Streaming Video Services (non-subscription) Shootout

The on-demand, non-subscription streaming video service was once a very crowded marketplace, but in the last few years, many of those companies, such as Target Ticket, CinemaNow, Flixster, Redbox, among others have shuttered their online storefronts due to mergers, low sales, or discontinued technology. The services we are going to look at are those that allow you to use or redeem digital copy codes that are included with disc purchases or rent/purchase movies and television shows. We will not be looking at subscription-based services, like Netflix or Hulu.

So, how do these services rate? You can vote for your favorite in the poll!

VUDU

Wal-Mart’s streaming giant is, hands-down, the most popular for several reasons. Like Netflix, it comes pre-installed on just about every smart TV, smart Blu-ray player, and smart set-top device (like Roku). It was also one of the first and few remaining UltraViolet retailers, which allows customers access to their UltraViolet libraries, and recently partnered with Movies Anywhere, allowing customers access to the digital copies of movies they own from studios such as Fox, Warner Bros., Disney, and Sony. Vudu has a very user-friendly interface that is nearly identical across all platforms. Also like Netflix, Vudu uses highly efficient video streams that allow even users with low bandwidth an exceptional picture, and has been offering movies in UHD format for the last few years, most titles in DolbyVision and adding HDR10 in November 2017. One of Vudu’s largest stumbling blocks is its still rather limited hardware support for UHD, largely ignoring owners of Sony UHD televisions and UHD Blu-ray players, as well as televisions running the Android TV operating system.

Pros:

  • Large hardware support for SD and HD streams.
  • Highly efficient video streams allow even users with low bandwidth an exceptional picture.
  • Audio for most titles are stereo, Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, and Dolby Atmos (on UHD titles).
  • UHD and HDR support, in both DolbyVision and HDR10 on titles from studios Warner Bros., Universal, Paramount, and Disney.
  • Currently the only streaming provider to be a retail partner with both UltraViolet and Movies Anywhere.
  • Users can easily see what format they own of a title (SD, HDX, or UHD).
  • Constantly running promotions on titles and collections, including $2 rentals and $5 purchases.
  • Mobile versions offer Chromecast support.

Cons:

  • No UHD support for Sony and Android devices.
  • No UHD titles from Lionsgate and Fox.
  • Users can only have eight devices linked to their Vudu account at any one time.

iTUNES

Apple Computer’s movie storefront on iTunes has been a popular one ever since the company launched its Apple TV in 2006. The company recently launched a new 4K Apple TV and added hundreds of titles in UHD with DolbyVision HDR. Apple has listened to customer complaints and has been streamlining and updating its storefront to allow users to purchase movies in UHD and see what format of each title they own (HD or UHD).

Pros:

  • Hardware support on Apple TV and iOS devices.
  • Movies Anywhere retail partner.
  • Most titles available on UHD for same cost as HD.
  • Ever-growing UHD library of movies from most major studios (Universal, Fox, Paramount, Warner Bros., Lionsgate, Disney).

Cons:

  • Hardware support limited to Apple TV and iOS devices.
  • No UltraViolet support.

Google Play Movies

Google has been trying to lure more people to use their service by becoming a Movies Anywhere retail partner and making itself available not only on Android devices but also a growing number of smart TVs and other devices. Like many of its competitors, Google Play Movies has a very large library of movies and TV shows available, and is constantly running promotions on low-cost purchases and rentals. The service began offering movies in 4K last year.

Pros:

  • Available on every Android device, plus a growing number of smart TVs and set-top devices.
  • Movies Anywhere retail partner.
  • Growing number of UHD titles.
  • UHD support on most UHD devices.
  • Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra support.

Cons:

  • Not available on Apple TV and iOS devices
  • No UltraViolet Support

Amazon Instant Video

Not to be confused with Amazon Prime Video (their subscription service), Amazon Instant Video carries just about every title available, although quite often for a much higher price than Vudu or iTunes. The service also likes to segregate its UHD and HD/SD titles, so if you want to purchase to UHD version, it takes some extra searching. For example, if you search for Spider-Man: Homecoming, you will need to look for Spider-Man: Homecoming [Ultra HD] for the UHD version, as you can only select HD or SD as the format of choice if you do not search for Ultra HD. HDR support is spotty, and (unlike Netflix) Amazon does not have separate HDR and non-HDR streams, resulting in a sometimes murky picture quality on devices that their app is not HDR capable on.

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.
  • Movies Anywhere titles often do not include UHD.
  • UHD titles are segregated.
  • HDR support is very limited.
  • No UltraViolet support.
  • No Chromecast support.

