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Why rent-by-mail DVD services are now my video collection

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I've given up buying DVDs, though I haven't stopped watching them. Quite the reverse - I'm watching more movies and TV series than ever before. Before you suggest it, I'm not downloading anything either.

Last year, I took out a £13-a-month subscription with DVD rental service Lovefilm.com. I can rent as many movies as I care to, though on that tariff I can only have two out at any one time. It's a typical DVD rent-by-mail offering: disc arrives, I watch it, I post it back, another one comes. Repeat ad infinitum.

A lot of folk do this too, from a variety of companies. Generally, they use them to catch up on the latest releases, and that's what I used it for in the early days. But now it's become a viable alternative to keeping a film collection.

Whether I watch four movies a month or fourteen, I pay the same, so there's no loss in getting something sent out again for another viewing.

If I feel like watching something specific, I just go online and order it, pushing it to the top of the queue if necessary. Sure, it's not the instant gratification of having the disc right there, but I can't say waiting a day or two for a movie to arrive in the post diminishes the desire to view something I haven't watched for a while.

In any case, downloading something from a torrent share can easily take a couple of days if you pick something with too few seeds and too many leeches. And it's illegal.

That said, it is free, and I can see why so many people drift toward it. But it's not like DVD rental services are expensive. My monthly package costs me £156 a year, but I can reduce that to £117 if I pay up front. That's roughly 7-12 DVD purchases, but I can watch that number in a month, let alone throughout a year.

So if I watch, say, ten discs a month, that's 120 discs a year - or about 98p a DVD, based on what I'm paying. And that's for a movie I can watch on my TV without having to convert it to MPEG 2 and burn it to a blank disc, or buy a box to stream it over, assuming the resolution of the download is good enough.

And a pound a view is easily better value than the £2.50 Apple's iTunes wants for legitimate back-catalogue standard-definition downloads.

Since legally obtaining content to watch is now so darn cheap there's arguably no need to waste your bandwidth on downloads, or your shelf space on purchases. Because the selections offered by Lovefilm and other such services are extensive, you can generally get what you want when you want it.

Why, then, buy any disc to keep? Just treat the rental service as a virtual collection, ready to tap when you want it, but taking up no room in your home. You don't even need to keep buying hard drives to store it all on.

Discs or downloads, what's with this urge to possess anyway? Humans have managed perfectly well for years without video libraries, why have them now? I admit it, I used to have one. It's all a bit 'because I can'. They're not like books which are not only intrinsically tactile objects but are also both readout devices and content all in one. Books are worth owning because you can enjoy them anywhere; you don't need batteries and screens.

Downloaders always seem to like to talk about how vast their video libraries are, about how many terabytes of storage they're using. Come, lie down on the couch and we'll discuss your preoccupation with size...

It's no longer about enjoying the content, it's about pleasure in hoarding it. Are you really that worried you might never get to see something again if you don't keep a copy?

Me, I don't need a copy, so I don't need space for DVDs or storage for downloads. I don't have to shape my viewing to match what broadcasters have decided I'm going to see this week. I rent DVDs - true, low-cost video on demand.

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