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Top 11 Video On Demand packages: Netflix vs Lovefilm vs Now TV vs Blinkbox vs Google Play vs iTunes vs the rest

There’s plenty of video streaming services doing the rounds right now. But to which one should you bung your hard-earned cash and what movies and shows do you get for your money?

With myriad prices and subscription methods, not to mention apps for phones and games consoles, it’s a little tricky deciding. We’ve taken a look at all of the major providers of on-demand streaming video, breaking down costs, services, the size and range of their libraries and what else they’ve got to offer.

What’s the difference between Netflix, Lovefilm and Blinkbox?

Netflix, Lovefilm and Blinkbox have plenty of reach, featuring the biggest libraries of films and TV shows here (8,000+). Price wise they’re easy on the wallet, making them a good choice for those after a wide selection of blockbuster hits. 

Now TV is more expensive and has a smaller library but guarantees you access to new films a year before they’re available anywhere else. There’s no access to any TV shows right now though. 

Similarly, Curzon on Demand commands a high price but gives you access to a curated selection of classic and independent films. But while there’s choice, don’t expect to find Season 10 of Family Guy here.

And then there’s Google Play and iTunes, providing on-demand movie downloads on phones practically as soon as you turn them on. Where do you start? Let’s take a look.

Top 11 Video On Demand packages: Netflix vs Lovefilm Instant vs Now TV vs Blinkbox vs Acetrax vs KnowHow Movies vs Curzon on Demand vs Film4oD vs PictureBox vs Google Play vs iTunes
Top 11 Video On Demand packages: Netflix vs Lovefilm Instant vs Now TV vs Blinkbox vs Acetrax vs KnowHow Movies vs Curzon on Demand vs Film4oD vs PictureBox vs Google Play vs iTunes

Netflix

If you’re the kind of person who on a weekend would rather munch through an entire box set of a TV series, rather than embark on a movie marathon, then Netflix may be your weapon of choice.

Featuring the likes of Breaking Bad, Weeds, 24 and Scrubs, Netflix hosts a shedload of current favourites from the US plus homegrown hits like The Inbetweeners and The IT Crowd. A recent deal with 20th Century Fox has seen Netflix bag exclusive streaming rights to Arrested Development in the UK and Ireland.

There’s a good selection of films as well, with current favourites (Drive, The Expendables) rubbing up against modern classics (The Usual Suspects, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas) with sections for anime titles, gay and lesbian films plus a handful of foreign films.

Not everything is here and not everything is perfect (Stuart Little 2 is inexplicably listed as Sci-Fi), but the site is slick and perhaps most importantly the streaming quality is great. The majority of films can be streamed at 720p and 1080p in their original aspect ratios. With TV shows the quality is more hit and miss, with some older shows not looking as good.

  • Size of library: No exact figure has been given, but the company quotes ‘thousands’
  • HD: 720p and 1080p
  • Second Screen: iOS and Android
  • Cost: £5.99/month
  • Contract length: None.
  • Platforms available on: PC, Mac, PS3, Wii, Xbox, iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Phone, Apple TV, Google TV, smart TVs, Blu-ray – more than 800 devices in total.

Top 11 Video On Demand packages: Netflix vs Lovefilm Instant vs Now TV vs Blinkbox vs Acetrax vs KnowHow Movies vs Curzon on Demand vs Film4oD vs PictureBox vs Google Play vs iTunes

Lovefilm Instant

Lovefilm Instant has around 7,500 films and TV titles available. Lovefilm, as its name suggests, places a greater emphasis on streaming films than it does TV shows, though there’s still a decent selection of TV shows – recent additions include cult vampire classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sons of Anarchy, and Prison Break thanks to a deal with 20th Century Fox. That same Fox deal will see Lovefilm Instant getting first dibs on streaming movies in 2013 too.

Recent film additions include Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Kill List and The Ides of March.

There’s a comprehensive search tool which breaks down categories by genre, language (encompassing English, Spanish, French, Russian, Czech, Japanese and Turkish) and cast (from Anish Kapoor to Sally Field).

While you can access Lovefilm Instant from your PC, Mac, Xbox 360, PS3 and iPad, note that not all of the films are available to watch cross-platform. Just 8,000 titles are available to stream through your PC or Mac, for example, and only 5,000 can be watched on PS3, with barely ‘hundreds’ mentioned as available on Xbox 360.

In terms of payment, Lovefilm costs £4.99 a month, which will give you unlimited access to (at the last count) 7,886 titles. The remaining 979 titles are available to watch through the Box Office on a pay per view basis, starting at £2.49 per film.

