Which streaming option is best?
Now that Amazon, Comcast and others have jumped into the online movie business, how do you select the service that's right for you?
Not long ago, if you talked about DVD-by-mail rentals and video streaming, you were talking about Netflix, period. Now, however, it seems everyone wants to be in the video streaming business, and some also offer rent-by-mail services.
Last month, Comcast launched its new subscription video service, Xfinity Streampix, and Amazon added Viacom, owner of the Nickelodeon and MTV cable networks, to its list of partners. The Viacom deal made Amazon's streaming service a better deal than Netflix, Signal News says, based on the sheer number of titles: 15,000 available through Amazon Prime compared with 10,000 to 12,000 through Netflix.
The competition -- and your options -- will increase even more later this year when Verizon and Redbox launch their video streaming service. Few details have been released about the partnership, announced last month.
With so many options, how do you decide which streaming service is right for you?
To some extent, the answer depends on which cable providers operate in your area. Services offered through Comcast and Dish Network, for instance, are available only to their subscribers and "essentially serve as 'sweeteners' to keep customers and attract a larger user base," says our sister blog Top Stocks.
Which service is best also depends on what content is most important to you. Do you want to watch TV shows or movies? Do you want all streaming or would you like to rent DVDs? Do you mind watching commercials?
Here's a breakdown of the services and what they cost:
Comcast Xfinity Streampix. Comcast's Xfinity Streampix, available only to Comcast subscribers, includes streaming of TV shows and movies on computers, televisions, laptops, tablets and smartphones. The service is included in some HD Triple Play packages, or costs $4.99 per month ($59.88 per year). The service will be available on devices such as the Xbox 360 and Android devices later in the year, The Washington Post says.
Blockbuster @Home. Dish Network's Blockbuster @Home, available to Dish subscribers, costs $10 per month for online streaming plus one-at-a-time DVD by mail. It's available free to new Dish Network subscribers for three months. Blockbuster also offers a pay-per-view on-demand option, available to non-subscribers, that lets users stream or download content via Internet-enabled devices. (Post continues below.)
Amazon Prime. Customers who sign up to be Amazon Prime members get free two-day shipping at Amazon in addition to online streaming video service for $79.99 per year. The service's 15,000 offerings include 2,000 titles from Viacom. If you want to watch "Jersey Shore" or "Dora the Explorer" on your Kindle Fire (or some other device), and think you might take advantage of free access to books in the Kindle lending library, this is your service.
Netflix. Netflix charges $7.99 per month (or $95.88 per year) for its streaming service, which makes TV episodes and movies available via your Internet-enabled TV, game console, computer, tablet or smartphone. More -- and newer -- movies are available on DVD than via streaming, and Netflix subscribers can add unlimited DVDs by mail (one at a time) for an additional $7.99 per month, or Blu-ray discs for an additional $2 per month.
Hulu Plus. For $7.99 per month ($95.88 per year), Hulu Plus subscribers have access to instant streaming of current and back-season TV episodes, as well as some movies.
Even paying subscribers sometimes have to tolerate advertisements on Hulu, however, which the website explains is due to the high cost of making and licensing premium content: "We have found that by including a modest ad load, we can keep the price for Hulu Plus under eight bucks, while still providing users with access to the most popular current season shows on the devices of their choice."
Vudu. Wal-Mart paid a rumored $100 million for this movie-streaming service in 2010, according to The New York Times. Unlike many of the streaming movie services, Vudu doesn't offer subscriptions but instead charges for the content you watch.
One of Vudu's selling points is that you can rent most movies as soon as they are available on DVD instead of waiting as long as 28 days for the DVD to be available by mail from Netflix. As a result, users might pay as much as $5.99 for a one-time movie rental (or as little as 99 cents); TV shows can be purchased for $1.99 to $2.99 per episode or $16.99 to $43.99 for a full season, according to the website support pages.
Time Warner Cable. Time Warner Cable now offers streaming cable service through PCs, Macs, iPads and iPhones, but users must be at home -- or wherever their cable TV service is set up, according to PC World. The company may extend this service to Android devices as early as the end of March, Top Stocks says. Not all regular TV content is available via streaming, however.
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