We compare Netflix, Amazon, Sky, Wuki, TalkTalk TV(Blinkbox), Google Play and iTunes
The days of requiring an aerial or satellite dish to sate your TV and movie-watching needs are long gone. Fast broadband connections have opened up a whole new way of getting content, spawning a plethora of streaming services. But which one is best?
Not all streaming services are created equally. A lot have overlapping libraries, but many vary wildly in price, quality and availability on the devices you use.
Price: £5.99 – £8.99 a month
Perhaps the juggernaut of the contenders here is Netflix, which started as a US DVD rental firm and morphed into a global streaming service.
Prices range from £6 to £9 based on how many screens you want to watch at the same time, as well as the resolution of the stream, which hits 4K at the top end as long as your internet connection and devices can handle it.
Netflix’s strength is its cross-platform support and streaming quality, which far surpasses most other services. There’s an app or way to stream Netflix on pretty much any device available, although some older smart TVs are the exception. Netflix is a streaming only service, however, which means you can’t download shows or movies for offline viewing.
The company’s content catalogue varies by country. In the UK, it is relatively small with 3,000 movies available according to data from streaming search service Unogs. Netflix has a few big name new TV shows backed only by older or less popular shows. Movies typically appear several months after they are available on pay TV. Its US library is much more extensive.
Netflix-made or exclusive TV shows, including House of Cards, Jessica Jones, and Orange is the New Black, have proven popular.
Verdict: best cross-platform support and streaming quality, library in the UK is relatively small
Amazon Prime Instant Video
Price: £6 a month or part of Amazon’s £79 a year Prime subscription
Amazon’s video streaming service also varies by country. Its library is different in the UK compared to the US, for instance, but it combines a subscription service with a movie and TV show rental or buying service.
For those who subscribe to Amazon’s Prime service, users get access to a subset of movies and TV shows that often includes the first couple of seasons of a TV. The following seasons are then available for an additional fee. Its movie selection has several streaming exclusives, but as with Netflix they often take a while to appear. The UK library of popular shows is different in content but comparable in size to Netflix. Highlights include Mr Robot, Alpha House and Transparent.
Amazon supports streaming via several consoles, its own Fire TV and tablet devices, iOS devices and in-browser support. TV shows and movies can be stored for offline viewing on iOS devices. Support for Android devices not made by Amazon is poor, requiring a multi-step process to install the Amazon Video app through the Amazon Underground store, which must be downloaded from Amazon’s website as it is not available in the Google Play store.
Streaming quality is similar to Netflix and will stretch up to 4K with Amazon’s Fire TV box.
Verdict: a decent streaming subscription, with additional pay-for options making it the most comprehensive service
Sky Now TV
Price: Movies £9.99 (month), Entertainment £6.99 (month), Sports £6.99 (day), £10.99 (week), month (£31.99)
Sky’s Now TV is subdivided into three separate services: Sport, Entertainment and Movies. Each gives you streaming access to Sky’s live channels, on-demand content and catchup.
Entertainment includes Sky’s traditional channels and some others that are not available on Freeview, as well as a fairly large collection of box set television shows, including current hit TV shows. Movies includes Sky movies and roughly 1,000 movies for on-demand viewing, including many that appear well before they do on other subscription services. Sport provides live access to seven Sky Sports channels.
The TV and Movie packages have the largest range of current and new shows and films, but they readily expire from the service, later appearing on other streaming providers such as Netflix. Now TV’s advantage is getting them first for a subscription service, often only weeks after being available for purchase on Blu-ray or DVD.
Now TV’s sports offering is almost unique in providing live streaming access to premium sport, with only BT Sport providing similar.
The quality of the streaming, while HD, isn’t quite as good as Netflix or Amazon and does not support 4K streaming. It is particularly apparent with sport, as the frame rate is noticeably poorer than traditional broadcast.
Sky’s support of devices is relatively good, with decent Android, iOS and console apps, support for Roku, some of LG’s smart TVs and computers using Microsoft’s Silverlight. But its support isn’t quite as diverse as Netflix.
