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Doing the math on movie rentals

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Fred Prouser / Reuters / File

(Read caption) Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix Inc., the online DVD-rental service, holds several DVDs as he poses at the Netflix offices in Beverly Hills, in this file photo from Dec. 8, 2005. The 'best' movie rental choice depends on how many and what kind of movies a viewer likes to watch.

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It’s Saturday evening. The kids are in bed. Sarah and Trent want to stay up late watching a movie. What’s the least expensive option?

Redbox If we’re already thinking about this earlier in the day, there are several Redbox machines within ten miles of us that we could visit as part of our shopping trip. Renting a film there lets us choose what we want that day and the cost is only $1 per night. However, we also have to be sure we’re going to return it the next day or else we’re going to be spending $2 … or $3 or more on that rental. Good selection and potential low cost … if you can return it easily.

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The local video store It has atrocious selection (the only new release they had in there the last time I visited was Marmaduke), but the price is fantastic – $1 for three days of rental. Plus, I can walk over there and return it whenever I like. Cheapest rental option overall, but the selection is abysmal

Online rentals In terms of giving us the most convenience combined with the best selection, this is the best option. We have several ways of renting a movie online, starting the download, and watching it starting in about fifteen minutes – Amazon Video on Demand, iTunes, and the Playstation Store all allow this. Unfortunately, most of the time, you’re going to be paying at least $2 for that movie, and often more for newer releases. The most expensive per hour of movie watching, but the most convenient.

Netflix It costs $9 a month, but you always have a disc of some sort sitting there that’s a movie that you at one time wanted to watch. On top of that, there’s streaming – but the selection on streaming is very random and loaded mostly with older releases and independent films and documentaries. The best option if you watch more than one or two films a month.

Watching a DVD we already have We have a shelf of DVDs – why not just watch one of those? It’s free, but you’re almost always just rewatching something you’ve already seen.

Given those options, here’s how things flush out for us.

If you’re a Netflix subscriber, that alone takes care of the vast majority of your rental needs. We subscribe to Netflix because we watch a movie about once a week and watch some non-commercially interrupted TV shows on streaming, especially during the winter (like Doctor Who, for example). That takes care of almost all of our needs for about $9 a month, which brings our cost per hour of entertainment well under $1.

Without Netflix, Redbox is probably the best option – if it’s convenient. In other words, if you can rent the movie, watch it that night, and return it the next day, you’re paying about $0.50 per hour of entertainment – a very good price. On top of that, the selection is usually quite good at a kiosk. However, if it’s not convenient for you, the cost goes way up – if you can’t return it for a few days, it gets pricy quick.

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Wait on renting online until you have a gift card to burn. The prices are so high compared to other rental venues that we’ll just find something on streaming rather than renting a new release for $4 or $5. The exception to this is if we have a gift card of some sort to use more or less for this specific purpose.

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