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Best movie streaming service 2015 - video rental buying guide

Michael Passingham
11 Sep 2015
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Want to watch movies and TV on the cheap? Check out our top 10 movie and TV rental services

The experience of popping down to your local Blockbuster to rent the latest DVD, and pick up a slightly overpriced tub of popcorn, was well past its sell-by-date well before the rental giant’s last 91 UK stores were closed as the company went into administration.

It was the end of an era for high-street video shops; there are still a few independents dotted about, but the market is now dominated by digital film services such as Amazon and iTunes. Blockbuster didn’t move quickly enough to combat these services, so if you want to rent a video, you have to go online.

Because these services don’t require subscriptions and each rental or purchase is a one-off payment, you can chop and change between them depending on your needs. For example, if you want to download films to your Android tablet to watch offline on a long journey, Google Play Films & TV is your best bet. If you want to watch something on your Sony Bravia TV or PS4, PlayStation Video is the way to go. Want all the bonus features you can shake a stick at? It’s all about iTunes.

Click here to jump to our video streaming service reviews

Online video services cater for pretty much every internet-connected device you can think of. According to the British Video Association, in 2014 81% of video rentals were made online, with the rest taking the form of DVDs and Blu-rays. Such a large choice of services is great for the consumer, but no single online film and TV service serves everyone perfectly well.

Licence to confuse

Licensing restrictions will sometimes mean standard-definition (SD, 480p) content is only available on certain platforms. This means that even if you’ve paid around £1 extra for a high-definition (HD) rental, you might not get what you paid for if you’re watching on a device that is only licensed for SD content. This has nothing to do with your playback device’s screen resolution; in many cases even devices with HD screens will only be allowed to play SD content. If you pay extra for HD and can’t play it, you’ll probably be able to claim a refund, but it’s still an irritation. Our comprehensive table below shows you which platforms support which devices in HD.

The online video services consider any resolution of at least 1,280x720 as ‘HD’, and it’s not always clear if the HD you’ve paid for will be 720p or proper 1080p Full HD. Some services are upfront about their maximum resolution, and others are more cryptic or, if you contact customer support, uncertain.

Content is King

If you want the latest big-name films, you’ll get the same titles at pretty much the same time for the same price on every service we’ve reviewed. Typically, major releases will appear as ‘digital pre-releases’, which are available to buy, but not to rent, for around £9.99 for a week. They later become available to rent for around £4.49. There is greater differentiation between services when it comes to TV programmes. Because there are so many broadcasters and production companies that control the rights to TV shows, their availability varies between services. It’s also worth shopping around, because the cost of buying a complete series (you can’t rent TV programmes on these services) can often vary by several pounds.

Buying video online may be convenient, but there are some reasons to remain a bit suspicious. In most cases, ‘buying’ a film to keep in your online library is simply the service licensing that video to you. If the service loses the rights to that video, you will too and will no longer be able to play it. Some services allow you to download a video to your device, but this is still no way to guarantee you’ll be able to watch it forever; many services still make you connect online periodically to retain access to the content, and the locked-down nature of these services means you won’t be able to transfer your video to another device.

Another way to avoid losing access to your content is through UltraViolet (www.myuv.com). This cloud-based digital rights service takes your purchases from partaking retailers and combines them into one library. Of the services we tested, Wuaki.tv, Sainsbury’s Entertainment and Blinkbox work with UltraViolet. This means titles you buy from these services go into your UltraViolet library and, according to UltraViolet, your rights for these films will never expire. However, you still have to activate each video on a compatible service, and it will then be locked to that service, so this may still limit the devices on which you can watch your content.

Best video streaming services

Here are the best five streaming services you need to know about, selected from our testing of all the big UK players.

Google Play Movies & TV

Best for: Android tablet, smartphone and TV owners
Price: £4.49 for an HD movie rental


Android TV Google Play Movies and TV

If you have an Android device, Google Play is probably the best movie rental and TV service out there. You can download videos in HD to watch offline and when you pause a video you're given information about the cast member currently on screen and also get info about the music that's currently playing. It's slightly weaker if you're using Apple iOS and OS X devices, though, so those users should probably stick to iTunes.

Read our full Google Play Movies & TV review

iTunes Movies and TV

Best for: Film buffs and Apple device owners
Price: £4.49 for HD movie rental


Apple's iTunes hosts full HD content for PCs, Macs and many iOS devices, making it one of the best (and highest quality) services available. What's more, its wide range of content and unbeatable selection of bonus features for both movies and TV shows makes it difficult to recommend any other service to a movie buff.

Read our full iTunes Movies & TV review

Amazon Instant Video

Best for: Amazon Prime subscribers, Kindle Fire and Fire TV owners
Price: £4.49 for HD movie rental


Amazon Fire TV Stick Prime Movies

Amazon Instant Video's pay-per view section is very competitive. It has a wide range of titles and has probably the best HD streaming quality of any of the services here. It's heavily focussed on Amazon devices, though, so if you don't own one you won't get the best experience possible. You're limited to SD streaming and downloads on iOS and SD streaming on Android, too, so this isn't the best choice if you're on a non-Amazon device.

