It seems almost quaint — the idea that people once went to a dedicated, physical store to rent DVDs (and, before that, videos). The pickings were often slim — how often did you go in search of a new release, only to leave the store with whatever was left on the shelf?

Those days, of course, are long gone

Today, streaming video services deliver the latest movie and TV hits any time, on any screen — be it a television monitor, smartphone or tablet. The kids can watch their ’toons on demand, while you work on a home project with the help of your favorite DIY show. Or, you can partake of the latest trend: binge-watching your favorite series.

Indeed, video streaming is not only common, but also competitive — with several services vying for viewers’ eyeballs. We’ve examined the most popular services on the market today, to help you make choices that will save money and time. Now that’s entertainment.

Video when and where you want it

Vudu frequently asked questions

Two of the biggest players in this market are Amazon Prime Instant Video and Netflix. If you use either of these services, you know how convenient video subscription services are. With both services you pay a flat monthly fee to access a library of streaming films on your mobile device or TV. Subscription sites are great because, once you’ve paid, the content is always there, instant and ready to stream. However, with Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video you’ll have to wait a bit to watch new movies — about six to eight months after they’ve finished playing in theaters and current seasons of your favorite TV shows won’t be available until after the season has finished.

Pay (and play) as you go

Pay-as-you-view sites are a little different. Content streams digitally to your devices over the Internet, but they are like the old video rental stores in that you pay just for the movies or TV shows you want to watch. The VUDU service, for example, provides the same convenience as Netflix or Amazon Prime, but there is no subscription to pay. You want to watch “Boyhood“? You pay just for “Boyhood.” Services like VUDU have another advantage: they get brand-new films first — typically, months before subscription services do. TV episodes are available for purchase just a day or two after they have aired, so you can stay up to date on Game of Thrones and know what your co-workers are talking about.

VUDU isn’t the only virtual video store online. Amazon Instant Video (without the “Prime”) is similar to VUDU, but, crucially, the quality is not as good. VUDU provides HDX format, with Blu-ray levels of high-definition playback. And probably the best known is Apple’s iTunes service, providing subscription-free purchases and rentals of movies and TV shows.

The best of both worlds

With all that said, it’s not an either/or situation. Using VUDU alongside Netflix, for example, gives you massive movie and TV choice — all your old favorites plus all the latest flicks, fresh from the theater. This route is more cost-effective than cable, and there are no commercials!

The device factor

Streaming device - Roku premium with remote control

 

The service you choose may depend on the devices you use. Apple was among the first to offer digital movies to rent or buy using its iTunes storefront. It continues  to be a great choice if you’re an Apple device user — but it can get complicated when you bring other devices into the mix. For example, the only way to get iTunes on your TV without cumbersome conversion cables is to buy Apple’s own streaming box, Apple TV.

VUDU supports far more devices and stream to PCs and Macs, smart TVs, tablet computers running Android and iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad. There’s support for game consoles, too, such as the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. VUDU supports a couple of extra devices that Amazon doesn’t. You can stream TV to your Google Chromecast, or check out the new VUDU Spark streaming media player that plugs into any TV’s HDMI port.

The VUDU that you do

There’s one big feature VUDU has that other services don’t: it provides three ways to watch your existing DVDs and Blu-rays. That’s right — an online service that lets you watch discs! With UltraViolet support, you can access digital versions of discs in your library and even share movies with up to five of your friends. Then there’s Walmart’s InstaWatch, which gives you immediate access to streaming movies when you buy selected new DVDs or Blu-rays.

What if you own a movie on DVD or Blu-ray  that doesn’t have UltraViolet support? No problem. With VUDU’s Disc-to-Digital feature, you can convert films at your local Walmart for a small fee, then access them anywhere that you use VUDU.

Films for free

You can check out most of these services without spending a cent. Both Amazon Prime and Netflix offer a 30-day trial membership; Vudu offers a handful of free episodes and TV shows and your account is always free – you only pay for what your watch.

All of the services evaluated here will provide cost-effective and convenient entertainment. And, just think: you’ll never spend a night watching “Dunston Checks  In,” when what you really wanted to see was the latest episode of “Downtown Abbey.”