When I first thought about trying to "cut the cord" from my cable company one of the things I thought I'd miss is the video on demand (VOD) service. I have probably watched a couple dozen or so movies through the Comcast's VOD, not many really. The biggest problem was that it was hard to find movies that I was interested in watching. The ancient menu system offered by old Comcast DVR was certainly part of the problem, but the other was that there wasn't that many movies available.
Update: check out the differences between streaming devices.
My kids, on the other hand, found Comcast's VOD essential. They discovered quite a few serial programs that they loved to watch (like Pokemon and other cartoons). When I "cut the cord", I needed to find a replacement. Certainly there are a lot of cartoons available through the Internet and you can get to them via various portals and video aggregators such as Hulu, Boxee, (and my favorite) Zinc.tv. These services are great, but not quite as convenient (or have commercials, ads, etc).
Netflix ever since our local video store went out of business a couple of years ago. We started using the DVD kiosks at our local Safeway ($1 rentals are nice), but they often out of the top titles. And let's face it, returning videos (especially in the middle of the week) is a hassle. So, after receiving a NetFlix gift certificate (thanks for the Christmas present, Mom!), I thought I'd try to solve both problems.
BTW: If you are a new subscriber like I was, NetFlix's free trial (two-weeks) works in combination with any gift subscriptions you may have received. Just sign up for the free trial and your gift subscriptions will be applied to your account when the free trial is over.
Since Netflix is really two services in one (Video Streaming, and Movie Rental), I'll share my experience with both.
When I signed up, Netflix claimed to have over 17,000 titles to watch instantly via streaming. I remember when they announced that they had crossed 10,000 titles so they are clearly growing their movie inventory. The titles available also include a fair number of series programs on TV including some available on the STARS network.
You can stream Netflix to lots of different devices including certain new TVs, Bluray players, game systems (Wii, PS3) and dedicated boxes (Roku). You can also stream it to a computer and this includes obviously a Media PC. I've primarily used Netflix via my Media PC and various laptops.
When using a Media PC you can use Netflix directly inside of Windows Media Center (very nice), or just like any other computer, you can use a browser. I find that the browser interface is much easier to find new content, but the Media Center interface is more couch friendly. Both work fine, and it is nice to have a choice between the two (definitely a major advantage of a media PC over dedicated Netflix devices).
Update: It appears that Netflix has launched HD streaming for PCs. I was watching "Flame and Citron" last night it Windows Media Center and it was clearly HD, probably 720p. Here is a post from Engaget that seems to confirm this wasn't a fluke. Great news!
Best of all, my Kids have found lots of family programs and cartoons to watch. Between this and regularly recording our favorite broadcast TV programs, we don't miss Comcast VOD at all.
Netflix Movies by Mail
Renting movies by mail works pretty much like you'd expect. It is a bit of a pain to select your movies in advance, but you get over it. Currently, I seem to get new movies two to three days after I mail in my old selections (then again Netflix headquarters is just down the street!).
I currently am using their two-movies-at-time package. I haven't opted for the Bluray option (even though I can play them with my Media PC). I just don't care about the enhanced resolution and DVDs look really good already in my opinion (but that is just me). If you enjoy Bluray movies, the extra cost with Netflix is certainly a good deal and worth considering.
I've never gotten a movie that wouldn't play or skipped in any way. I could be lucky, but after months of movie rentals I imagine that Netflix probably has solved this problem.
With Netflix streaming and my Media PC, I have noticed a slight "judder or studder" when playing movies. This never happens playing movies with other formats (and doesn't seem to happen to other devices), so I can only assume it is specific to my Media PC and/or video drivers. Netflix does use a new streaming technology (Microsoft's Silverlight), and it could be "teething" issues with this. It is a relatively minor imperfection and I only notice it during fast "camera panning" scenes. I'm not alone it seeing this so hopefully a driver update in the future will eliminate it.
I've only encountered one period when the Netflix streaming was down for any appreciable time. It took them a few hours to fix some system problem. Occasionally, I've had a movie stop mid playback for no reason. I was able to restart the movie where it left off without issue.