Rumours of Netflix arriving in Australia come and go, but the fact is, it's already dead easy for Australians to tap into Netflix. Federal Attorney-General George Brandis says that Aussies paying to sneak into Netflix are as bad as those downloading everything for free from BitTorrent, but this is one area where you'll have to draw your own moral line in the sand.
So is it worth sneaking into Netflix, or can local service Quickflix meet your every need? We put them to the test on Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4, the new generation of all-singing, all-dancing games consoles designed to bring the best of the internet to your lounge room. They were hooked up to a lowly 3 Mbps DSL connection, as access to the NBN in any way, shape or form is still years away for many Australian homes.
A few months ago, Quickflix dropped the price of its basic streaming-only package from $14.99 per month to $9.99 per month. Since then Netflix has put its basic plan up to $US8.99 ($A9.59) for new users, although current subscribers can stay on the old $US7.99 rate for the next two years.
If you're converting your money into greenbacks then you have to allow for the exchange rate and transaction fees. You also need to allow for the fact that you need a geoblocking workaround to access Netflix from Australia. The decent DNS workaround services such as Unblock US and UnoTelly cost around $US5 per month. You'll find cheaper options like GetFlix but the DNS response times aren't always as good for your day-to-day web browsing.
In summary, if you're paying for a geoblocking workaround to access Netflix then altogether you're paying more each month than you would for a Quickflix subscription. Quickflix lets you register up to six devices and stream to three simultaneously. Meanwhile, Netflix has no device limit, but you can only stream to two devices simultaneously unless you upgrade to the $US11.99 four-user family plan.
Easy to use?
Netflix certainly gains ground here, as its console apps are much slicker than Quickflix's offerings. Regardless of which service you prefer, the Xbox One apps are also more impressive than the PlayStation 4 apps.
The PS4 Quickflix app is clearly a generation behind the Xbox One Quickflix app, which was only released a few weeks ago. Once Quickflix's development team has finished polishing the Chromecast app, hopefully it can give the PS4 app some much-needed attention.
Of the four apps we're looking at here, the PS4 Quickflix app is the only one which doesn't offer predictive search as you type. The Netflix apps go a step further by offering separate predictive lists of titles and actors to make it even easier to find what you're looking for.
Netflix on both consoles also offers extensive genre-based browsing, influenced by your viewing history. You can also set up different user profiles within the one account, so your spouse's viewing habits don't influence your Netflix recommendations and vice versa. Quickflix's browsing options are very limited and cumbersome in comparison.
The PS4 Quickflix app is also the only one of the four which doesn't offer you a list of videos you've watched recently, which is really frustrating if you want to resume something you were watching earlier, or you've just jumped across from another device such as a computer, smartphone or tablet.
Quickflix does offer the advantage of movie trailers, something which is surprisingly absent from Netflix. Quickflix also tells you how much data you'll chew through watching a movie, information which is less important to US viewers because most don't have monthly download limits. Netflix's adaptive streaming technology also makes it difficult to predict how much data a movie will consume.
Once you're watching a movie, only the Netflix apps offer thumbnails as you fast-forward and rewind, making it much more user-friendly than Quickflix when it comes to skipping back and forward through a movie.
What can I watch?
It really is pot luck as to whether the movie or TV show you want to watch is on Netflix or Quickflix. Both services are treated as second-class citizens by the movie houses compared to the traditional movie rental stores. Quickflix is fighting hard to win more content, while Netflix is struggling to retain it.
To test out the picture quality we went in search of a movie available on both Netflix and Quickflix. Netflix gains access to some movies sooner, for example it offers Star Trek: Into Darkness and The Avengers, which aren't on Quickflix yet.
The shortcomings of both services are more dependent on their agreements with the movie houses than on how recently a movie was released. Searching at random, Batman Begins, Cowboys and Aliens, Godzilla and Cars are all missing from Netflix, while Quickflix is missing The Fifth Element, Big Trouble in Little China, Ghostbusters and Johnny Mnemonic. Both services draw a blank when it comes to classics like Star Wars and Indiana Jones. You can easily spend 15 minutes searching for movies and not find anything.
Netflix certainly has the advantage over Quickflix when it comes to recent TV shows, although it is hampered by a lack of HBO classics such as The Sopranos and Sex in the City. You'll find these on Quickflix, plus you can also purchase many new-release HBO hits such as Game of Thrones and True Detective.
How do they look?
In the end we settled on Ridley Scott's award-winning Gladiator as the best way to pit Netflix and Quickflix in a battle to the death, as the epic swords n’ sandals blockbuster is available on both Netflix and Quickflix. By the 10-minute mark, when Maximus had conquered the Germanic tribes, Netflix was the clear victor in terms of sound and picture quality.
Netflix offers Gladiator in HD but its adaptive streaming technology means that even on a 3 Mbps DSL connection it looks much sharper than Quickflix. When you press play on Netflix the picture quality is rather disappointing for the first minute, but once it's had a chance to assess your connection speed it ramps up the quality to surpass Quickflix.
If you've an eye for detail you'll notice that Netflix looks slightly better than Quickflix during close-ups of people's faces, or when you're peering at the detail in the shadows. But Netflix's improved picture really quality shines through during fast-moving action, especially in murky light. When Maximus rides through the flames to attack the Germanic warriors from behind, the Quickflix picture becomes so pixelated on our 55-inch screen that he looks like something out of Minecraft. The difference in the picture quality is striking during the entire battle scene -- the larger your television the more you'll notice it.
Listen closely and you'll also hear Netflix's 5.1-channel sound come into play, with extra detail in the explosions clearly coming from your rear speakers. Not many Netflix movies offer 5.1 sound, but you won't find any on Quickflix yet -- they're all 2-channel stereo sound.
Netflix also copes much better if other services are hammering your internet connection. Play a second movie on another device and Netflix's picture quality suffers less than Quickflix's quality.
Of course your mileage may vary here, depending on a whole lot of circumstances that may be beyond your control. To give Quickflix the chance to shine we hooked up the consoles to a 16 Mbps Telstra Next G wireless connection. Gladiator didn't look any better because Quickflix doesn't offer it in high definition. Everything in the all-you-can-eat library is in standard-def, whereas practically every Netflix movie is in HD 720p. When you do find something on both Quickflix and Netflix in standard-def, like old episodes of Red Dwarf, they look about the same.
So what’s the verdict?
Quickflix is certainly to be commended when it comes to value for money and its improving range of content, but if you have a large television and an eye for detail then Netflix clearly has the upper hand in terms of picture quality. Unfortunately there's little incentive for Quickflix to ramp up its picture quality until more Australians have access to faster broadband.
The Netflix apps are also more impressive than the Quickflix apps, although the significant improvements with Quickflix's Xbox One app shows that it's serious about offering Australians a great user experience. There's work to be done, but Quickflix can give Netflix a run for its money if it comes to Australia.