There are plenty of ways to rent movies nowadays without ever getting up from your couch—and you don’t ever have to pay a late fee. That’s because of the growing availability of movies that you can stream over the Internet right to your TV.
The streaming services that provide those movies tend to charge less than the “on-demand” movie service that typically is offered by your cable-TV or satellite-TV provider.
But to get the best deals and the kinds of movies that you really want to see, you’ll need to choose your streaming service wisely. To get all the films you want quickly, you might even want to use more than one service.
Streaming movies into your home requires high-speed Internet and a device such as a Roku or Apple TV box to transfer the film to your TV, unless you’re willing to watch it on a computer or mobile device or to connect the TV directly to the computer. Certain Blu-ray disc players, video-game players and high-definition (HD) TVs allow you to stream films to your TV as well.
Helpful: Not all movie-streaming services work with all streaming-media devices. For more information on how to select and use devices such as a Roku or an Apple TV box, see “Put Your Computer on TV: The Best Devices to Get Movies, Sports and More from the Internet to Your Television Screen” in the April 1, 2011 issue of Bottom Line/Personal, or click here.
Movie-streaming services tend to fall into three categories…
These services let members watch all the movies they like for a fixed monthly or annual charge. That might sound ideal for people who watch lots of movies, but many of the movies available through these services are obscure titles, with few of the recent hits and classics that the average movie fan really wants.
Netflix Instant offers unlimited movie streaming for $7.99 per month. It has thousands of options for those who love foreign films, independent films, “B” films or old TV shows but relatively few recently released popular movies. Netflix’s priority seems to be to improve its selection of TV programs, not movies, although it recently announced a deal to bring movies from The Weinstein Company, such as The Artist, to the service. www.Netflix.com
Amazon Prime offers unlimited streaming for $79 per year. The service also includes free two-day shipping on Amazon purchases and free rentals of certain Kindle eBooks. Unfortunately, Amazon Prime’s selection of popular films is even more limited than the selection available from Netflix. www.Amazon.com
With these services, you pay for each movie, but there is a much better selection. As of May, the major services charged $3.99 for new releases and $2.99 for older films. (HD versions often cost $1 extra.) Movies typically are available for rent on these services as soon as they’re issued on DVD, though that varies from film to film. Occasionally films are available through these services while they’re still in theaters—sometimes even before—for perhaps $7 to $10.
Example: The hockey comedy Goon premiered on these services shortly before it premiered in US theaters.
Your choice among these three services will depend largely on what streaming device you use…
Amazon Instant Video has perhaps the best selection of popular movies available for rent on the Internet. It works with most streaming devices but not with Apple TV. www.Amazon.com
Vudu, now owned by Wal-Mart, offers a selection of movies that is nearly as strong as Amazon’s. It does not work with Roku or Apple TV. www.Vudu.com
Apple iTunes is comparable to Amazon and Vudu in terms of selection and prices, but it technically isn’t a streaming service—instead, it offers movie downloads. With downloads, there’s a delay before playback can begin—how long a delay depends on the speed of your Internet connection. If you are planning to watch an HD movie and have a slower network, you might want to start the download an hour or so before you plan to watch it. But in addition to watching the movie on your TV with the help of an Apple TV box, downloads also make it possible to save a movie to a mobile device and then watch it later from somewhere that lacks an Internet connection.
Services provided by cable-TV operators and premium cable channels are becoming more common as cable-based content providers search for ways to compete against online movie suppliers. These services are available to viewers who subscribe to the premium channel or cable operator’s service.
HBO Go is available at no additional charge to those who subscribe to HBO through participating cable and satellite companies. It recently offered a relatively modest 287 films, many of which are currently showing on HBO. www.HBOGo.com
Max Go is available at no additional charge to those who subscribe to Cinemax through participating cable and satellite providers. It recently featured 379 films. www.MaxGo.com
Cable company video-on-demand services generally don’t offer the best movie selections or lowest rental prices, but they are improving as cable companies fight to retain customers. If your cable company offers an online movie-rental program, it’s worth taking a look—particularly if it’s available to you at no additional cost.
Example: Comcast has perhaps the most extensive on-demand movie options. Its Xfinity On Demand (http://XfinityTV.comcast.net/ondemand) à la carte movie-streaming service tends to be $1 more expensive per film than comparable services, but it does feature a small number of free and 99-cent special deals. Comcast also is aggressively expanding its new Xfinity Streampix subscription service, which costs $4.99 per month but is free for those who subscribe to certain high-end Comcast packages.
The neighborhood video store might be fading into history, but renting DVDs—actual video disks—still has its place. Among the options…
Redbox rents DVDs through more than 29,000 kiosks located at supermarkets, drugstores and elsewhere. Redbox’s rental rates are usually $1.20 per day ($1.50 for Blu-ray), which is the lowest per-movie price you’re likely to find without paying a monthly subscriber fee.
Redbox movies can be returned to any Redbox kiosk, so this is a viable way to obtain movies when traveling. You can reserve Redbox DVDs using a computer or smartphone app. Redbox’s selection is limited, however. There typically are around 70 to 200 titles per kiosk, with a focus on recent films from major studios—Redbox isn’t a great option for fans of old movies or obscure art-house films. It also isn’t the best option if you like to watch new releases as soon as possible. Films generally are not available on Redbox until 28 days after the DVD goes on sale, which often is well after they can be rented through a cable provider’s video-on-demand service. www.Redbox.com
Netflix is focused on its streaming service, but it still offers its DVD-through-the-mail rental program for $7.99 per month (more if you wish to have more than one DVD at home at a time). Those who sign up can watch as many films as they want each month, but they don’t get a new film until they mail back the prior one.
Netflix’s DVD rental service features the deepest film catalog you’ll find anywhere—if a movie has been released on DVD, Netflix probably has it. But it’s not the best choice for those who like to watch movies as soon as possible.
As with Redbox, new releases typically aren’t available through Netflix until at least 28 days after the DVD goes on sale—56 days in the case of Warner Brothers movies—and if many other Netflix subscribers want to watch the new release, too, it might be a few weeks more before you receive a copy. www.Netflix.com
Source: David Larkin, CEO of MRQE.com, a movie-review Web site, and GoWatchIt.com, which helps film fans determine where movies are available for rent online or through major national services. Larkin was associate producer of the 2009 comedy Made in China, which won a Grand Jury Award at the South by Southwest festival.