With a vast library of TV shows and movies and competitive pricing, iTunes is a great video-on-demand streaming choice, especially for Apple fans. The big drawback is that you'll need an Apple TV or a home theater PC (HTPC) to view content on a living room TV.
Lots of movies, à la carte. Apple claims a library of 65,000 movies, although that includes licensing in all countries so the number of titles available in the U.S. is smaller. Like other video-on-demand streaming services, you can rent or buy most titles, but some can only be rented or purchased. Video quality is very good, but most experts give Vudu's (Est. 99 cents and up per video) HDX quality streams a slight edge. High-definition and standard-definition streams are offered, and pricing is competitive for equivalent titles offered through other video-on-demand services. Unlike Vudu, films can be downloaded to a computer, laptop or mobile device such as the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch for viewing while offline.
Current and classic shows. When it comes to TV programs, Apple says it offers 250,000 individual episodes, which again includes shows offered in all the countries/regions where iTunes is available. The lineup features classic shows and episodes from current series, usually shortly after they originally air. Content is drawn from broadcast, basic cable and premium cable channels. Episodes are purchased rather than rented, and can be stored in the cloud or downloaded to your computer, laptop or mobile device for viewing whenever you like.
Limited options. The biggest drawback to using iTunes as a video-on-demand source for streaming movies and streaming TV shows is that the only home entertainment device that supports it is the Apple TV (Est. $100). An alternative for watching iTunes content on a living room TV is to set up a computer or laptop as an HTPC, but that will be more interesting to enthusiasts than typical consumers. Apple TV also offers streaming content from other providers, notably Hulu Plus (Est. $7.99 per month) , Netflix (Est. $7.99 per month) and Crackle (free), but other set-top boxes -- like those from Roku (Est. $50 and up) -- and many smart TVs and other Internet-connected home entertainment devices offer more.
ConsumerReports.org rates various subscription and video-on-demand streaming services -- including iTunes -- based on responses from a reader survey. Criteria include selection, price satisfaction, convenience and picture quality.
Review: Streaming Media Players & Services, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, March 2012
iTunes is rated as the best streaming service for the "media junkie" by Shelly Palmer, a technology reporter for a New York City TV station. The downside is the lack of widespread hardware support. "It's not like Netflix or Hulu where every device comes with an app -- it's essentially Apple TV or bust," he says. "It's got the most stuff available to you, but it stays contained in an Apple environment. Caveat emptor."
Review: The Best Streaming Services, Shelly Palmer, Apr. 28, 2013