7 Ways to Stream Movies and TV Shows to Your Smartphone or Tablet

More sophisticated mobile devices, smarter apps and faster wireless networks are finally delivering on the promise of anytime, anywhere movies and TV shows. As a result, dozens of providers – from independent distributors to cable operators – are falling over themselves to bring us the latest and greatest in box office entertainment.

But with so much choice, there is often confusion. Some providers offer subscription services, some offer one-time rental or purchase options, and some offer a mixture of both. Here’s a look at 7 of the major players in this increasingly crowded marketplace, breaking down their offerings by price, selection, ease of use, and more.

  • Netflix

    netflix-logoOne of the originals – and still the biggest with more than 50 million subscribers in over 40 countries – Netflix offers unlimited movies and TV episodes streamed over the Internet for $7.99 a month. You can watch on your TV, Xbox 360, PS3, computer, or any other device that has Wi-Fi or cellular access and a Netflix app. After taking some heat a couple of years ago for splitting their streaming and DVD rental service (an additional $7.99 a month), Netflix has bounced back nicely with simplified pricing and no long-term commitment. Although you may not find the most recent movies and TV shows, Netflix makes up for that with a vast catalog and easy-to-navigate web site and apps. You can also get a free one-month trial.

  • Amazon Prime

    amazon-primeAmazon has over 150,000 movies and TV shows to rent or buy through its Instant Video Service, or you can sign up for Amazon Prime membership ($99 a year) and stream thousands of movies and TV shows at no extra cost. For non-prime members, rentals start as low as $1.99 and they have regular ‘awards’ sales where you can buy movies for a little as $5.99. Typical pricing for more recent titles would be around the $3.99/$14.99 mark. Some HD titles are restricted to compatible TV devices (like the Roku box) and the Kindle Fire HD. Amazon Prime membership also gets you free 2-day shipping on all Amazon store purchases, as well as free books from the Kindle Owners Lending Library. There is a 30-day free trial.

  • iTunes

    itunes-logoBoasting a truly impressive selection of current hit movies and TV shows, Apple’s iTunes Store allows you to rent or buy shows for your computer (including PCs via a download), iPad or iPhone. If you rent, you have 30 days to start watching and 24 hours to finish it from the time you click play. There are plenty of HD movies to choose from, although some recent titles are expensive to buy – as much as $17.99. The iTunes Store recently underwent a makeover, bringing some much-needed order to what was a very crowded presentation.

  • Google Play

    google-play-logoCatering to PCs and Android devices, Google Play offers an excellent selection of movies and TV shows to rent (stream) or buy. The clean layout of Google Play offers a choice top-rated movies and shows, along with staff picks, free TV shows, and recent releases. Movie and TV show descriptions offer a synopsis, full cast details, along with separate sections for viewer and critic reviews. Rental terms are the same as iTunes: 30 days to start; 24 hours to complete once you hit play. Most recent rentals are in the $3.99- $4.99 range, with purchase options at $14.99.

  • YouTube

    youtube-logoAlthough not known as a destination for streaming or downloading movies and TV shows, you can nevertheless get pretty much the same selection as Google Play on YouTube. Types of movies and TV shows are subdivided into different channels, so you can subscribe and have them linked to your YouTube home page. All movies and TV shows include a short description, cast and crew details, and reviews courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes. Rental terms are the same as Google Play but the YouTube app has the added advantage of playing nice with iOS devices.

  • Hulu Plus

    hulu-plus-logoIf watching TV shows on-the-go is your thing, then Hulu Plus is the streaming service for you. Compatible with TVs, gaming consoles, computers, Apple and Android mobile devices, and even the Kindle Fire and Nook, Hulu Plus has an impressive selection of all the most popular TV shows and hundreds that you missed first time around or you’ve never heard of. There are complete seasons, behind the scenes clips, interviews with the stars, and much more. The service costs $7.99 a month for unlimited streaming (with a limited amount of advertising) and you can sign up for a one week free trial. There’s no long term commitment and you can cancel at any time.

  • Vudu

    VUDU_HD_Movies_200Vudu is Walmart’s pay-per-content store. It’s a hodgepodge of movies and TV shows, but overall the content veers toward more feature-length movies. It does a good job offering new releases at around the same time that they come out on DVD. Digital rentals typically start around $3.99, and go up from there depending on the video and audio quality you want. 1080p movies with Dolby Digital Plus surround usually go for $5.99.

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