FandangoNow

Previously known as M-Go before it was acquired by the online movie ticket purchasing service (now owned by Comcast), FandangoNow has a large library of movies and television shows in SD, HD, and UHD, but does not currently directly support HDR (per their website). Both customer service and UltraViolet support have improved in the last year, with friendlier people to talk to on the phone (there was a time when FN phone reps would refuse to speak with you unless you actually rented or purchased a title directly from them, regardless of what the issue was). UV support is still limited, as many disc to digital redemptions through other providers are often only available in SD. Hardware support is also limited mostly to smart TVs, Samsung and LG Blu-ray players, and Roku (with no specific app, though). UHD hardware support has even more limited compatibility, eliminating Sony and Android TV devices.

Pros:

  • UltraViolet retail partner.
  • Large library of titles with growing UHD support.
  • Very friendly customer support.
  • Mobile version provides Chromecast support.

Cons:

  • Limited UHD hardware support.
  • No HDR support.
  • Many UV titles are in SD.
  • UV library is segregated and lists all titles, including titles not available on FandangoNow.
  • Not currently a Movies Anywhere retail partner.

Honorable Mention

Movies Anywhere

The new video locker service that has partnered with studios Disney, Fox, Universal, Warner Bros., and Sony and retailers Vudu, Amazon Video, iTunes, and Google Play Movies. The service has developed an app that is slowly appearing on smart TVs and devices like Roku, and is also available on Android and iOS devices and includes Chromecast support. The service is a great way to work around the device limits of Vudu and iTunes, allowing parents to install the app on the kids smartphone or tablet with their own profile (which offers parental controls) with no limitation that I’ve come across. Movies can be downloaded or streamed in up to 1080p and up to 5.1 audio.

Dishonorable Mention

ULTRA

Sony’s 4K streaming service continues to struggle along, available only on Sony UHD TVs (but not their UHD Blu-ray players, go figure). Originally only Sony movies could be rented or purchased, but after a recent upgrade, if a user connected their UV library to ULTRA, the entire UV library is viewable but not playable (a rude notice appears telling the user to go to uvvu.com to watch the movie). Unfortunately, there is no way to filter out non-Sony titles at this time, but according to a support rep I spoke with, the service has been undergoing maintenance since early November 2017 to add complete UV support to the app. The service is sporadic, in that quite often it will completely refuse to stream a Sony movie for no reason whatsoever. Sony is slowly upgrading their movies to include Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio (previously the service only supported 2.0 or 5.1 multi-channel PCM audio streams). The service is often more frustrating than it is worth.

Published by

Todd Erwin

author,editor

18 Comments

  1. I have iTunes and Amazon through my AppleTV, and Vudu through my Oppo BD player.

    As far as actual quality goes, when it's the same master across the board, and streaming at 1080p, I find that the iTunes store versions look best on my displays – closest to watching a BD. Vudu is like a half step down – it's still very good but looks slightly flatter/duller by comparison. To my eyes, Amazon's service (now viewed through my AppleTV, previously viewed through a PS3/4) looks the worst. Sometimes there are visible compression artifacts but even when there's not, it seems a weaker image overall.

  2. I voted for Amazon because it's the one we have used the most since we started streaming, but I'm not sure I would classify it or any other service as a "favorite". Also, I use Amazon as more of a subscription-based service via my Prime membership, so I am not sure it qualifies based on you not including other subscription services like Netflix and Hulu.

    BTW, we have begun to use Hulu as much, if not more, than Amazon since getting a free subscription through Sprint last month.

  3. Massacre me if you must but I think this perfectly explains why today's streaming services cannot compete with physical media. I don't have the time or desire to sort through all of the possibilities with any particular streaming service. I want to order the disc and know I am getting what I paid for and that it cannot be [digitally] taken away from me.

  4. Definitely wouldn't massacre you 🙂

    The sales numbers that the Digital Bits and others have reported on from DEG (The Digital Entertainment Group) are showing an increase in overall home media spending from 2016 to 2017, but a decline of about 15% in physical media. So people are still spending money for content at home, but the method of delivery is changing. Bill Hunt's editorial offered an opinion that in the past, people had successfully transitioned from renting a physical disc to renting a stream, and that some are now transitioning towards buying a stream rather than buying a disc.

    I think that's probably an accurate read of the trend. Studios are certainly shifting to trying to make the digital-only version more appealing to a certain crowd. You can now get the streaming version 2-3 weeks before the disc version, which has to impact disc sales. The studios are also removing certain things from discs that made the disc version the most obviously attractive one to buy. For instance, I'm a 3D fan, and the streaming services never really nailed 3D streaming, so buying a disc was really the only way to get 3D content in a lot of cases. With the studios and manufacturers now discontinuing support for 3D, that's one less "disc exclusive" product. Many bonus features are now being offered on both the disc and the streaming version, and some studios are even hyping exclusive streaming bonuses which don't come on the disc, effectively penalizing the disc buying audience twice – first, by making them wait an addition 2-3 weeks after the streaming version is available, and then offering less content on the disc.

