It’s one of the signature images of the holiday season: a crackling fire nestled in a cozy fireplace. People sing about it in Christmas songs, but according to a 2011 housing profile published by the U.S. Census Bureau, only about 46 percent of “owner-occupied housing units” have a usable fireplace. So how do the rest of us enjoy the Yuletide pleasure of watching random logs get consumed by bright flames?
Cable providers have long offered on-demand channels where consumers can select their own virtual fireplace — basically, a program that gives an up-close image of a fire that turns your TV into a hearth. (Even Terry Crews and Old Spice have gotten into the act, offering a YouTube video of Crews’ head inside an exploding fireplace.) But now, Netflix has stepped in to offer some streaming options. Which one is right for you?
We decided to do a little number-crunching, breaking down each video’s core stats. But we also wanted a professional to lend their expertise. So we called Chadd Wiemann, who works for the San Bernardino County Fire Department at Station 312, located in Victorville, California. “This was harder than I thought it would be because I’ve never had to describe a fire before,” Wiemann tells us. “I usually just put the wet stuff on the red stuff.”
‘Fireplace 4K: Classic Crackling Fireplace From Fireplace for Your Home’
Netflix Description: “There’s nothing but the sound and look of a crackling fire. All of the beauty and none of the ashes.”
How Long Is It? 60 minutes
Is There Christmas Music? Nope. This is the cinéma vérité of fireplace videos, just letting the viewer dig on a bunch of ambient crackles and pops over one continuous, unbroken shot.
What’s the Narrative Arc? Creator George Ford, the man behind the whole Fireplace for Your Home series, fades in on a bunch of logs, with a small fire already going. Soon, the flames grow more powerful, and boom, quickly we’ve got a rip-roaring fire. For most of the hour, that sucker just keeps burning smooth and steady, with the logs slowly decomposing over time.
How Does the Video End? We fade out as the fireplace still does its thing.
What Does Our Expert Think? “This fire is a living, breathing thing,” says Wiemann, “attempting to grow to reach its full potential. It knows it has room to grow, and it will until it consumes all its fuel.”
‘Fireplace 4K: Crackling Birchwood From Fireplace for Your Home’
Netflix Description: “From match to ashes, it’s the perfect holiday treat. Great for parties, romantic nights at home or family gatherings.”
How Long Is It? 60 minutes
Is There Christmas Music? Like Classic Crackling Fireplace, this fireplace video doesn’t have time for music. Just shut up and enjoy the sounds of crackle, kids.
What’s the Narrative Arc? Ford updates his classic video with a twist — this time, he uses birchwood for the fire. Other than that, there’s not a lot of difference between the two. We have to say, though, we prefer the look of birchwood to whatever lamer wood he used for his earlier video.
How Does the Video End? We fade out, the fireplace still doing its thing. (Ford knows not to mess with a good formula.)
What Does Our Expert Think? “This fire appears to be in the fully developed or the ‘fully involved stage,’” Wiemann tells us. “With that, I mean that the fire is burning all available fuel, is at its peak and will continue to burn like this for some time.”
‘Fireplace and Melodies for the Holidays’
Netflix Description: “Whatever the weather outside, enjoy a cheerful virtual fire accompanied by favorite holiday tunes such as ‘Deck the Halls’ and ‘Silent Night.’”
How Long Is It? 120 minutes
Is There Christmas Music? You get not only “Deck the Halls” and “Silent Night,” but also “Jingle Bells,” “O Christmas Tree,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and others. They’re all played on piano with the kind of bright, generic sheen you might expect from hold music. This goes on for two hours.
What’s the Narrative Arc? Director Michael J. Silver starts by iris-ing in on a fireplace, already crackling away. As different songs play on the soundtrack, we sometimes fade into a close-up within the logs before eventually fading back into the master shot. Fireplace and Melodies really wants you to understand that each log is its own individual piece of wood that’s slowly dying for your benefit. This fireplace video is easily the most structured and artsy of all the fireplace videos. Silver seems to think people are actually paying attention to what’s happening on the screen and not just having it on in the background while guests mill around the room.
How Does the Video End? We close with a little “Joy to the World,” which is always the Christmas song you use as your big finale.
What Does Our Expert Think? “This fire is relaxing to look at because it has a calm demeanor,” says Wiemann. “It’s inviting you to hang out and have a hot toddy and tell it some stories.”
‘Fireplace for Your Home’ (Three-Part Series)
Netflix Description: “This edition includes a crackling yule log set to holiday favorites such as ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas.’” (Episode 1) “This installment includes an old-fashioned wood-burning fireplace. Enjoy the bright and cheery flames and the real crackling of the fire!” (Episode 2) “This program offers the next best thing to a cheery, crackling fire, enhanced with a tasteful accompaniment of music to set the right ambience.” (Episode 3)
How Long Is It? 60 minutes per episode
Is There Christmas Music? In Episode 1, Ford (yes, the same one) provides synth-heavy versions of all your Christmas favorites. It feels like you’re in a New Age-y church or trapped inside the weirdest sci-fi version of Christmas ever. Episode 2 reverts to his no-music routine, but Episode 3 goes full Muzak, bombarding the viewer with instrumentals that range from jazz-lite to easy-listening acoustic guitar to tear-jerking piano-and-violins arrangements.
What’s the Narrative Arc? You know the drill: Fireplace does its thing, but with holiday tunes and distractingly loud crackles doing unexpected duets with one another.
How Does the Video End? We realize that we’ve spent all day watching fireplace videos, and now we want to do anything else other than that. In other words, we don’t know.
What Does Our Expert Think? Wiemann really liked Episode 1. “Now we’re cooking! This fire is trying to jump out of the fireplace and come at you.” But he always thinks with the fireman side of his brain. “Better have cleaned that chimney flue,” he warns. “Otherwise, you could have a working structure fire on your hands.”