Update: This review is based on my personal experience with Redbox Instant. I hope it gives you a good idea of how the service works, but the best way to know if it’s right for you is to try it for yourself. You can even test it out risk-free. Redbox will give you a 30-day free trial; if you don’t like it, you can cancel your subscription — no questions asked. Click here to start your free trial.
Redbox recently joined the ranks of online streaming video providers with their Redbox Instant service. These are my thoughts after a one-month free trial.
Like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video, this new service called Redbox Instant is primarily a video streaming program. Users can stream movies from their website or through the Xbox 360 app (at the time of my trial this was the only system to have an app for Redbox Instant, though it’s reported to be available through Roku boxes this summer).
In addition to online streaming, the default subscription also includes 4 credits for one-night DVD rentals from Redbox kiosks. Using the credits is a little bit confusing at first, but it’s actually pretty simple.
How to use your Redbox Instant Credits:
- Pick out your movies on the Redbox kiosk like normal.
- When you go to check out, tap the button to use credits before you pay.
- The kiosk asks for verification of your credits, so you just swipe the credit card associated with your Redbox Instant account.
- Enter your ZIP code and you’re all set.
You can also use the Redbox website to pick out your movie in advance, and then just complete your transaction at the kiosk.
The one-month free trial that they are offering right now is on the 4 credit plan. These credits are not good for video games or for Blu-ray movies — only DVDs. If you want to rent Blu-rays, you’ll have to upgrade your plan — which brings us into pricing.
Redbox Instant Pricing
The default plan includes the 4 DVD credits for $8 per month. You can also choose from a plan with Blu-ray credits at $9 per month or a plan with no credits at all — just streaming — for $6 per month.
At this price point, Redbox Instant is actually cheaper than Netflix (streaming only) and Hulu. Both of those streaming services run at $7.99 per month. (Try Hulu Plus – Get 1-week FREE.)
An important difference is that a Redbox Instant subscription doesn’t give you access to their entire catalog of online movies. Granted, there are thousands of movies available at no extra cost for subscribers, but there are also many that cost extra to rent or buy.
This aspect of Redbox Instant is similar to Amazon Instant Video. If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can watch some movies for no extra cost, but many of the newer movies (or the movies with weird contracting issues) require additional payment.
On this point, Redbox Instant doesn’t seem to be as good of a deal. Just as an example, the movie 500 MPH Storm is available for rent or purchase through Redbox Instant and through Amazon Instant Video. But while Redbox Instant charges $4.99 for a standard definition rental and $16.99 for purchase, Amazon Instant video is only $3.99 and $14.99, respectively.
Take into consideration the subscription price. Amazon Prime costs $79 annually. That works out to approximately $6.58 per month. Amazon doesn’t offer any physical disks, so we are comparing with the diskless Redbox Instant plan which is $6 per month.
If that were the end of the story, Redbox would be a better deal. But you have to keep in mind that Amazon Prime also includes free two-day shipping on many items (everything I’ve bought from Amazon since I joined Amazon Prime has fallen into the free two-day shipping category). If you shop much with Amazon, this can wind up being significant savings.
Also, Amazon recently added a “lending” feature with participating Kindle ebooks. Amazon Prime subscribers with a Kindle device get one free “lend” per month.
All that to say the benefits of Amazon Prime extend far beyond video streaming.
Redbox Instant Service Quality
Now that we’ve covered what the program promises, let’s look at how the service actually performed.
Excellent Customer Service
Before I make any other comments about Redbox Instant, I want to say that they did a great job with customer service.
When I first went to their landing page and saw that you had to sign up for an invite, I thought it was going to be another Pinterest and I’d have to wait days, if not weeks, before they let me in.
You can imagine my surprise when I was immediately sent a code to join the beta program. Though they didn’t really have to do anything special to create this positive experience, exceeding customer expectations is an excellent way for a business to ingratiate itself with its customers.
As I shared in my previous post about Redbox Instant, I first became aware of the service through a trivia game that Xbox Rewards runs every Friday. Even before I went to the Redbox Instant website, I knew I wanted to use the Xbox 360 app. So I was frustrated to find out that the code I got to join the beta program was not the same kind of code that’s used to download the 360 app.