    I also think that as concerned as a lot of us here are about changing and disappearing services (a legitimate concern in my book), that may not be an issue for the average consumer. The average consumer probably isn't bouncing back and forth between a variety of services and devices. If the average consumer purchased an AppleTV and uses iTunes for movies, for instance, he's probably not too concerned about whether or not those purchases translate to a Roku device or Vudu account; he's probably just happy to be able to access them on the Apple TV and his other Apple devices. The same is probably true for people who have chosen Vudu as their purchase provider. I think that a Movies Anywhere or Ultraviolet type system that guarantees the purchase across multiple platforms and (in theory at least) in perpetuity is essential. But the average user might not even think about such things.

    So on one hand — I totally agree that streaming is not yet at the point of offering an experience that can truly equal or exceed what a disc has to offer. But on the other hand, the average customer may feel that it already does.

    Convenience always wins over quality among the mass audience, always, always, always.

  5. I guess I will reply to this thread only to explain why some may not be able to post their opinion

    I hate to sound like a broken/scratched record album, an audio CD with a bler or (In my case) a streaming service with under-powered bandwith as limited by my service provider.

    I should explain that the ISP used in my home is allegedly 100mps but in my case I have to use wi-fi to access it.

    My initial attempt at streaming was using the most cost effective Sony Crackle service (this was even referenced in a joke on SNL this last weekend as being the low-rent district of new content providers) Before the movie or show there is a two minute commercial and about every ten minutes there is another commercial.
    I've been told that their servers are slow but typically there would be a lot of buffering but as it was free I was able to watch shows that I wouldn't necessary pay for (eg a 3 stooges TV movie I missed on it's original run)

    I decided that as the mouse house was forcing me to join Movies Anywhere (nee Disney Movies Anywhere) that I would create an account and see what happened (I eventually created Vudu accounts as well as a free trial of Amazon Prime)

    Movies Anywhere does not play nice with Mozilla and only if the stars align correctly am I able to log into my account.

    Most of the movies I entered codes in and Disney Movie Rewards came through including the I-tunes extras that were exclusives at one time

    I attempted to watch Star Wars TFA on my computer It went through the opening crawl just fine but when I fast-forwarded about 20 minutes to see how the action scenes would work out with streaming … EPIC fail … loading for five minutes … I couldn't even get it to go back to the opening crawl

    Movies Anywhere Kewl Factor (for I-Tunes Extras:5 )
    Actual Functionality: 0

    Next up was Amazon Prime (Rib)

    I tried first to use a Sony Bluray player with the Amazon app on the device but Amazon didn't like my player which I realized I probably could enroll in Kindergarten (as it it around 5 years old)

    I decided to use a coupon Target sent to get a further discount of the SONY X800 UHD 4K bluray player as there were indications it could do a decent downscale of a UHD disc to 1080p -( It looked better that the Phillps player did)

    I was able successfully get the Amazon app to load the menu and talk to the Sony.

    I did a speed test through one of the other services and it said my recommend viewing resolution was 4K so at least they thought I was made in the shade for some at least 1080p loveliness. (Amazon may have a similar one and the amazon browser is so wonky I don't even want to know – besides I'm not a Prime Member anymore (when I cancelled the service Amazon offered a standalone streaming service for about $8 in declined for the following:) …)

    I attempted to watch an episode of "The Handmaid's Tale" but the Amazon app would not let me at least temporarily own me this one as it buffered and buffered and finally 10 minutes later gave me an error message and gave up. At this point I gave up on Amazon Prime (they're ribbing me) Video.

    Amazon Kewl factor: 3 nice work if u can get it
    Functionality: 0

    Vudu
    I used one of the "expired" codes from one of my Black Friday bluray deals to create a Vudu account (which I successfully linked to my Movies Anywhere account (along with Amazon) as of last check even though I am not an Amazon Prime member the "Free" movies are still in my account (I have the discs for all of them ;()
    I attempted to watch the Jersey Boys on the computer bluray = 1080p and it appeared to play (about five minutes) with an minimal amount of buffering but this would not be my preferred method of viewing films as there were a lot of artifacts (similar to what I experienced with Crackle).

    The Vudu sight is geared to you "buying" or "renting" movies from them and they IMHO make it difficult to find the movies you "only" put in a code for …

    Vudu Kewl Factor: 3 (once you find the movies you have entered codes for …)
    Functionality 3 (subject to change)

    This is my experience – your mileage may vary do not back up as severe tire damage may result I did not vote in the poll …

  6. B-ROLL

    The Vudu site is geared to you "buying" or "renting" movies from them and they IMHO made it difficult to find the movies you "only" put in a code for …

    Vudu Kewl Factor: 3 (once you find the movies you have entered codes for …)
    Functionality 3 (subject to change)

    This is my experience – your mileage may vary do not back up as severe tire damage may result I did not vote in the poll …

    There is a tab on Vudu (and on their app) to show what you have in your Vudu library, so I'm not quite understanding what you are saying….

