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Notes on Canadian DVD Rental Companies

ZIP - They started up in February 2004, and by far have the largest range of titles and number of customers. If selection is your main reason for doing mail rental it would seem hard not to choose them. I'm currently a member, and have some specific ZIP pages with info on them. There are some things I'd like to see improved, but I can firmly recommend them. If you had some poor early experiences with them they might worth a second look, as they certainly had some some startup hiccups, and especially again when they bought out VHQonline. They introduced shipping limits in January 2006. PRO: Unmatched selection, large size, features such as ZipRefill and multiple warehouses. CON: shipping limits; rapid growth has occasionally overstressed customer service in the past.

Cinemail - Based in Winnipeg, they are a mail offshoot of the Movie Village rental store, which already had a walk-in version of this for local residents. For movie buffs they have a large selection of Criterions, and the second-largest selection of the Canadian rental companies. They deliberately don't list most bonus discs, but they include Criterion (only!) bonus discs as part of a single rental. They have a good reputation for customer service, and I appreciate them enough to have done some informal, unpaid help in linking their titles to the IMDB website.

Cinemail forthrightly states in one of their FAQs that new releases generally take 2-8 weeks to begin circulating. Their selection is a major point for cinemaphiles, and they have a QuickReturn feature (a more generous version of Zip's ZipRefill) to help alleviate shipping times to their Winnipeg location. Their unique 2-disc "Casual" plan may be of interest - it is limited to 4/month, but unused rental credits carry over (until you cancel), so you don't lose out. They also have a "vacation mode" feature where "you can temporarily suspend your account. When you remove your account from VACATION MODE it adds anytime left on your last billing period." PRO: Second largest selection, QuickReturn feature, friendly service. CON: Winnipeg distribution location; new release caveat.

Canflix - Located in Calgary, also rents video games as part of the basic membership price. The significant changes to their website in March 2006 removed most of the serious issues I had with their inventory claims. They now quite clearly display the status of stocked titles (the actual number is over 10,000 titles), and the website in general gets high marks from many people.

Videomatica - High-end cinemaphile rental store in Vancouver, which now does mail rentals to throughout the country. Their prices are a bit higher than normal, and the selection is not as large as Cinemail, much less ZIP. But if you are a Vancouver or BC resident it may be worth the extra cost for a local source with a large selection.

DVDflix - I spent a few months with them in 2004 in the pre-ZIP days. They were good at adding a number of titles for me although some of their older backlist seemed to get "stuck" in my queue - probably single copies only. DVDflix is associated with a Vancouver video store (Odyssey), which probably helps explain both things. I have some fond memories even though they were a little quirky, but I really don't have much idea what they are like now, and the customer comments I've seen have been decidedly mixed.

DVDhype - I think they've been around the longest (although they started out in BC under different ownership) - I've found references to them back to 2002. I never did try them and don't know much about them. They have a geographically-based pricing plan providing a 4th or 5th disc to people outside the Montreal area or Toronto/Ottawa/Vancouver respectively. They appear to have been adding titles consistently, but there have been some reports of continued charges after cancellation, and difficulties in contacting them (see here).

Starflix - I would recommend reading my complete Starflix writeup to see why I came to the conclusion that the 30,000-title inventory claims of this Montreal-based company are highly inflated, and why I have them listed in the "Doghouse" section.

"Smallfry" - My irreverent name for the companies with smaller inventory selection. For basic new release purposes they may be perfectly fine, and their smaller size may let them provide more personal service.

Relay Rentals in Ottawa offers the "weekly package" approach. They also supply bonus discs as part of the rental.

Cyberflix opened up during October 2005, with pricing somewhat under the industry standard. They ship only to Ontario and eastwards.

Premieres.ca - In Kitchener, Ontario - perhaps 4-5000 titles. Has a larger selection of Criterions than expected for its size, and a couple good reviews suggest it may be a good smallfry choice for Ontario customers not needing a large inventory range.

OTHERS - I've seen a couple of others sites out there as well, but for one reason or another it doesn't seem worth the bother of setting up my database to deal with them. I know nothing about them other than what a little quick web searching turned up.

DVDZap - looks like a small French-only operation in Quebec.

Pyasa - rents Hindi-language/Bollywood type titles, based in Markham, Ont. They've been around for a couple years, but I know nothing much about them. Looks like around 500 titles.

OWCO - Chinese language operation out of Vancouver.


VHQonline - [On August 31, 2005, ZIP purchased VHQonline's operations as will be converting its customers to ZIP] I was only with them for a short while in 2004 (when they were still Cinemaflow), but they are probably the main alternative to ZIP for most people; I'd guess they are #2 in the marketplace. Based in BC, they also have an "order processing center" in Toronto, and apparently an unmentioned return address in Calgary (but I don't know if it actually warehouses any discs or only acts as a shipping and receiving point to speed things up). VHQ Online is part of the VHQ video store chain, which itself has been purchased by the Movie Gallery video store group. VHQ has separate video game memberships as well. PRO: Highly praised customer service, and anecdotal reports suggest they have better performance delivering new releases than ZIP. CON: doesn't have ZIP's selection (but who does).

RentaDVD - [As of May 7, 2005, RentaDVD has closed down] the one I had the hardest time getting a feel for. They were shut down when I first heard of them, but reopened in March 2004. They have a wide range of hard to find titles (although their claim of 10,000 has always been too high), are unique in shipping all 2-disc sets, including those with just bonus material on disc 2, as a single rental, and have new "Check-In" membership options. However, I've seen reports from a number of former customers that left for much the same reason - eventual dissatisfaction with what was shipped. One guess is that they may be sacrificing sufficient quantities to maintain their range of titles.

