update: Google Play Movies & TV is now available on Apple devices, but does not support downloads.
There are a lot of online movie rental services, and each one has its advantages and disadvantages. There’s no simple way to crown a winner, but we’ll break down all of the popular online movie rental services below.
Best online movie rental services:
The different services are very competitive on price, quality, and selection. They typically offer SD rentals for $4-5 and HD rentals for $5-6, and all offer huge libraries of movies. So we’ll focus on the major differences between them.
- The criteria are explained here:
- device selection: how many different portable devices, PC’s, game consoles, etc can you use the service with
- downloads: can you download movies to watch later without an internet connection
- discounts: are there frequent discounts or sales to find cheaper movies?
- quality: all of the services offer HD rentals, but how do they compare, and which offer surround sound
- bottom line: who the ideal user for this service might be
The best online movie rental service comes down to your preferred device(s) and specific use case. If you’re a frequent traveler, or someone who needs to watch movies without an internet connection, you’re probably best off using the iTunes Store for your iPad, Google Play for Android, Amazon for your Kindle Fire, or iTunes or Amazon Instant Video for your PC, etc. If you’re looking for the best possible quality rentals to watch at home on your HDTV you’re probably best off using VUDU on your PS3/Xbox 360/Roku, or iTunes on your Apple TV. If you’re hunting for the best deals, then you’ll need to check out VUDU, Amazon Instant Video, and iTunes for daily and weekly deals. If you sign up for a new VUDU account you can get 5 free HD movie purchases. Remember, you can always purchase a discounted rental and then you have 30 days to begin watching it.
Personally, I use a combination of the above services. I like to check for bargains on all of the services, and tend to use Amazon Instant Video or iTunes for full-priced rentals, or iTunes when I’ll be traveling and without wifi. And I use VUDU to access my UltraViolet movies.
When it comes to watching movies online, Netflix can’t be ignored. Netflix has some shortcomings, but it also has a huge library of movies and TV shows and is a great value at just $8/mo for unlimited streaming. Netflix is available on a ton of different devices, and new content is always being added. They also are producing some very high quality original content. If you plan to watch a lot of streaming content, can live without the newest releases, and don’t need to download movies to your PC or tablet, then Netflix may be the best choice for you.
The most popular and full-featured online movie rental services are described above, but there are others: YouTube now has movie rentals, BestBuy has created CinemaNow, Xbox360 and PS3 both have their own online movie rental stores, and most cable providers rent movies on demand. Maybe one of these will work best for your particular needs.