    View attachment 43353

  7. Need a "none of the above". 🙂 Or perhaps, I don't use non-subscription streaming services. We use Amazon Prime video mostly for movies, which I think is different from Amazon Instant Video (which I used to use before I joined Prime).

    I have a couple dozen movies in the iTunes / VUDU / MA menagerie. But I haven't uses those services to watch anything yet.

  8. Todd Erwin

    There is a tab on Vudu (and on their app) to show what you have in your Vudu library, so I'm not quite understanding what you are saying….

    View attachment 43353

    I guest I'm too stoopid to figure out that my movies I input codes for wouldn't be under "My Movies" but under "My Vudu";) – and after a while I figured it out …

  9. Josh Steinberg

    Definitely wouldn't massacre you 🙂

    LOL – Thanks for that as I'm well aware my opinion is approaching minority status. I don't doubt your research or conclusions. Still, no matter how much progress streaming services make or how many incentives they offer, the fact remains, with a single line of code all bets and promises can be forsaken. Also, even on their best day, any streaming service's quality can be compromised. The streaming provider will blame it on your ISP and the ISP [if you can even get to them] will blame it on the "Internet." For the most part, a disc will always be a disc if properly cared for.

    But I know you and others are probably ultimately correct as the studios, and everyone else in the mainstream food chain, must appeal to the masses in order to survive. By definition the masses never understand or care about the finer points which is why they usually pay more and receive less than those who do. "Ignorance is bliss," but this is an enthusiast community so I would hope we wouldn't go so quietly, even though we may eventually have to go. I don't like the term "Joe six pack" [since beer is awesome and should never be denigrated] but we all know what it really means.

  10. John Dirk

    I don't like the term "Joe six pack" [since beer is awesome and should never be denigrated] but we all know what it really means.

    That is the laugh line of the day 😀

    I do wonder about people like us who specifically collect movies, and look for specific titles rather than just "watching a movie". I've come to learn (or re-learn, actually) that most people are just happy to watch "a movie" and care less about having a specific title at a specific time. Which strikes me as totally strange, but what do I know? 🙂

  11. Josh Steinberg

    …most people are just happy to watch "a movie" and care less about having a specific title at a specific time. Which strikes me as totally strange, but what do I know? 🙂

    Absolutely. My wife falls into that category which is why I have yet to experience a critical viewing of Bladerunner 2049 in our theater room. Never mind the thousands of dollars invested, she preferred watching it on the bedroom set and wouldn't even understand any discussions about the trade off in quality or overall experience. The masses will always control corporate policy, I suppose, and it will always be to the detriment of us purists. Thank God I have hundreds of discs to watch and rewatch!

  12. John Dirk

    Absolutely. My wife falls into that category which is why I have yet to experience a critical viewing of Bladerunner 2049 in our theater room. Never mind the thousands of dollars invested, she preferred watching it on the bedroom set and wouldn't even understand any discussions about the trade off in quality or overall experience. The masses will always control corporate policy, I suppose, and it will always be to the detriment of us purists. Thank God I have hundreds of discs to watch and rewatch!

    Ditto, here. When we were still living in Southern California, quite often I'd suggest we see a "classic" movie at the local multiplex during one of their "retro" nights, and just about every time the response would be "Don't we have that in our library? Why go out when we can watch it for free at home." Never mind the idea of seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark or Casablanca on a 50-foot or larger screen….

  13. Todd Erwin

    Ditto, here. When we were still living in Southern California, quite often I'd suggest we see a "classic" movie at the local multiplex during one of their "retro" nights, and just about every time the response would be "Don't we have that in our library? Why go out when we can watch it for free at home." Never mind the idea of seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark or Casablanca on a 50-foot or larger screen….

    I never tell my wife the specifics of our library. Plausible deniability. 🙂

  14. Todd Erwin

    [​IMG]
    Google Play Movies

    Google has been trying to lure more people to use their service by becoming a Movies Anywhere retail partner and making itself available not only on Android devices but also a growing number of smart TVs and other devices. Like many of its competitors, Google Play Movies has a very large library of movies and TV shows available, and is constantly running promotions on low-cost purchases and rentals. The service began offering movies in 4K last year.

    Pros:

    • Available on every Android device, plus a growing number of smart TVs and set-top devices.
    • Movies Anywhere retail partner.
    • Growing number of UHD titles.
    • UHD support on most UHD devices.
    • Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra support.

    Cons:

    • Not available on Apple TV and iOS devices
    • No UltraViolet Support

    Another Pro (imo) for Google Play is that their titles can be watched via YouTube. (Isn't there a YouTube app for Apple TV/IOS devices?)

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