If you want the latest and greatest hits via streaming, a video-on-demand service is the way to go. These movie streaming services don't have a subscription fee, but charge per title for every movie or TV program or season you buy.
For the very best video quality, critics point to Walmart-owned Vudu as the best choice. It's far from Blu-ray Disc quality, HDGuru.com reports after a recent test, but it was the best performer in terms of video quality among the services tested.
The Vudu movie streaming library is comprehensive and includes most of the latest blockbusters, sometimes simultaneous to their release on disc. You'll also find tons of classic and some not-so-classic older films. On the TV side, there are current episodes and full past seasons of most still-running TV shows, plus full runs of all-time favorite series from all major broadcast networks as well as several cable TV channels including HBO and Showtime. For fans of 3D, the last look revealed more than 100 titles. Vudu enjoys good hardware support.
Like all video-on-demand movie streaming services, cost can be the big downside. You can rent or "buy" titles; bought content stays on Vudu's servers, so what you are buying is the right to stream it as many times as you want. Typically, titles are available in standard definition (SD), high definition (HD) and a proprietary format Vudu calls HDX. Critics say that HDX video quality is notably better than what's available with other streaming providers, but you pay for that quality. Pricing varies, but to rent a recent Hollywood title, expect to pay $3.99 for an SD stream, $4.99 for an HD stream and $5.99 for an HDX stream. Movie purchases start at around $14.99 for an SD stream and run to about $19.99 or more for an HDX stream. Rentals priced as low as 99 cents are offered as specials. Most titles can be bought or rented, but some are only available for purchase or as rentals.
For TV streaming, episodes can only be bought -- not rented -- and generally cost $1.99 for an SD stream and $2.99 for an HD or HDX stream, although content from channels like HBO may cost a bit more. You can save a little on a series per-episode price by buying an entire season at one time.
For those already invested in the Apple way of doing things, iTunes is a good source of video-on-demand. The major downside is that iTunes is not built into any current home entertainment gear; the only way to watch it on your living room TV is via an Apple TV set-top box (Est. $100); we cover this in more depth in our section on movie streaming hardware.
iTunes streaming content that's rented or purchased can be downloaded to a computer or Apple mobile device and watched later. That's a plus for those with poor Internet connections; it might take a while to download your title, but viewing should be largely glitch-free. It's also great for watching movies and TV shows on an iPad or another device, even when an Internet connection is not available.
Streaming movie content is again comprehensive, and includes current hot releases and classic films. For those interested in on-demand TV streaming, the list of available titles is even broader than Vudu's. Pricing varies by title, but starts at $2.99 to rent a film or buy a TV episode. Like Vudu, specials priced as low as 99 cents per rental are typically offered.
Other choices include Amazon Instant , the video-on-demand portion of Amazon.com's video streaming offerings. Available content mirrors that of other video-on-demand movie streaming and TV streaming services. Pricing is similar, as well. Like iTunes, you can either stream or download purchased or rented content. Unlike iTunes, Amazon Instant apps are available for smart TVs, Blu-ray Disc players and other home entertainment devices from a host of makers.
M-Go is one of the newer video-on-demand services. Despite that, it's enjoying good support from hardware makers as well as studios. The total number of titles available trails that of providers listed above, but you'll still find most recent Hollywood releases. TV network coverage is good, but the lack of titles from HBO is a shortcoming. Pricing is in line with what's seen with the other providers mentioned in this section.