I looked around on their website for a while and couldn’t find any clear instructions in their support pages as to how I could get the code. At the end of one of the support pages, there was a comment box asking if the article had answered my question. I left feedback — more out of spite than a belief that anyone would respond — explaining how the article didn’t help me find what I was looking for.
Again, my expectations were blown away when I got an email from a customer service rep apologizing for the difficulty. Included in the email was the access code that I needed to download the app.
The Rest of the Program
I’m sad to say that the customer service was the only part of my experience with the Redbox Instant beta program that made me want to keep it.
The program has thousands of movies, but they are mostly B movies or documentaries that I have never heard of, featuring actors I don’t know. And having so many movies that I don’t care about makes it that much harder to find one that I want to watch.
The lack of organization doesn’t help. The categories range from the typically broad “Horror” and “Drama” to the ultra-specific “Unfit for Duty” or “Just for Kicks.” That’s helpful for those who want to watch a movie about karate, kung-fu, ninjas, or ineffective authority figures, but I don’t think I’ve ever started off looking for a movie thinking about any of those things.
The rating system is also years behind their competitors, especially Netflix. You may have heard that Netflix uses a complex algorithm to determine what movies viewers will enjoy based on their previous likes and dislikes. So if I were someone who loved karate movies, Netflix would suggest those to me because of my demonstrated interest. If I hated karate movies, Netflix wouldn’t suggest them.
Redbox’s system is merely a user-generated rating. Anyone in the program can subjectively rate movies however they would like. The average of that user feedback determines the movies’ ratings. There is no personalization.
As underwhelming as the rating system is, it’s not half as important as the service’s ability to actually deliver the video. When I watch a movie online, I want it to be at least as clear as watching a DVD (and preferably as clear as a Blu-ray). That would have been considered an absurd request even a few years ago, but the success of the other businesses in this space has created that expectation.
Because of that expectation, I was disappointed when I tried to stream a Redbox Instant movie on my computer and the video would periodically pause while the audio track continued at normal speed. Then the video would either jump to where it should have been, or it would go too fast, like I was fast-forwarding, until it caught up.
My experience on the Xbox 360 app wasn’t much better. My wife and I watched Dumb and Dumber one evening, and we were both frustrated that the playback was choppy for the entire movie. It looked as if half of the frames had been taken out of the movie.
Clearly it was not a very enjoyable viewing experience on my computer or on the Xbox.
It’s likely that this streaming problem will be worked out before the program moves out of beta, as Verizon beefs up its infrastructure to handle the strain of an online movie-streaming service. But it’s definitely something to keep in mind when deciding if Redbox Instant is right for you.
I was unimpressed with Redbox Instant. The service is still in beta, though, so perhaps a lot of these issues will be resolved before they roll out the final version.
The good thing is you can try it out risk-free. In the words of LeVar Burton, “Don’t take my word for it.” The best way to know what you think about it is to try it out yourself. Head over to RedboxInstant.com and take the one-month free trial.
And while you’re at it, you might as well check out the other providers as well. They also offer free trials:
Netflix frequently offers a one-month free trial. I first got Netflix to watch movies, but in recent years they have added a lot of TV shows that are very entertaining. Click here to sign up.
You can also try out a 1-week free trial of Hulu Plus. Netflix is good for older shows (e.g. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer), but they don’t have new shows like Hulu does. New shows are usually up on Hulu within a day or two. They also have a ton of films from the Criterion Collection. Click here to sign up for a free 1-week trial of Hulu.
And of course, Amazon Prime is a clear winner. I recouped my costs for this program last year within a month with the free 2-day shipping alone. And again, there are tons of movies and shows that are included with Amazon Instant Video and free Kindle books. Click here to start a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime.
A Service for Everyone
With all of the options in the online-streaming space, you’re sure to find something that meets your needs.
What would you like to see these services offer that they don’t already? Share your thoughts in the comments.