I started a trial run with RentaDVD on Monday, Nov 1, 2004 for six weeks (two week trial and 1 month paid). I was taking advantage of their unique feature of sending all double-disc sets as a single rental, and so my queue was composed of a small handful of specific titles where I'm also interested in the bonus disc (mainly Criterions). RentaDVD is the only other company aside from ZIP that has a full range of Criterions. Note however that the "over 10,000" titles banner graphic on their homepage is not correct, and never has been. Going by their inventory numbers, the count in Jan 2005 might be a little over 8000, and was substantially less last year when the graphic first went up. I've mentioned this to Mark a couple of times but haven't been able to shame him into correcting it.
DELIVERY: In general, shipments to and from RentaDVD were slower than ZIP shipments during the same time period, and my MoviesForMe times last spring. The average time was 5.3 business day, over a full day longer than any other company I have experience with (see timing chart). Part of this may be a problem with the squarish RentaDVD envelopes being more likely to get rejected by Canada Post sorting machines (they are just a pinch under the recommended 1.3:1 rectangularity minimum). Also, I got email notifications of my first three discs on Nov 1 (around 10:30 their time), but they didn't arrive until Tuesday the 9th (6 business days). The only one with a postmark showed 8:34 on Nov 2, so presumably they didn't get to Canada Post before the sorting deadline. A later shipment was supposed to have been sent on Dec 1, but had a Dec 4 (probably late Dec 3) postmark. I sent Mark an email one afternoon after one of my returns hit 9 business days. It then showed up as returned later that evening, indicating that it might have arrived previously and missed being checked in.
I had one return processed on a weekend - apparently it was a backlog from the Friday. Not a big deal as a one-time thing.
AVAILABILITY: The RentaDVD queue has an Availability indicator which can be "Available", "Short Wait" or "Long Wait". To be blunt, these are completely unbelievable. Of the 700+ titles in my database, only 30-40 ever seemed to change status during my membership. Even odder, of those that changed, the "Long Waits" almost all went to "Available", instead of the expected "Short Wait", and the Available went directly to "Long Wait" (you'd expect them to go to "Short Wait" if they were available and then were requested by one person).
One person on RentaDVDs forums reported having "Schindler's List" at the top of their queue and showing "Available", but it never shipped.
Also, there is no "On Order" status. Unreleased titles in the database show up as "Long Wait". This means there would be no way to tell if other titles listed actually had no copies.
Mark admits their availability algorithm leaves something to be desired, but I was never able to get any more details on this.
CHECK-INS: RentaDVD has another unique feature which allows you to use their website to "check in" a disc as soon as you mail it back to them. They will send a replacement off "within 48 hours" (you can pay a premium to reduce this to 24 or 12 hours). Your total number of discs can be no more than double the size of your rental plan (so a person with a 2-disc plan can have no more than 4 discs in whatever status). This has the potential to speed up rentals significantly, especially those who have slower delivery times like me in Yellowknife (however, some of the potential savings have to be offset against the fact that RentaDVD is still at the 3/$25 level and hasn't matched the now common 4/$25 packages from ZIP/VHQ etc). So far this seems to have worked pretty much as expected, although I haven't had many chances at it yet - I downgraded from 3 disc trial to a 2-disc membership (and the system goofed the first day and sent me a third disc anyway) so I've run into the maximum limitation a couple times when trying to check in. A couple have shipped out well ahead of the 48 hour deadline.
Currently the system rejects a checkin attempt when you have reached this limit. I've suggested to Mark that it should still accept the checkin, but not start the 48 hour countdown on it until enough returns had been received to bring the customer below the maximum again. This would prevent people in this situation from having to continually check to see if RentaDVD has received a return to know when they can check-in something they've sent back, although this probably wouldn't happen too often under normal circumstances.
The cutomer's active rentals area on the website shows an indicator for "checked-in" discs, provides no indication of the actual date and time you actually did the checkin, which it really should since it is a factor in the next disc going out. Also, there is no information as to the details of how "within 48 hours" is interpreted for weekends. If you check-in a disc on Friday, does the 48-hour period exclude the weekend (in which case your disc might not be due out until Tuesday)? If weekends are included, discs might be due out on a Saturday or Sunday; even if someone happens to be processing at RentaDVD nothing useful will happen until it gets to Canada Post on Monday.