How to Choose a Movie Streaming Service

Updated February 28, 2014

What the best movie streaming service has

  • A large library of titles. Most movie streaming services have large libraries these days, although selection can vary.
  • The movies or TV shows you want to see. Some services, especially those that use a subscription model, are packed with older movies or ones that few viewers have ever heard of, though that also includes some higher-quality gems. Video-on-demand movie streaming services will have most if not all of the recent theatrical releases -- including all the high-profile ones -- but since you pay by title, costs can add up.
  • Broad hardware support. It's rare these days to find a major movie streaming service that's not supported by most manufacturers of Internet-connectible home entertainment gear, but gaps do occur with some makers, and even among specific models.

Know before you go

You'll need a fast Internet connection. Broadband or at least DSL is a must, and the faster the connection the better. On slower connections, video resolution might be reduced or you might experience occasional starts and stops of your streaming content. Streaming movies and TV programs isn't a practical consideration for dial-up users.

Video quality isn't quite as good as Blu-ray. Experts say even the best high-definition video stream can't quite match the quality of Blu-ray Discs, although a few come close. If the absolute best video quality is a priority, stick to Blu-ray Discs or over-the-air or cable TV high-definition channels.

Consider the equipment. You'll need Internet-capable video equipment -- a smart TV, Blu-ray player, DVR, video game console or set-top digital media player -- and a wired or wireless connection to your home network. Keep in mind that each service works only with compatible gear from specific manufacturers.

Costs vary by service. Most services charge by the rental or offer the ability to buy videos for unlimited viewing. Netflix, Hulu Plus and others offer a subscription-based model that lets you watch as many movies or TV programs as you want as many times as you want for one price per month. However, Netflix has few current hot releases while Hulu Plus is primarily a service for watching streaming TV programs. You can also find some free movie streaming services like Crackle, but selections tend to be older and more limited still.