Earlier I reported on Peerflix, which is implementing a P2P DVD sharing system with similarities to some of my own ideas. I have tried it out a bit now, and learned a bit more. I also have updated experiences with Peerflix.
The web site is marked beta and still very buggy, which is bad, but my first try on the service was first-rate. I mailed off my first DVD, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, on Wednesday to somebody in San Jose (who almost surely got it today) and got the replacement for it — by strange coincidence another memory-related movie called Memento in the mail today. That is faster than most of the services, though people like Netflix could be this fast if they decided to take the same step and trust you when you said you mailed a disk, rather than waiting for it to arrive.
All this is good, but there’s still a killer flaw in the idea of actually selling the DVDs. All DVDs will have a limited lifetime of high-demand. As demand drops below supply, somebody holding the DVD at that time will get “stuck” with it, though you can fix that by being fast on the draw in agreeing to be the one to mail any new requesters that do come along.There are two types of people using Peerflix. Some, like me, want to try a different way to “rent” movies like Netflix. Some are using it just to trade away the undesired parts of their collection for something they want more. Some are mixing the two.
The bad result is that there is a surplus of less desireable DVDs in the pool. Indeed if you browse Peerflix’s “Available DVDs” list, it looks like the bargain bin at Fry’s. This is an error on their part, because they are only showing the DVDs that by definition, have more supply than demand. They should expand the “available” list to include DVDs that are in full demand but also in high circulation, so that the odds are very good that a request for one will be filled quickly. They could even guarantee that, by buying such disks in the rare event that they don’t become available. But even so they will never show the very high demand disks. Those they show in a different list. A better system might be to display the “median recent wait time” on a disk, which would be 0 for low-demand DVDs.
If you buy/borrow a low demand DVD, you are taking a risk of getting stuck with it, which is a bad way to have to think about it. Better would be to require the original contributors of a disk to take it back if nobody wants it for a significant period of time. This puts the burden of a dead disk where it should be, on the original contributor, and it adds even more incentive for people to put high-demand disks in the system.
A new release costs 3 of their Peerbux which they would sell you for $27, but in fact you can find these disks on eBay for more like $12 and the used prices on Amazon (affiliate links included in this entry) are sometimes better than the eBay prices, which is what I did to get the initial disks I will be contributing — when I have done watching them. I have picked disks that I both want to see and which are in high demand, so I know they will be snapped up quickly with low risk.
While I’ve been doing work with MythTV as reported elsewhere in the blog, DVDs of TV-shows are really quite a bit better than any off-the-air recordings not from HDTV. So I will be doing my abridged series watching from DVDs as well as from TVWish. Netflix considers a 6-disk “full season” Box set as six different rentals, Peerflix views it as a single unit costing more of their peerbucks. For example I bought Angel Season Two from Amazon, after picking up Season One with TVWish. I will watch it and trade for all the later seasons, I hope. To my surprise, the DVDs I got were widescreen — vastly better than my TV recordings.