My home is a cable-free, antennae-free video zone. Our small screen entertainment consists of rented, purchased or borrowed movies. Needless to say, we spend either a small fortune at movie rental stores or large blocks of time at the public library, where DVDs and tapes can be borrowed for free.
Libraries are great and offer a surprisingly broad selection of current CDs and DVDs. But the late fees really add up if circumstances or disorganization cause you to miss the library's due date. Meanwhile, Blockbuster has also launched an extended viewing plan, which gives you more time to watch and return rented videos. But the cash-ticking meter still runs if you miss the extended-return deadline.
Cable and satellite TV are always an option. But monthly fees range from about $19 (basic, no-frills cable) to $100 and higher for pay-on-demand, digital cable with premium channels and all the bells and whistles. A fully wired friend, Bette from Hollywood, has a cable package that costs about $120 per month and includes HBO, Showtime and the Do-It-Yourself network.
Another friend, a busy mom with several small children, has solved her video conflicts by enrolling in Netflix, a publicly traded company that operates an online DVD movie rental service.
''Netflix is cheaper than cable. And it doesn't allow the kids access to all the cable channels,'' she said. ``We can pick the kids movies that we want for them.''
Three weeks after enrolling in Netflix, my friend has created a comfortable cycle of ordering, returning and receiving new videos. Her plan -- one of nine subscription plans offered by the company -- works like this. For a flat fee of $14.99 per month, my friend receives an unlimited supply of videos, with no additional charges for shipping or late fees. Monthly fees range from $5.99 to $17.99, depending on your selection of options.
Under my friend's plan, she receives two videos at a time. Last Tuesday, for example, she received two DVDs from Netfix. She watched one video on Tuesday night and the second DVD on Wednesday. After returning the videos on Wednesday and Thursday, my friend received her next selections on Friday and Saturday. With a video return label sporting a Fort Lauderdale address, she has a two-day turnaround time for returning and receiving her rental sections. ''You have to get it into a cycle -- but you can have a new movie every night,'' she said.
BellSouth operates a similar service called Movielink (www.bellsouth.movie link.com), which enables consumers to legally download hit movies at a low cost to play on their home computer or television. There are no subscription or late fees and rental prices begin at 99 cents per movie.
While browsing on Movielink, I found a daily special for 60 cents and another rental selection for $2.99. After downloading a movie, you can store your selection on your home system for 30 days, with a 24-hour viewing window once you hit the ''play movie'' button.
The system requires high-speed Internet access. BellSouth provides a free software program called the ''Movielink Manager,'' that makes it possible to manage and view movies on home PCs. For viewing on TV, you'll need a special cable linking your computer and television costing from $5 to $75, depending on your home equipment.