Streaming Video Services Shootout (2019 Edition)

A lot has changed since 2018

There have been a lot of changes since my 2018 shootout  – a new service has been included this year, and of course, in just a few short months we say goodbye to UltraViolet. As with last year’s summary, we will be looking at services that allow you to rent or purchase movies and TV shows, as well as redeem digital copy codes that are often included with physical media (DVD, Blu-ray, etc.).

Again, you can vote for your favorite in the poll.

iTunes

The big news this week is that Apple plans to release an Apple TV app that should allow users to view content within their iTunes library when the app launches on Samsung, Sony, Vizio, and LG smart TVs as well as Roku and Fire OS devices later this year. As of this moment, no one is quite sure what the app will offer in terms of audio and video support, but we do know that the current Apple TV 4K offers 2160p video with Dolby Vision and HDR10 support plus Dolby Atmos audio on most titles from all of the major studios (except Disney). iTunes is also a Movies Anywhere partner, so content in your Movies Anywhere locker should be viewable.

Pros:

  • Coming soon to non-Apple devices
  • Most 4K content is priced the same as HD
  • Movies Anywhere retail partner
  • Frequent sales on titles and collections
  • Large library of TV shows and Movies
  • Dolby Vision, HDR10, and Dolby Atmos support
  • UHD and HD streams are of very high quality, rivaling their physical media counterparts in many instances

Cons:

  • Currently restricted to Apple TV and iOS device
  • Possible confusion over what the coming app will actually support on non-iOS devices

Vudu

Wal-Mart’s digital streaming storefront is still the most popular, and this year the service has finally upped its game and placed both feet in the UHD arena by bringing 4K and HDR10/Dolby Vision support to smart televisions running on Android TV and Roku devices. Vudu has also expanded their selection of 4K UHD movies to include movies from all of the major studios. Yet, there are still many older movies on the service that users have complained as being in the wrong aspect ratio that have yet to be corrected. It also appears as if Vudu will be the default service for movies in your UltraViolet library when that service shuts its doors on July 31, 2019.

Pros:

  • Available on nearly every device (smart TVs, Roku, Android, iOS, Blu-ray players)
  • Mobile version of app offers Chromecast support
  • User Interface is similar across most platforms, is user-friendly, and easy to navigate and filter
  • Dolby Vision, HDR10, and Dolby Atmos support on most devices
  • Large library of UHD content
  • UHD and HD streams are of very high quality, rivaling their physical media counterparts in many instances
  • Movies Anywhere and UltraViolet retail partner
  • Weekly $4.99 and Monthly $6.99 deals (usually SD/HD only)
  • Frequent 2 for $9.99 UHD sales
  • Rotating selection of “Free with Ads” Movies and TV shows
  • Disc+Digital Specials (receive digital code immediately and disc plus a second code shipped on release date

Cons:

  • Many older titles in wrong aspect ratio
  • UHD titles often cost more than HD
  • Not available on Fire OS devices
  • Users can only have eight devices linked to their Vudu account at any one time

FandangoNow

This service has really worked on beefing up their presence as the built-in retail storefront for movies and TV shows on many Roku devices (my Roku Streaming Stick, model 3800X, for example), and available as an app on most smart TVs and Roku devices. The service has partnered with their sister movie ticketing service (Fandango) to offer deals such as discounted movie tickets when purchasing select movies or pre-selling a movie with ticket purchase. FandangoNow also joined Movies Anywhere and has expanded their offering of UHD movies from nearly every studio.

Pros:

  • Growing library of UHD content with HDR10
  • Available on most devices (smart TVs, Roku, Android, iOS)
  • Mobile version of app offers Chromecast support
  • Movies Anywhere and UltraViolet retail partner
  • Rotating selection of $0.99 rentals, $5 HD and $9.99 UHD deals
  • Loyalty program linked with Fandango movie ticket service

Cons:

  • No Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos support
  • UltraViolet library is segregated and lists all titles, including titles not available on FandangoNow
  • User Interface has no ability to sort through titles, making browsing to a movie in your library difficult
  • Not available on Fire OS devices

Google Play Movies

Google’s movie service last year offered free 4K upgrades for movies purchased on their service (unfortunately those did not include Movies Anywhere redemptions), and have matched the pricing of many of their 4K titles to the same price as HD. Where Google Play Movies has struggled is expanding their 4K hardware support, which is still limited to smart TVs and set-top devices running Android TV. Selection and pricing is on par with other services. One thing I really like about Google Play Movies is their Family Library option, allowing you to share titles in your library with up to five other people who also have Google accounts. The downside is that those sharing your library do have access to your account and can purchase items with your credit card on file.