I did a short 6-week stint at the end of 2004 with them, specifically to get a number of two-disc Criterions. I've posted a full report; although my experience was short and specialized, there is definitely something wrong with the website's Availability indicators. I'll probably rejoin for awhile in the spring to get some more Criterions, especially if they bring in the promised individual rental plan, but I'd hesitate to recommend it generally to first-timers. If you are a cinemaphile, especially with a large number of movies to fill your queue with, they may be an interesting alternative (although I'd still suggest trying ZIP first).

MoviesForMe - [ZIP.ca bought out MoviesForMe in September, 2005] I was with them for about six weeks in the spring of 2004. Everything went fairly well, although I (and others) did have a little trouble contacting them to cancel. They now have a toll-free number which should make things easier. They announced they were setting up a couple "distribution centres", but they missed their initial date for the Vancouver one, and I don't think the Halifax one ever happened. I'd assume the Vancouver centre is merely a mail-drop point to expedite shipments to the west coast, not an actual warehouse.

As of August 2004, M4M (which previously had around 3500 titles) loaded a large number of titles into the database and now advertise 20,000 titles. However, this is what I call a "virtual inventory" system, where many of the titles are not actually owned by them. I talked with Scott Glover (the president), and he said at the time their physical inventory apparently went up to a ball figure of 7000 unique discs (which would be about double what they had before). Presumably the rest will be ordered as needed, but keep this in mind when comparing company selections. Any current members please feel free to let me know how the service is.

I do seem to have run across an inordinate number of message postings (here, here , here and here) from people who have had trouble with cancellation and subsequent credit card charges. Personally, I did have to persist a bit in order to get ahold of them to cancel (you have to cancel by phone), and they did my credit card reversal with no trouble, but caveat emptor.

MovieBuffs - [As of August 2005, MovieBuffs was bought out by ZIP.ca] A shortlived Halifax-area operation.

VideoMovieHouse - [As of March, 2006, VMH ceased rental operations] - VideoMovieHouse - A web-based seller of DVDs and VHS tapes (from their own site and also Amazon/eBay) which seems to have moved into the rental arena as well (ODG thread). As of November 2005 they seem to have gone to a "virtual inventory" approach, which may make it impossible to update their inventory estimate past the 4000 value at that time. The company is based on the BC/US border and also markets its service to the US. The Flash-based rental queue is (to me) quite limited and frustrating.

CineDVDMax - [apparently defunct] - CineDVDMax in Quebec also offers a range of "weekly package" plans (and a "package every two weeks" variant). Higher priced "VIP" options guarantee a specified number of new releases. I don't know anything about them except from the website (which had, at least on the English side, an high number of typos and inconsistencies, and some awkward phrasing). No new titles seem to have been added since spring 2006, and they may be moribund or defunct.

DVDsToYourDoor - [ defunct] - dvdstoyourdoor.com in BC was around for a couple of years, and had some bargain pricing. However, as of March 2006, they all but stopped adding any new titles, added some over the summer, stopped again and appear to be defunct (member login disabled).

DVDsToYourDoor - DVD-Rental.ca in Abbotsford (which also rents a large collection of video games); no longer active.

JurassicDVD - is apparently the online offshoot of a physical DVD rental store in Victoria (although I can't confirm this), and they've also done some eBay buying and selling. Scott, the owner says they are willing to order in customer suggestions. They may be of interest to some people because of their Victoria location or low pricing, and the eclectic selection may be of interest to more adventurous renters, although I'm curious as to whether their low prices would affect their ability to keep title quantities at the same level as someone like VHQ. They had removed older inaccurate references to a 20,000 title selection, but it looks like competitive pressure may have been behind the recent return of a possible overly optimistic 10,000 claim (their id numbers would suggest something closer to 7000). The website could certainly use some work - the squished cover art pictures look ridiculous (sorry Scott, but they do).

Hollyweb - [As of August 3, 2004, Hollyweb was bought out by ZIP.ca] is located in Edmonton. I had a fairly poor experience with them. I've moved the details here (and them to the doghouse), but I really can't recommend them - they list a number of titles they don't actually have, and I had some billing problems as well. It is a shame in a way, as they have a unique rental option, which they call the Classic program. Instead of a monthly fee, they take a deposit ($30 times the number of movies you want out at any one time), and a $5/DVD rental fee. While this works out to a little bit more per disk than the monthly fee for most people, it is very handy for more occasional renters, or those in smaller towns who get their new releases locally but want a source of less popular titles. This was how I dealt with them (5 movies rented - would have been more if they actually had what they claimed).

MovieWire - a basic little turnkey operation by the people who run the GameWire game rental service, both of which now seem defunct.

MovieFlix.ca - appears to be a stillborn website, probably not even in operation (the "New Releases" are quite old).

Davada.com in London appears to be long dead - their new releases include "Seabiscuit" and "Pirates of the Caribbean".

Knewvision appears to be some sort of small operation in the metropolis of Kleinberg, Ontario, better known as the home of Pierre Berton. The website now seems to be defunct (as is Pierre).

Cineworld seems to be somehow connected to an Asian-language-oriented DVD sales site, mydvdbox.com, which might explain some of the literary infelicities on their site (my personal favorite is the claim to be Canada's "largest and uprising" rental company). Anyway, it seems all their signup links go to a page at a separate website that doesn't exist right now, so I don't even know if they are actually operating. I found some references to what seems to be an old or alternative name (DVDseason), and all these companies seem to be linked with some sort of holding company, R&G Communications, in Burnaby, BC. [July 27] The entire website seems to be shut down now, so it may never have been an active operation.

DVDAvalanche seems to be a tiny (700 titles) operation, perhaps in Kanata? [Nov 14] - The website now seems to have been removed.