With consumer outrage growing over Netflix's price hike for both mail-in and downloadable videos, many are wondering about other, possibly cheaper, online video rentals options for watching movies at home. We took a look at more than a dozen services, including Netflix, so you can decide on the best fit for you.
Netflix:$8 for online streaming under Netflix; $8 per mail-in DVD, $12 for two under Qwikster; 100,000 videos available; wide selection, including genres like comedy and drama, plus foreign films, kids, documentaries, TV shows, and old classics.
Netflix as it will come to be known during its separation into individual mail-in rental and online streaming entities will offer an $8 online streaming plan with a catalog of 20,000 movies and TV shows.
Users enjoy the array of movies and the mail-in or download video rental options. Quality on the streaming online video rentals, however, did prompt some critical comments in user reviews. Posts on Amazon say Netflix streaming quality is sometimes shoddy. Several users aren't sure if this is due to their computers or the Netflix system. The site does match Internet speed with video speed so you don't get a video your system can't handle and says a connection of at least 2.4 Mb/s is required to stream videos. People with cable modems seem to have the most problem and those watching on Blu-ray devices report excellent quality. Customers with adequate system speeds who commented on another forum say it takes about 10 seconds for the video to start playing on their devices.
Blockbuster:$10 a month for unlimited streaming; 3,000 movies via TV and 4,000 via PC; limited selection of mostly new releases of mainstream movies.
The company just announced a partnership with Dish Network to offer an online video rentals service to stream TV shows and movies to Dish subscribers. Named "Blockbuster Movie Pass," the service is scheduled to launch on Oct. 1. The new offering will run alongside Blockbuster's current video rental options, which involve getting the movie directly from the store and returning it to a kiosk later.
Cinema Now(by Best Buy): $3.99 per video, online only; 14,000 videos; limited selection of mostly new releases of mainstream movies.
You can buy and rent movies through this service. A review on Supersite for Windows praises the quality of videos downloaded from CinemaNow for both TVs and computers, and says that downloading is relatively easy and quick. Top 10 Reviews agrees with the user-friendly assessment.
Redbox:$1 per rental for a day, no streaming; 200 titles; limited selection, mostly mainstream movies for adults and kids.
Quality: We found complaints about videos not playing or being scratched on ComplaintsBoard. A PCWorld forum, however, contains posts from several Netflix users who are threatening to defect to Redbox over what they consider poor streaming quality from the former. Overall, this most basic of the video rental options is probably best suited to low-key movie fans who aren't looking to see a 1970s French film or obscure documentary but are hankering for the likes of "Daddy Day Care" or "He's Just Not That Into You."
Amazon Instant Video:$3.99 per rental, only online, or $80 a year (videos sold for $15 to $20); 100,000 videos available; wide selection.
Amazon Instant Video is only available through an Amazon Prime subscription, which costs $79 a year. In addition to instant, streaming videos, Prime members get free two-day shipping and one-day shipping for $3.99 per purchase. You also gain access to "One-Click" ordering after you initially input your address and payment method. An Engadget review says video streaming quality is OK but sometimes not as good as Netflix. PC Mag writes that the service has fast downloads, a good selection, and sharp HD video but notes that some content isn't available in HD or can't be viewed online. Amazon just announced a deal with Fox that will bring more movies to its collection.
YouTube Movies:$2 to $4 per movie; 6,000 videos; major DVD releases immediately available in addition to foreign films, adult films, and more.
YouTube recently announced plans to regularly scheduled content so users will have the option of logging onto the site instead of watching TV. In the meantime, online video rentals are available on YouTube via a partnership with Google; you can keep the download for 30 days, but it expires 24 hours after you start watching. YouTube seems like a convenient way to view movies, as long as your computer isn't plagued by slow speed and the accompanying buffering issues. Regardless, some consumers don't think it's worth up to $4 a pop for only 24 hours of viewing time. About.com also laments the lack of HD viewing.
Apple TV:$0.99 to $4.99 after purchase of $99 Apple TV; medium selection, few indie titles.
Sound and video quality are excellent, according to expert reviews on sites like Engadget and Gizmodo, but consumers posting on these sites can't wrap their heads around the idea of paying $99 just to watch movies or shows they can get elsewhere for free or at lower cost.
DIRECTV (OnDemand):$3.99 to $5.99 per movie; 6,000 titles, includes new releases and TV shows
DIRECTV has Netflix and Redbox in its sights. The service touts its1080p HD video inventory and new releases that are available 28 days ahead of Netflix and Redbox. But as with YouTube, videos are only available for 24 hours, a restriction that irks users who comment in a DSLReports.com forum. Even so, users say SD and HD videos download quickly and viewing can commence when the download is only 20 percent completed. A reviewer on Satellitetvwiz states that DIRECTV provides more bulk services for your buck then Netflix.
Vudu (by Walmart):$0.99 to $5.99 per movie with 24-hour limit; some deals of $2 for two nights; 20,000 movies; limited selection, including lots of B movies
Vudu's online video rentals options include immediate download of new releases and high-quality video display, perhaps better than the competition, according to reviews on Mashable and About.com. However, this quality comes at a price, with the best quality HD streaming costing about $5.99 per video. Also, the movie selection, while growing, is a little top heavy with B titles that you've probably never heard of (and don't want to watch). Not all movies are available for rental in every format. Also, you can only watch HD videos on a TV set that enables Vudu or a Blu-ray player.
Crackle (by Sony):Free; 200 movies and shows; very limited selection.
Content on Crackle may be limited but it's completely free for viewing online or on an iPhone, iPod. or iPad. A PC Mag review says the video quality is smooth on home and office networks. A CNET review says you might get only the first few minutes of some TV shows or clips of movies, but praises the service overall because it's free and the video quality is decent.
Hulu:$8 a month unlimited viewing, with some free content on its web site; content supplied by more than 260 companies.
This site is primarily geared toward TV programs rather than movies, so you'll have to consider your viewing preferences when deciding whether this is the online video rentals option for you. Hulu is recommended by sites like Top 10 Reviews and by users commenting on CNET for its catalog of hundreds of TV shows, including episodes that just aired. Older series and those viewed on a TV or smartphone require the $8 monthly membership fee. Unfortunately, television show downloads contain commercials.