devices would be getting the service added to their devices.  Sadly, my nearly brand new Samsung Blu-ray player was not on the list with the app.

Content, content, content

Content is the last major issue with the service, as it stands today.  Redbox Instant includes the same movies that I find in Netflix – just not all of the same movies.  Since the service is new, the library is limited.  It appears Netflix wins when it comes to lots of children’s content that my daughter loves to enjoy.  I really had a difficult time finding anything in the Redbox Instant service that I was not able to find in Netflix.  Adding to that, it was more convenient for me to play the same content from Netflix rather than jumping through hoops to watch a letter-boxed  iOS-mirrored movie on the big screen.

Perhaps the biggest saving grace for Redbox Instant is for people who are disgruntled with Netflix decision to separate the DVD and streaming services.  Netflix changes effectively doubled the price of the service to keep both DVD and streaming services which makes Redbox Instant a great alternative if you like that model.  You won’t have the full library of Netflix mail DVD service, but you will have convenience of picking up a DVD at your local grocery or drug store.   The kiosk selection seems to be good for new releases and in-demand movies. And, best of all, a Redbox Instant subscription comes at the same price as Netflix streaming only package.  That a big win for people who are paying up to double.


Even though I canceled my Redbox Instant subscription, I expect to revisit it in the future.  It is a compelling service for Netflix customers who also use the Redbox occasionally.   I hope that the content library grows and the device availability matures, working out the kinks along the way.   For me to come back, add a native Apple TV Redbox Instant App and/or make AirPlay work correctly in the Redbox Instant iOS app (although I prefer the native Apple TV app)  — that’s really all it would take…

In the end, competition is really great for the customer.  Amazon has a streaming service bundled with its Prime membership with brings other benefits, Hulu is a straight-forward streaming service with a current season TV slant, Netflix is the grand-daddy of full season TV past and no-commercial movies.  Adding Redbox Streaming to the mix is good for consumers, by adding another unique model that plays to Redbox’s strengths with their broad network of kiosks.

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