It is clear that DVDs are becoming the VHS tapes of yesterday and slowly being replaced with online streaming. This is a brief review of four of the major streaming companies in the business.
In my opinion, Netflix reigns supreme in the video rental streaming industry. Netflix does not offer customers the option to purchase videos, although they appear to have the widest selection between themselves and Amazon Instant Video, who also streams select movies for free.
Vudu allows customers to rent movies on a movie by movie basis or purchase the rights to stream a video at any time. A great option that Vudu offers is that the owner can choose to download any of his purchases to his device, in the event that he anticipates watching movies outside a wifi enabled area. Vudu boasts the largest selection of HD movies, offering an elevated level of streaming that no other company offers at this time (readers, feel free to correct me in the comments section if this is wrong). Vudu boasts 1080p streaming or downloadable quality if you purchase their “HDX” version of the video. While it is very tough to tell the difference between a 720p and a 1080p movie, differences are noticed during action scenes and on larger screens. Since Vudu is owned by Wal-Mart you can rest assured that Vudu will not go bankrupt overnight, leaving you to wonder where your amassed library of digital movies went. They allow all purchases to be stored on their cloud, which keeps you free of worry that you have to own a large disc drive. Another point worth mentioning is that Vudu allows customers to upload DVDs and convert them to a digital format. This is a HUGE deal, because nobody else offers a service like this. Their price is low, currently set at $2 per SD, HD, or Blue Ray DVD. I believe they charge $3 if it was an HD-DVD. One downside to this is that a person cannot upload these DVDs from their home, they must make a list (through the website) and bring it with their DVDs to a local Wal-Mart and have an employee upload each movie. Perhaps this is a better long term solution as computer disc drives are likely to go the way of floppy disc drives in the future, but right now it would be nice if this could be done from home. Vudu also offers different promotions for new users, boasting 6 free movies for new subscribers. The only weakness I see with Vudu at this point is that their platforms seem to be limited. Vudu software can be found on (new) select blue ray players and TVs, while also being integrated into Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Unfortunately, they are not on the Roku box or Apple TV. One last thing to note about Vudu, I believe they limit your ability to play your purchases to 5 active devices. They call them “profiles” on their website, so I am assuming they mean devices. I have not looked into this in great detail.
Amazon prime members are able to stream a wide selection of movies and television shows, just like Netflix. Their library is by no means as expansive, but they are cheaper, as a Prime membership will only run a person roughly $80 per year, as opposed to Netflix’s $8 per month plan. This is only a matter of a few dollars difference per month, so this shouldn’t be a deal breaker for the average person searching for the best movie/television streaming solution. Amazon is unique in that they are a hybrid between free movies (through their membership) and offering customers the ability to purchase movies as well. Amazon Instant Video can be streamed on Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Roku, the Internet, and select new blue ray players and televisions. In addition to getting a wide selection of videos, Amazon prime members also enjoy free 2 day shipping on almost everything sold on their site. Amazon boasts you can stream any purchase you own from their site from any device, as long as you know your username and password. They also mentioned that you cannot watch the same movie simultaneously. Of course this makes sense with the flexibility of current DVDs, so I don’t see this as a problem.
I cannot speak volumes about Apple TV as this is the only streaming solution that I do not actively use, however apple is cutting edge and is generally able to keep their products slightly ahead of the rest of the world. Just know that you generally pay for this. While I have not compared pricing lately, I did search for the cheapest price of a movie and found it on iTunes, over Amazon Instant Video. However, there is a current television series that I watch and it is noticeably cheaper to purchase this season on Amazon. Apple TV seems great in that you can just plug in and go, however if you want to watch your shows on a television, you need Apple TV; you are unable to stream your purchases through any other device. Some may think of this as an advantage, because the box is small and easily transported. (Online users, please let me know if I am wrong with this, but that is my understanding of how apple’s iTunes currently operates.)
In summary I believe Netflix is still the undisputed champion of rental streaming movies and television shows. They have the most variety and that is where I expect the majority of people to base their decisions. However, if you’re looking for a more complete and well rounded solution, I say get the Amazon prime membership. STUDENTS, please note that there is a 50% discount on signing up for the Prime Membership with a college email address. You don’t have to worry about a minimum purchase amount while buying things online, you get guaranteed 2 day shipping, if you own a kindle you get 1 free book per month to read (with no due date – the catch is you need to return the 1st book before renting the 2ndand this only qualifies on select books), and you get a slew of free movies to stream, while having a great place to begin building a digital library if you like. Vudu claims they have the best video quality at this time. While I do not think this is a deal-making selling point, I truly like their flexibility and ingenuity to allow people to digitally upload their existing DVD library at an affordable price (some may argue this is not so affordable if you’re planning on uploading 100+ DVDs). If you don’t want your DVD collection to be split between apple, Amazon, and Vudu and you plan to digitally upload movies through Vudu, then they may be the way to go. Apple’s iTunes has a great media experience for everyone and their devices are generally so simple that a first grader can work them. You literally plug them in, turn them on, and they work! They offer Netflix streaming through their Apple TV and that may be enough of a draw to go with them, streaming Netflix and purchasing your movies you want to keep through Apple when you come across movies that you think are worth owning. Like Vudu, Apple allows you to download your purchases or store them in their cloud. They are flexible!
Making a final decision about something like this is extremely tough, especially when each company seems to offer different things. I have some apple devices and have made some video purchases through Apple and have not been disappointed. I also have the Amazon prime membership and although I have not purchased a streaming video through them, the quality of the free movies are excellent. If you’re an apple person then the choice is probably very simple and easy for you. If you’re a PC person, this is probably more difficult.
While dabbling in all of these services I still can’t decide which is best. What are some of your thoughts? Which would you consider at this point in time? I stopped in Wal-Mart yesterday and was shocked at the variety and volume of $5 DVDs that they had for sale. Currently, DVD prices seem to still be the cheapest, even if you want to buy them, add $2 to their sale price, and have Wal-Mart upload them to your Vudu account. Is the digital age of movies still too far in the future to being building your digital library? Let me know what you think!
Disclaimer: Please note this is written in a casual tone and I am aware my opinion may shine through at different points. I did not bother to look up exact pricing, give exact examples of pricing, and did not list every single place these videos can be watched. They can all be streamed from the Internet and on a computer, but I am not sure as to which ones work on tablets, iPods, or smart phones.
UPDATE 9/11/12: I just realized apple allows it’s customers to download 720p or 1080p when they purchase video content from them. It is defaulted to 720p, but there is an option to upgrade it to 1080p. They warn you need a device that plays 1080p, otherwise they suggest you stay with the 720p. This helps give them a potential edge against Amazon, although I am still unable to find out if Amazon HD streams in 720p or 1080p. I will update again if I can find that answer.