Pros:

  • Available on most devices (smart TVs, Roku, Android, iOS)
  • Movies Anywhere retail partner
  • Family Library sharing option
  • UHD and HDR10 support
  • Mobile version of app offers Chromecast support

Cons:

  • No UHD support on Roku devices
  • No Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos support
  • Difficult to contact Customer Support
  • Not available on Fire OS devices

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon has probably caused a great deal of confusion by rebranding and combining their two video services, Amazon Instant Video (which was where you would find movies and TV shows you could rent or purchase) and their Prime Video (which was a rotating selection of movies, TV shows, and original content that Amazon Prime members could watch at no additional cost), and referring to everything now as Prime Video. Other than that, not much has changed with Prime Video since last year’s shootout. Although Amazon claims to have a large 4k UHD library, it is nearly impossible to find it using standard search methods, and quite often a 4K code redeemed on Movies Anywhere will only give you the HD version on Prime Video despite the availability of a UHD version (that customer service reps often are unable to find). The underlying cause of this mess is Amazon’s insistence on segregating their SD/HD content from their UHD content and then using bad metadata on the UHD versions. Prime Video’s User Interface is also a mess, with no option to sort your library by any means. Not all UHD content is HDR (Venom is a recent example), and Amazon does not always offer separate HDR and non-HDR streams resulting in a sometimes murky picture quality on devices that their app is not HDR capable on. If you ever encounter a redemption issue on Prime Video with a Movies Anywhere code, chances are you will be banging your head against the wall as you try to educate the Amazon rep on what and how Movies Anywhere works. Due to a contract dispute, all Warner Bros. movies and TV shows are currently unavailable to purchase, rent, or be redeemed (movies purchased or redeemed prior to January 1, 2019 have not been removed from customer’s libraries and are still viewable).

Pros:

  • Very wide hardware support on most smart TVs and Blu-ray players, plus Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices
  • Movies Anywhere retail partner
  • Most UHD hardware devices are supported

Cons:

  • Video quality is often very good, but with slower bandwidth it may take several minutes for quality to reach HD or UHD speeds
  • User Interface is difficult to navigate with no sorting options on your video library or watchlist
  • Warner Bros. content unavailable due to contract dispute (as of March 25, 2019)
  • Movies Anywhere titles often do not include UHD
  • Customer Service is unfamiliar with Movies Anywhere
  • UHD titles are segregated
  • No Dolby Atmos support (exception is the original series Jack Ryan)
  • No UltraViolet support
  • No Chromecast support

Redbox On Demand

Believe it or not, Redbox is taking a second stab at a streaming video service, and if you thought Amazon Prime Video was bad, think again. Pricing, on both rentals and purchases, appeared much higher than most of its competition. The service offers no UHD content, and is not a partner with Movies Anywhere. The mere mention of Movies Anywhere caused three different customer service reps to think I was referring to downloading a movie to my phone to watch it “anywhere” and when asked what would happen to my purchases if Redbox decides to shutter its on-demand service again, they seemed to think the movies would still be accessible from the Redbox website.

Pros:

  • Available on Roku, Android, and iOS devices and select smart TVs
  • Wide selection of movies

Cons:

  • Not a Movies Anywhere partner
  • No UHD content
  • Content is often priced higher than competition
  • Purchase content at your own risk (no guarantee your library will still be accessible if the service were to shut down)

Honorable Mention

Movies Anywhere

Movies Anywhere is still a great option and workaround if you find yourself out of devices to activate for either iTunes or Vudu, or you have a Fire OS device and want to watch A Star is Born or Aquaman. Movies Anywhere allows you to have up to 8 active devices at a time and stream the same content on up to two devices at the same time. The app has become available on virtually any new device, including 2018 model or newer smart TVs, Roku, iOS devices, Android devices, even Fire OS devices. The app even supports UHD and HDR10 playback (no Dolby Vision or Atmos though), and has the ability to create profiles to restrict content (based on a movies MPAA rating). Lastly, if you encounter a redemption issue with a code redeemed on their service directly (for example, a movie did not populate to all retail partners), their customer service agents are a delight to work with.