Verdict: expensive, but has content you either can’t get or gets way before other subscription services
Entertainment **** Movies **** Sports ****
Price: rent from 99p, buy from £5.99
As well as Now TV and Sky Go, which is only available as part of a satellite subscription, Sky also has a separate movie rental and purchase service called Sky Store. It’s just for movies, but includes about 1,000 movies with a solid selection that appear around the same time as the films are released on Blu-ray and DVD.
Movies bought through Sky Store give the user access to an HD stream of the movie, plus a DVD sent to their home in the post. Rentals are in SD-only and start at 99p. Movies can be watched through a variety of tablets, computers and streaming boxes, but the quality varies. The highest 1080i resolution HD video can only be watched with Sky’s +HD boxes, leaving YouView, Roku, Now TV boxes and tablets left to 720p. Macs and Windows Vista or older computers can only view SD content.
Verdict: good for movies you want to buy digitally with a DVD, but is often lower quality than rivals on some devices
Price: from £3.49
Formerly known as Blinkbox, TalkTalk TV store is a pay-per-view TV and movie rental and digital purchase store. Unlike some of the others, there is no subscription option.
The library of new movies and TV shows is quite extensive, with the latest TV shows such as Marvel’s Agents of Shield appearing often only hours after being aired on TV.
Rented or purchased content can be watched on Android, iOS and Windows tablets and smartphones, Google’s Chromecast, computers, consoles except the PS4, a couple of Blu-ray players and handful of smart TVs. The smartphone and tablet apps can also download content for offline viewing.
Users have the option of streaming in standard definition or in HD for more money, although it is only in 720p and with stereo audio, not Dolby Digital Plus surround sound.
Verdict: a solid library of new and popular ad-hoc rentals and purchases with good multi-platform support, but no 5.1 or 1080p
Price: rental from £1.89, purchase from £4.99
Another pay-as-you-watch store, Wuaki is based in Spain and is run by Japanese retail firm Rakuten and offers a similar collection of recently-released TV shows and movies for rental or purchase to the other ad-hoc services.
Device support is solid, covering a similar range of devices as TalkTalk TV store, including Chromecast, Xbox, iOS, Android EE TV, computers and some smart TVs, with the obvious exceptions being the PS3 and 4.
You can download content for offline viewing on tablets and smartphone, but HD content can’t be played via the website, smartphone or tablet apps. Streaming via a Chromecast was rock solid and looked pretty good, but was only available with stereo sound.
There is also a selection of free content available from Viki, which is labeled as “global TV from Asia and more”, and a few free movies such as John Travolta’s The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.
Verdict: a decent option for renting recently released movies and TV if you don’t have a home cinema set up
Price: from £1.89
Google’s movie and TV store is built into the same shop at its app, music and books for Android and other devices. Play Movies and TV operates in a similar manner to TalkTalk TV store, with pay-as-you watch offers for rental or buy.
It has a similar library, with a lot of the most up to date movies and TV shows appearing before other services. It has solid integration into Android, as you would expect, but also supports Roku boxes, computers, Chromecast, Android TV, Apple’s iPad and iPhone and others.
Streaming quality is excellent up to 1080p, while movies and TV shows can be downloaded to smartphones and tablets for offline viewing.
Verdict: cheaper, with 5.1 sound and in better quality than some pay-per-view rivals but with support for fewer devices
Price: from £1.89 (SD), £2.49 (HD)
Apple’s media store built into iTunes was one of the first available and is still one of the best stocked. TV shows and movies arrive at about the same time as Google Play and other pay-per-view services. There’s no subscription offerings, but you can buy or rent most of the latest releases as well as much older stuff.
Device support is limited to Apple devices and software, including the iPad, iPhone, Apple TV and computers with iTunes installed. TV shows and movies can be downloaded for offline viewing, and are available in 1080p with Dolby 5.1 surround sound.
Verdict: great high-quality buy and rental library but with limited (Apple-only) device support
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010