The majority of films in the Box Office range cost £3.49 and most of the titles are new arrivals or popular films.

While there are indeed Lovefilm apps for iPhone (link) and Android (link), note that these are used to track postal orders for Lovefilm’s DVD rental service – you can watch from your iPad (link) but not your iPhone or Android device.

  • Size of library: More than 7,000 film and TV titles
  • HD: 720p and 1080p
  • Second Screen: iPad
  • Cost: £4.99 a month/£2.49-£3.49 per film
  • Contract length: None
  • Platforms available on: PC, Mac, PS3, Xbox, iPad

Top 11 Video On Demand packages: Netflix vs Lovefilm Instant vs Now TV vs Blinkbox vs Acetrax vs KnowHow Movies vs Curzon on Demand vs Film4oD vs PictureBox vs Google Play vs iTunes

Now TV

Now TV is the recently launched on-demand TV platform from Sky. Offering a small number of films to begin with (just 600) and costing £15 a month, on paper Now TV looks like you’re paying a lot of cash for not that many films.

While the current film-per-penny ratio isn’t exactly high, Now TV’s ace up the sleeve is the fact that subscribers will be able to watch films before they’re available anywhere else.

Five new films will be added to Now TV’s roster each week, all new and exclusive to Now TV for a year before they’re shown anywhere else, on Netflix, Lovefilm, anywhere. Though you don’t have to subscribe to Now TV to watch most of the films on offer, you do have to pay up the £15 monthly fee to get these exclusive five films.

Exercising the exclusive first-broadcast rights that Sky Movies enjoys, Now TV is basically an on-demand streaming version of its Sky Movies channels, aimed at people who can’t (or won’t) get a Sky TV subscription at home.

Right now Now TV doesn’t offer much in the way of TV shows and series like Netflix and others do. Eventually, Now TV will feature Sky Sports Premier League football broadcasts plus programmes from Sky Atlantic, Sky Arts and Sky Living. This isn’t expected to happen until later in the year but could be of interest is you wanted to watch Boardwalk Empire and the football but didn’t necessarily want to get the full Sky TV subscription.

  • Size of library: More than 600 films (5 new added each week)
  • HD: 720p, Xbox 360 and PS3
  • Second Screen: iOS and Android
  • Cost: £15 a month/99p-£3.49 per film
  • Contract length: None
  • Platforms available on: PC, Mac, Xbox 360, iPhone, iPad, Android (PS3 coming soon).

Top 11 Video On Demand packages: Netflix vs Lovefilm Instant vs Now TV vs Blinkbox vs Acetrax vs KnowHow Movies vs Curzon on Demand vs Film4oD vs PictureBox vs Google Play vs iTunes

Blinkbox

Blinkbox has a library of over 15,000 movies and TV shows ready to go, and is good for getting blockbuster titles ahead of the likes of Netflix and Lovefilm. Blinkbox also lets you download films to own and rent. There’s no subscription fees, everything’s pay-per-view.

Prices for films range from 99p to £3.49 to rent and £6.99 to £10.99 to buy. Single TV episodes cost £1.99 to watch or you can buy an entire series (from £9.99 to £12.99).

Note that it’s not possible to buy everything and in most cases you’ll find that the rentable films and shows heavily outweigh what’s available to buy. Thankfully there’s a Rent & Buy section on Blinkbox’s site to help you search.

As well as this, Blinkbox also stocks a lot of free films and movies. BBC shows like The League of Gentlemen and That Mitchell and Webb Look sit aside Downton Abbey, the first Blade film and Batman: The Animated Series.

A bonus of Blinkbox’s acquisition by Tesco means that Tesco Clubcard owners are entitled to free Blinkbox downloads if they buy DVDs in Tesco stores; kind of like a Tesco-only equivalent of Ultraviolet.

In terms of quality there’s nothing in the way of HD streams yet; most streams are put out at 480p. Blinkbox is available on PC and Mac as well as on the iPad, Xbox 360 and selected Smart TVs.

  • Size of library: More than 15,000 film and TV titles
  • HD: No
  • Second Screen: iPad app
  • Cost: 99p-£3.49 per film to rent/£6.99-£12.99 to buy.
  • Contract length: None
  • Platforms available on: PC, Mac, Xbox 360, PS3, iPad, smart TV

Top 11 Video On Demand packages: Netflix vs Lovefilm Instant vs Now TV vs Blinkbox vs Acetrax vs KnowHow Movies vs Curzon on Demand vs Film4oD vs PictureBox vs Google Play vs iTunes

Sony Video Unlimited

Sony Video Unlimited is a pay-per-view service that lets you download popular blockbuster films and TV shows to either rent or to own. 