Pros:

  • Growing number of available devices
  • Excellent Customer Service
  • Multiple Profiles can be created to restrict content for children
  • UHD and HDR10 support
  • Most major studios are supported
  • Mobile version of app offers Chromecast support

Cons:

  • No rental or purchase option
  • Movies only – no TV shows
  • Paramount, Lionsgate, MGM, STX are still no-shows

Dishonorable Mention

Sony ULTRA

Rounding out our list with Dishonorable Mention two years running, Sony’s ULTRA service is still a real head scratcher. The service was originally developed to promote UHD content from Sony Pictures on Sony UHD televisions, and in the beginning, only Sony movies ever appeared in a user’s library. A firmware update in late 2017 changed all that if the user linked their UltraViolet account to this service, causing every single piece of content in a user’s UV library to appear on-screen, yet if you clicked on a non-Sony title, you would be directed to go to the UltraViolet website to view the movie. Worse, there is still no way to filter out non-Sony titles, and apparently it is up to Joe Consumer to know and even care what studio owns each movie in his/her library. Sony closed down their Sony Pictures movie store earlier this year, and they should probably do the same with ULTRA, as it has apparently outlived its purpose, especially since there has been no announcement of this service partnering up with Movies Anywhere (meaning any new movie redemptions of Sony titles on Movies Anywhere will not appear in your ULTRA library).

Pros:

  • Available on all 2017 or newer model Sony UHD TVs running Android TV
  • UltraViolet partner
  • UHD and HDR10 support

Cons:

  • Only available on Sony TVs
  • Only Sony movies are viewable despite listing customer’s entire UV library
  • No Movies Anywhere support

Published by

Todd Erwin

editor,member

32 Comments

  1. iTunes followed by Vudu. I'm not a fan of Amazon Prime because of reasons I already stated in other threads. I will watch something on it, if it's not available on other services. I have never watched an entire movie on those other services.

  2. My answer is the same as Robert's. I primarily use iTunes for viewing at home via our Apple TV 4K, but when we are at our South Carolina condo I use Vudu via a Roku. Same when viewing from our master bedroom at home, as we just have a Roku 4K box in that room. I also use Vudu for any content purchased there that doesn't transfer to iTunes via Movies Anywhere.

    I use Amazon Prime to rent new releases and stream content for free. However, their app is cumbersome compared with iTunes and Vudu for accessing content in my MA library.

    BTW, my digital library is also available on my Comcast Xfinity service now, as they are now part of Movies Anywhere. I have not played anything through them yet, but it would not count against my monthly Internet bandwidth limit of 1Tb if I did use it. I only use about 250 – 300Gb per month, though, so it hasn't been a concern yet.

  3. I primarily use iTunes, with Vudu as a backup.

    I hesitate to use Prime unless it’s content that doesn’t exist elsewhere. The technical video quality is usually below that of iTunes and Vudu, and there’s something about that app that won’t play nicely with my receiver – the sound sync always drifts but not in a consistent manner that you could use a delay button to offset. So I’ll use Prime for anything that can be viewed on the TV with the TV’s built-in speakers (where the sync doesn’t seem to drift) and that’s it.

    I technically have accounts at FandangoNow and Google Play but I just don’t see the need to use them on my AppleTV.

  4. If we're sticking to content I own, then I primarily use the Movies Anywhere app. My main streaming device is an Amazon FireTV which does not allow for a Vudu app, so if I want to watch anything there, I have to switch to the blu-ray player (which feels silly to stream through sometimes).

    If the FireTV played nice, or I had a different streaming device, I would primarily use Vudu, as it has the movies not available on MA, plus the few TV options I have purchased or redeemed.