Read our full Amazon Instant Video review

Blinkbox

Best for: Windows 10 PC, tablet and phone users
Price: £4.49 for HD movie rental


Blinkbox doesn't have the biggest library (6,000 movies and 960 TV series at last count), but it has some unique selling points that means it's worth a look. For starters, its Windows 8.1/10 app is one of the best dedicated apps on the market. The app supports 720p offline viewing, which means you can download your content to your Windows tablet or laptop if you're going off-grid but still want to watch movies. Its mobile offering is great, too, with 720p downloads and streaming on Android and iOS. Uniquely, it also caters for 720p streaming on Windows Phone devices, the only service on test here that does this.

Read our full Blinkbox review

PlayStation Video

Best for: PlayStation and Sony Bravia TV owners
Price: £4.49 for HD movie rental


PlayStation Video has some of the best quality video on test here, but it's limited to Sony products, as you might expect. Your Bravia TV will be able to stream in Full HD, as can your PS4. If you have a PS3, you can stream in 900p and download in Full HD and also access 3D content. Xperia smartphone and tablet owners are also granted access to the store via the Videos app, but you can only stream and download in SD, which is disappointing. A decent selection of content and 5.1 and 7.1 sound make it a great option for Playstation owners with a decent home cinema setup.

Read our full PlayStation Video review

Netflix

Best for: Casual viewers and bingers
Price: £7.49/month for unlimited HD streaming (two simultaneous users)


Netflix isn't a movie rental service, and instead asks you to shell out for a monthly subscription. It's available on pretty much every platform you can think of, with a growing roster of original and exclusive content. You won't find the latest blockbuster films here, or even Game of Thrones. For this reason, Netflix is very much for people who aren't quite sure what to watch but want some top-class TV to fill their evenings on the sofa. Video quality is fantastic and the user interface makes stuff you actually want to watch incredibly easy to find. £7.49 per month is quite a lot, though, especially when you consider Amazon Prime Instant Video is £79 a year, and that includes Prime free deliveries as well.

Read our full Netflix review

Now TV

Best for: Patient movie gluttons
Price: £9.99/month for unlimited HD streaming (two simultaneous users)

Now TV is Sky's online streaming service. It's divided into three separate products, Entertainment (TV), Sports and Movies. The latter is a £9.99 per month service where you can watch every movie that comes onto the satellite-based Sky Movies channels at 720p quality. Sky has content deals with every major US studio and so you get 16 new movies every month, with older movies cycling off the service after a few months of play. It's a huge amount of content for the money, although Hollywood produces a lot of trash for every big hit. The big downside is that Sky gets movies 6-9 months after they come out on rental, but if you watch a lot of films, and are happy to wait a bit longer to see them, then this is great value.

Read our full Now TV review

Alternative services

Five more services to consider, each with their own strengths and weaknesses

Microsoft Films & TV (Xbox Video)

Best for: Xbox and Windows Phone owners
Price: £4.95 for HD movie rental


Identity crisis aside (what's the service called, eh Microsoft?), Films & TV is a decent service with more than 150,000 titles to choose from. There are some serious drawbacks to rentals, however. On most other services, rentals last 30 days and then 48 hours when you first press play. On Microsoft's service, you only get 14 days and 24 hours respectively. Even worse, you can only watch rented content on the device on which you originally made the transaction, which is remarkably inflexible. Its one saving grace is 1080p content on both the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, and the ability to download and watch offline in the Windows 8.1, 10 and Windows Phone apps.

Read our full Microsoft Films & TV review

Wuaki.tv

Best for: EE customers
Price: £4.49 for HD movie rental


Wuaki.tv doesn't stand out in this hotly competitive crowd, with a decent selection of apps and reasonable quality and its rental prices and terms are par for the course. The service has received some flak for setting a three-year time limit on any purchased content before it expires, although your purchases are also stored in UltraViolet if you sign up for an account.

Read our full Wuaki.tv review

Sainsbury's Entertainment On Demand

Best for: Sainsbury's shoppers and deal spotters
Price: £4.49 for HD movie rental


If you're a Sainsbury's customer, Entertainment On Demand could be a great place to find a bargain. Occasionally you'll get vouchers from Sainsbury's and you can also use the service to contribute to your Nectar Points tally.

As an own-brand service, it's pretty limited. The selection of TV shows is tiny and mostly several years old, but you can grab some great movie deals with some big name films available (in SD) for 99p. Platforms are also limited; there is an app for the Xbox 360, iOS and Android, with the latter two getting offline viewing, too. Aside from that, it's all standard stuff. Worth a look if you have a voucher or want a super-cheap night in.

Read our full Sainsbury's Entertainment on Demand review

Sky Store

Best for: DVD collectors
Price: £4.49 for SD movie rental, HD movies for purchase only


As the grand champion of UK's paid TV market, we expected better from Sky Store. Video quality isn't great, with our test footage looking worse on Sky Store than it does on any other platform. What's more, you can't rent HD movies; you can only buy them. If you choose to rent an SD film, you'll  pay £4.49, which is what most other services charge for an HD flick.

The one saving grace here is that with every HD purchase you get a DVD copy of the movie posted to you, but it feels like scant consolation for a service that's well behind the competition.

Read our full Sky Store review

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