LOVEFiLM? Then maybe LOVEFiLM isn’t what you need.

I’ve been a LOVEFiLM subscriber for a couple of years now, having started with the Amazon service model. I’ve been largely pleased with the service. The staff are helpful on the phone, the disks are usually reliable and the various packages are simple to understand and manage. The catalogue is incredibly decent, too.

But their distribution model is dated. We live in the internet age of instant gratification and preferably within 140 characters. So posting disks out, while good value and useful, doesn’t always address the question, “what shall we watch tonight?”. Which is why I was very pleased when they launched their online streaming service. Finally, I can go over and above my allocated disk and have more choice as and when I need. Having tried Zune Video, with its flawless HD streaming and fairly impressive catalogue coupled with integration with my existing media system, I was expecting great things.

However, they chose to stream over a web browser in the first instance, which is not compatible with my own viewing intentions. From reports, the quality wasn’t anything to write home about, either, often below DVD quality. Integration into consumer devices was a no-brainer, and that dutifully came in Sony and Samsung TVs and the PlayStation 3. At this point, I saw red, as I felt I was excluded based on my choice of a Microsoft eco-system.

The recent 2011 Dashboard update has changed that, however. Finally, I have LOVEFiLM where I want it and can stream films when I want them. Brilliant. Or so I thought. I tried it out last night …

Firstly, the user interface is uninspiring. The Metro UX is beautiful and while they have used the Metro UX, the feel of the application feels flat and while I appreciate the colours are reflecting the brand, they do contribute to an unexciting experience. Additionally, the combination of red text on dark grey produces a difficult to read font, particularly with the Segoe font used in the Metro UX. Transitions between screens and pages is not flowing, and certainly should reflect the experience in the core dashboard making the transition between interfaces less jarring. If you’re using the Metro UX, you need it ALL.

While navigation between film collections was simple enough, I was disappointed with the number of titles available. While the Zune catalogue is limited, I thought it was the lesser force in terms of number of titles. How wrong I was. I was very much looking forward to a sizable proportion of the offline catalogue being available.

My package gives me 2 hours of online viewing. So I had to find a film that was less than 2 hours. Unfortunately, this is not easy as you have to go into each title to see how long the film is to see if you could watch it. Hardly a thoughtful user experience. I found Supersize Me, a documentary that looked to be interesting and has received positive feedback. Unfortunately, it ran to 124 minutes, 4 minutes over my allocation. “That’s okay, the last 4 minutes will be the credits.” Maybe I’d be warned about missing the last 4 minutes? No. I was not allowed to watch the film, so removing my choice of losing those 4 minutes. Which raises the question, if I can’t make conscious decisions like that, and a lot of films run longer than 2 hours, why charge per minute? Surely viewing should be paid per film? If I only have 2 hours on my account, I am already discriminated from viewing a sizeable portion of their catalogue. And, I will ALWAYS have “change”, and therefore unused credits. That doesn’t work in my favour, as the user.

I finally found a film that ran below the 2 hours, and opted for the original Tron film. On selecting it for playing, I got a big fat error “MP1006“. So it seems I wasn’t going to be able to watch Tron. I tried again for good measure, but the same result was received. Maybe there was a problem with that particular title. I opted for another film, “The girl that played with fire”. I could not watch this either, but this time, because I had insufficient minutes left on my account. So in watching – and failing – to watch Tron, I had been debited (stolen from) my minutes allocation, rendering my online service useless for the rest of the month. This aside, what if I thought that film was no good 10 minutes in, do I still lose the entire film minutes? Again, WHY charge in minutes?

So between a flawed charging model (if they’re not allowing rollover minutes and/or portion viewing), plain not working films and stealing my credits I was left underwhelmed, frustrated and finally angry from what could have been a very positive experience. So while I was going to upgrade my account, I’m considering cancelling it (joining the users cancelling due to the switch to Silverlight) and going wholesale into the other video providers on the platform, such as Zune and – heaven forbid – $ky. And with Channels 4, 5 and the BBC introducing content soon, I – the consumer – am going to be spoilt for choice. Oh, and Netflix is coming soon …

Update

Lovefilm have tweeted me back apologising for the problem and have reimbursed me with 100 digital minutes. Which gives me 9 minutes more than my 2 hours! Maybe I’ll be able to watch Supersize Me after all. I’ve asked for feedback on resolution of the original issue before I retry.

Follow up tweets: 1 and 2

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