    I only use Google Play, FandangoNow, Microsoft, and itunes as ways to add movies to my MA library (mainly by catching sales or credits).

  5. Chip_HT

    If the FireTV played nice, or I had a different streaming device, I would primarily use Vudu, as it has the movies not available on MA, plus the few TV options I have purchased or redeemed.

    That is the main reason why I don't own a Fire TV device.

  6. Vudu followed by iTunes. I use them both pretty regularly and have never had a problem with either one. The other services seem to work okay for me as well, but I'm so used to the way Vudu and iTunes are set up that they have become my "go tos" for streaming.

  7. Vudu first, as they usually have the best quality overall and I think the only ones that support Atmos and of course 3D. Movies Anywhere is second because they seem to have everything in the right aspect ratio when Vudu doesn’t, but sound doesn’t go beyond 5.1 there.

  8. Jesse Skeen

    Vudu first, as they usually have the best quality overall and I think the only ones that support Atmos and of course 3D. Movies Anywhere is second because they seem to have everything in the right aspect ratio when Vudu doesn’t, but sound doesn’t go beyond 5.1 there.

    Vudu isn't the only one that supports Atmos. So does iTunes and it's derived from Dolby TrueHD while Dolby Atmos on Vudu is derived from Dolby Digital+.

  9. Once the Apple app becomes available on my TV or Roku, I'm sure I'll use it at least some because of the UHD deals you can get. Otherwise, I almost exclusively use Vudu unless there's something available for free with Prime that I want to watch. To be honest, though, Amazon's UI is so terrible and their free content so stuffed with sub-YouTube videos that I only use it when there isn't another choice.

  10. Robert Crawford

    Vudu isn't the only one that supports Atmos. So does iTunes and it's derived from Dolby TrueHD while Dolby Atmos on Vudu is derived from Dolby Digital+.

    None of my equipment can access iTunes though, and I'm not going to buy an Apple TV just to be able to. I've heard they will be coming out with a Roku app this year though- that would be nice as I still hate to support Vudu since Wal-Mart bought them, even though they still are the best other than that.

  11. Robert Crawford

    Vudu isn't the only one that supports Atmos. So does iTunes and it's derived from Dolby TrueHD while Dolby Atmos on Vudu is derived from Dolby Digital+.

    This is incorrect, no streaming service at this time streams Dolby Atmos in True HD. All streamed in Dolby digital +. iTunes sends Dolby digital + in a PCM package.

  12. Jesse Skeen

    None of my equipment can access iTunes though, and I'm not going to buy an Apple TV just to be able to. I've heard they will be coming out with a Roku app this year though- that would be nice as I still hate to support Vudu since Wal-Mart bought them, even though they still are the best other than that.

    I am not a big Apple user, either, but I do like the Apple TV 4K. It's a better streaming device than the Roku Ultra 4K box I also have installed in the main home theater — in fact, I haven't used that Roku in many months. I used some accumulated Amazon credits to acquire the Apple TV, so it didn't cost me anything out of pocket. If they were not so costly, I would buy a second Apple TV 4K for our bedroom display. But in that room I opted for the less costly Roku Premiere at $40.

    I do need Roku boxes for the other TV's in our home without a cable converter box, though, as there is a Comcast Xfinity app for the Roku that allows me to use the Roku as a cable box, thereby saving a $10 per month rental fee for each of the 3 additional displays in our home (wife's office, exercise room, and basement recreation room). Since the Rokus only cost $30, it was only a 3 month payback. There is not a similar app available currently for the Apple TV.

  13. TheMeastro335

    This is incorrect, no streaming service at this time streams Dolby Atmos in True HD. All streamed in Dolby digital +. iTunes sends Dolby digital + in a PCM package.

    That's only true using Vudu! On iTunes, when I turned off my ability to process Dolby Atmos it reverts to sending a Dolby TrueHD signal. When I do the same with Vudu, it sends a DD+ signal.