There’s no monthly subscription and you pay for what you want. Rental prices generally range from £2.49 to £3.49 for SD (576p) films and £3.49 to £4.49 for HD (1080p) movies. On occasion, Sony Movies Unlimited has seasonal promotions which sees prices falling to 99p and £1.49 for SD films. 

When watching a rented movie, you’ve got a 48 hour viewing window to finish watching. There’s also an Access Period, typically 30 days, from the purchase date to keep in mind. 

If you want to download to own from Sony Video Unlimited prices can start at £6.99 for an SD movie. Generally, SD movies are priced at £11.99 with HD movies costing £14.99. 

TV shows are generally a little easier on the wallet with single episodes starting at £1.89, but you buy episodes to keep – there’s no rental option. Titles like 30 Rock, Arrested Development and American Horror Story are available to buy on a single episode basis. Sadly there’s no option to buy up an entire box set’s worth of episodes in one go. Thanks to a deal done with BBC Worldwide, you can download the entire seventh series of Doctor Who in HD for free. 

Note that while most of the time you’ll have the option to buy or rent in SD or HD, you don’t always get this choice. Sometimes films will only be available in SD and sometimes you’ll only have the option of renting or buying. Generally, most titles in the Sony Video Unlimited range can be bought or rented in both definitions. 

The Sony name may create the impression that only Sony Pictures titles are available from Sony Video Unlimited. Not so. Deals with all the major studios mean you get titles like Brave, How to Train Your Dragon and 500 Days of Summer as well as titles from smaller names like Anime Channel and eOne and other independent studios. 

On your Windows PC (8, 7 and XP) you can buy movies and TV shows through the Sony Video Unlimited website. You’ll need to have Sony’s Media Go app installed on your desktop to play movies. 

Note that you can currently only watch HD movies on the Sony PlayStation 3. Access to Video Unlimited is available from the PlayStation Store. HD downloads are also available depending on your broadband connection speed. Sony Video Unlimited will test your connection speed before rental or purchase and recommend a SD or HD download.

Video Unlimited will be a feature of the upcoming PlayStation 4 in the US. There’s no word yet on how it’ll feature on the PS4 when it launches in the UK, but we’ll update once we know more. 

 

  • Size of library: More than 3,100 titles to rent, more than 4,000 to buy
  • HD: 1080p
  • Second Screen: No
  • Cost: 99p-£4.49 to rent, £6.99-£14.99 to buy
  • Contract length: None
  • Platforms available on: Windows PC, (via Media Go) PS Vita, PSP, Xperia phones, Sony Tablet, PlayStation 3 (HD only)

Top 11 Video On Demand packages: Netflix vs Lovefilm Instant vs Now TV vs Blinkbox vs Acetrax vs KnowHow Movies vs Curzon on Demand vs Film4oD vs PictureBox vs Google Play vs iTunes

KnowHow Movies

A newcomer to the streaming game is Dixons’ KnowHow Movies offering. The KnowHow Movies service comes pre-loaded on to a number of devices sold at Currys, Dixons and PC World. So chances are if you’ve bought a smart TV, DVD or Blu-ray player from one of these places recently, it might come with KnowHow Movies built in.

As well as letting you rent, you can buy films and TV episodes through KnowHow Movies.

Films available include titles that are ‘available the same day they are released on DVD or Blu-Ray, so the library will constantly grow as new titles hit the shelves’. Right now, according to KnowHow Movies’ website there’s just over 350 movie and TV titles available, including the likes of Red Riding Hood, Happy Feet 2, and all of the Harry Potter films.

Average prices work out at £3.99 to rent a film in standard definition and £4.99 for HD (1080p) rentals. Older films, mainly those without an HD equivalent, are priced at £1.99. Standard definition films cost £12.99 to buy with HD versions costing £17.99.

In terms of TV shows it doesn’t look like that there’s anything available to rent through KnowHow Movies right now but there’s plenty on offer to buy. Through a deal with Warner Bros you’ve got the likes of Gossip Girl, Big Bang Theory and Smallville which cost £2.49 per episode (or £2.99 in HD) to buy. Currently there’s an offer on where you get get single episodes of Friends for 99p.

Once you’ve rented a film, you’ve got 30 days in which to watch it and a 48 hour viewing period which begins as soon as you start watching.

What’s confusing about KnowHow Movies is that it’s often inconsistent in terms of what you can rent and what you can buy. Some you can only buy, some you can only rent, some both. This will be down to rights issues with the film’s owners, but it’s still a little frustrating when you see a film you’d perhaps like to rent only to find out that it’s download to own-only, or vice versa.

That’s another thing, right now you can only download films to Windows PCs, not Macs, though you can stream films to both. In terms of range and value, KnowHow Movies doesn’t offer much against the competition.

  • Size of library: More than 300 film titles
  • HD: 1080p
  • Second Screen: No
  • Cost: £1.99-£4.99 per film to rent/99p-£12.99 to buy
  • Contract length: None.
  • Platforms available on: PC, Mac, smart TV, you can only download on Windows

Top 11 Video On Demand packages: Netflix vs Lovefilm Instant vs Now TV vs Blinkbox vs Acetrax vs KnowHow Movies vs Curzon on Demand vs Film4oD vs PictureBox vs Google Play vs iTunes

Curzon on Demand

Curzon on Demand brings the arthouse cinema experience out of London, straight to your laptop, PC, iPhone, iPad or Smart TV (just Samsung ones for now).

Prices for films start at £2 for most films which include classics like The Great Dictator, Lars von Trier’s Anti-Christ and Banksy doc Exit Through The Gift Shop. Some films like Oliver Hirschbeigel’s Downfall cost £4 and most recent additions like Trishna, Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, costs £6.

You’ve got a 7 day window after purchase in which to watch them. There’s no subscription meaning everything is available on a pay-per-view basis. If you’ve got a Curzon membership however you’re entitled to a small discount on rental prices.

Films are streamed in HD where possible, with Curzon on Demand streaming the highest quality version of a film available as default. Where an HD version isn’t available or your broadband connection isn’t up to it, you’ll get a standard definition stream instead.

Curzon’s video library looks a little small compared to other services on offer here: 242 at last count. But the emphasis here is on artistic quality rather than quantity; fans of independent titles will probably not mind that the latest superhero romp isn’t available.

  • Size of library: More than 200 films
  • HD: Yes
  • Second Screen: No
  • Cost: 99p-£3.49 per film to rent/£6.99-£12.99 to buy
  • Contract length: None
  • Platforms available on: PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, smart TV 

Top 11 Video On Demand packages: Netflix vs Lovefilm Instant vs Now TV vs Blinkbox vs Acetrax vs KnowHow Movies vs Curzon on Demand vs Film4oD vs PictureBox vs Google Play vs iTunes

Film Four on Demand / Film 4oD

With 4oD and the new 4seven channel providing the chance to catch up on the week’s TV and watch classic Channel 4 shows, Film Four on Demand offers a selection of on-demand movies.

Most of the films on offer are a mixture of family-friendly hits (The Muppets, Ice Age, Alvin and the Chipmunks) and more grown-up thrillers (A Dangerous Method, Shame).

Searching for films is easy as titles are listed alphabetically and in sections (Action & Adventure, Family, Comedy, Horror etc). As well as these broad generic sections there are also more specific ‘seasons’; Comic Book Movies, Girls’ Night In and True Stories all do what they say on the tin. There’s even a Film Four Productions season, containing the likes of The Iron Lady, Four Lions and Submarine.

Prices again range from 99p to £3.49, with the majority of titles in the £2.49-£3.49 price spectrum.

When you buy a movie from Film Four on Demand, you’ve got the option of streaming the film or downloading it. A download speed of 4Mbps is advised for streaming so if you’ve got a slower connection you might want to download the film first.

There’s normally a 48 hour viewing window in which to watch the film which begins from the moment you start watching. Movies are broadcast in standard definition (576p) over the web for PC and Mac, with support for iPhones, iPads and Android phones and tablets coming later.

  • Size of library: More than 1,000 films
  • HD: No
  • Second Screen: iPhone, iPad and Android apps incoming
  • Cost: 99p-£3.49 per film
  • Contract length: None
  • Platforms available on: PC, Mac

Top 11 Video On Demand packages: Netflix vs Lovefilm Instant vs Now TV vs Blinkbox vs Acetrax vs KnowHow Movies vs Curzon on Demand vs Film4oD vs PictureBox vs Google Play vs iTunes

PictureBox

PictureBox is a subscription service that lets you watch movies on demand on your PC or Mac, on your Smart TV or on your iPad.

For £4.99 a month you get to pick from a constantly rotating line up of 28 films, with a new seven titles added every week. Titles are generally drawn from the blockbuster stock from the last few years; right now there’s the likes of Splice, In Bruges and Frost/Nixon.

While there’s no exhaustive archive of classics it’s good that you get a fresh set of films every week to watch. There’s also no time limit in which to watch a film either. Your subscription means that you’ll be able to start watching a film on your iPad and carry on where you left off on your laptop, PC or TV.