  14. Sounds like something is wrong with your settings? Read other forums about how ITunes Dolby Atmos is transmitted.
    tvOS 12 takes DD+ Atmos decodes it, mixes system sounds, re-encodes & outputs LPCM + Dolby MAT 2.0 uncompressed, so, it may appear different depending on your AVR

    Regards
    Jeff

  15. TheMeastro335

    Sounds like something is wrong with your settings? Read other forums about how ITunes Dolby Atmos is transmitted.
    tvOS 12 takes DD+ Atmos decodes it, mixes system sounds, re-encodes & outputs LPCM + Dolby MAT 2.0 uncompressed, so, it may appear different depending on your AVR

    Regards
    Jeff

    Nothing is wrong with my settings. When I play Dolby Atmos soundtracks on Vudu using my Roku unit, my Yamaha 3060 briefly displays the Dolby Digital+ designation before showing Dolby Atmos/Dolby Digital+. When playing the same Dolby Atmos soundtracks on iTunes thru my 4KATV, my Yamaha 3060 briefly displays the Dolby TrueHD signal before showing Dolby Atmos/PCM on my receiver panel.

  16. Robert Crawford

    Nothing is wrong with my settings. When I play Dolby Atmos soundtracks on Vudu using my Roku unit, my Yamaha 3060 briefly displays the Dolby Digital+ designation before showing Dolby Atmos/Dolby Digital+. When playing the same Dolby Atmos soundtracks on iTunes thru my 4KATV, my Yamaha 3060 briefly displays the Dolby TrueHD signal before showing Dolby Atmos/PCM on my receiver panel.

    Ok, understood that your amp says that but in the definition I gave it says nay appear different depending on your AVR.i will say the ITunes audio audio and video has a higher resolution than other streaming services.

  17. To me, Vudu is the clear winner. I love their UI. The toolbar across the bottom of the screen is very unobtrusive in case you need to forward or pause, unlike others (especially YouTube) which fill the screen with text, controls, etc. I don't need the whole scene filled with the name of what I'm watching when I pause it. I know what I'm watching.

    Vudu's scene selection feature is similar to a disc's menu selection and is brilliant. Their whole control / UI is the best for me.

    Vudu's PQ & AQ seems to be overall excellent. I always get a great stream. Amazon's quality has been inconsistent. Vudu is also the only one that includes my TV series in my collection.

    On top of that, they carry an excellent selection of diverse films to purchase or rent, as well as some very good free content.

    I am a Mac user and like some iTunes features, but we use Rokus which I much prefer over Apple TV or Firestick (which was a chore to slog through). Will be interested to try iTunes when it finally makes it way to Roku later this year though.

  18. Sam Posten

    It's not iTunes. It's Apple TV.

    Sorry. You're correct. Which brings up an interesting discussion for another thread probably. But will an average consumer be able to keep track of how all these things work? I mean, you buy a movie on iTunes, buy can't watch it on iTunes on your Roku, but you should be able to watch it on Roku, if you get the Apple TV installed in a few months. Or you can buy a TV show on iTunes, but it won't carry over to Movies Anywhere at all, but you can buy a movie on iTunes and if it is upgraded to 4K, you should be able to watch in 4K on some or maybe all other platforms, depending on the movie and only if you hold your tongue right. Agh.

  19. Usually watch movies from disc but after seeing the quality from the 4K Apple TV I may find myself watching the digital version more often when I am really tired and do not want to go grab the disc. Currently Vudu and Movies Anywhere are the top digital streaming service but I may be renting and getting a few titles on ITunes now that I have the Apple TV! I did check out some of my content after setting up Vudu and Movies Anywhere on the Apple TV. Still do not see digital replacing my physical discs but I will admit it is a nice option moving forward.

    View attachment 57598

  20. I love the AppleTV for times when a disc isn’t handy.

    An example just from last night. I felt like watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 in 3D, so I put on that disc. When the movie ended, I wanted to watch the deleted scenes, but all the bonus features are on the 2D disc. Instead of getting up and switching the discs and going through all the FBI warnings and forced trailers again, I just switched my reciever from the Blu-ray player to the AppleTV, opened my digital copy of the movie in the iTunes app, and watched the bonus features there.

  21. I did the same thing with Mary Poppins Returns. Watched the UHD disc version, but rather than switching out discs, I just streamed the bonus features. And you HAVE to stream the commentary if you want to listen to it. It's not on any disc version!

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