Currently only Samsung and LG smart TVs from the more recent ranges can access PictureBox, but you can also get it on Virgin Media, BT Vision and Freesat as well. Your subscription will let you access PictureBox from up to five devices in total.

While there’s enough for casual movie watchers here and the permanently shifting line-up keeps things interesting you can hardly call PictureBox’s selection wide ranging. The lack of large library means that there’s not a lot to keep you coming back every month. Luckily there’s no long-term contract meaning you can dip in and out; if there’s a week of good films coming up on the roster you could always pay for one month.

  • Size of library: 28 films a month, 7 new films each week
  • HD: No
  • Second Screen: iPhone, iPad and Android apps incoming
  • Cost: £4.99 a month
  • Contract length: None
  • Platforms available on: PC, Mac

Top 11 Video On Demand packages: Netflix vs Lovefilm Instant vs Now TV vs Blinkbox vs Acetrax vs KnowHow Movies vs Curzon on Demand vs Film4oD vs PictureBox vs Google Play vs iTunes
Google Play

Google Play is the Android equivalent of iTunes; you can download apps, games and ebooks here as well as rent movies. Early adopters who are interested in snapping up a Sony Google TV set might want to take a closer look at this too.

The main advantage of Google Play is that it’s available on virtually every Android phone and tablet. This means you can easily rent a couple of films wherever you are from the Google Play app and start watching them on the go before switching to the big TV screen when you get home.

Once you’ve rented a film there’s a 30 day window in which to start watching a movie and a 48 hour viewing period after you begin watching.

Most titles are priced at the standard £3.49, but you occasionally see some going for £1.49 or £2.49. For the time being Google Play only has movies, there’s no TV episodes or digitised box sets here. The majority of films are shown at 16:9 but there’s no HD option for any of what we’ve seen.

Films on offer are a healthy mix of recent mainstream hits (John Carter, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) sprinkled with a healthy dash of Bollywood titles and a few anime titles.

Oddly, for Google, searching for titles isn’t that great, limited to simple genre breakdowns and a search bar that doesn’t seem to always give you what you want. Google also isn’t saying how many films are available to rent, saying that there’s “thousands” rather than giving an exact figure.

With no subscription or long term contract, the ubiquity and easy availability of films means that it’s worth keeping Google Play in mind. You might spot something that catches your eye which you could start watching there and then on your phone and pick up watching later on.

  • Size of library: More than 1000 films
  • HD: No
  • Second Screen: Android phones and tablets
  • Cost: £1.49-£3.49 per film
  • Contract length: None
  • Platforms available on: PC, Mac, Android, Google TV

Top 11 Video On Demand packages: Netflix vs Lovefilm Instant vs Now TV vs Blinkbox vs Acetrax vs KnowHow Movies vs Curzon on Demand vs Film4oD vs PictureBox vs Google Play vs iTunes

iTunes

Apple’s iTunes has been offering movie rentals since 2008 and comes stocked with a huge wealth of titles.

You’ve got the option to either rent or buy and your films can be watched in SD and HD across your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, on your Mac or PC via iTunes and on your TV set in glorious 1080p (where available) via Apple TV.

Titles include plenty of Disney classics (Toy Story 3, The Lion King), all of the Harry Potter films, plus a range of cult classics.

Prices vary from £2.49-£3.49 to rent and £12.99 to £13.99 to buy to own. Rental periods last for a month and once you start watching, you’ve got a 48 hour viewing window in which to finish watching. A bonus of buying full versions of films via iTunes is that you often get DVD extra-style bonus content like deleted scenes and out-takes.

In either case when you’re buying or renting, paying for a movie on your iPhone or iPad will queue up and make available a second version for download on your computer; a convenience which means you can buy and rent movies on the go from your phone for later watching if you wish.

HD versions of films can be bought from your computer or from Apple TV. HD downloads will also let you download an SD version that’s been scaled for your iPhone and iPad as well, which is a nice bonus. HD films are generally more expensive, starting at £6.99 for feature length titles. HD titles come in 720p and 1080p flavours but not all of them are available in full 1080p mode.

Like Google, Apple’s not very forthcoming with how many movies are in it’s library, listing ‘thousands of releases from every major Hollywood studio’.

  • Size of library: More than 1000 films
  • HD: 720p and 1080p
  • Second Screen: Android phones and tablets
  • Cost: £1.49-£3.49 per film
  • Contract length: None
  • Platforms available on: PC, Mac, Android, Google TV

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