Finding the best home movie service

September 21, 2012 4:26:25 PM PDT
Planning a night at the movies? It turns out most people don't want to go to the theater. Millions of people are streaming video from the internet directly to their TVs, computers or tablets.

Lynn Samaha used to rent movies from a local store, but she never managed to return them on time.

She said, "I was getting killed with late fees, just the whole back and forth. Netflix has simplified my life tremendously."

In fact, Netflix is by far the most used video-streaming service in a recent poll of Consumer Reports online readers. More than 80 percent of those who streamed video had used Netflix in the previous month.

But while users liked the convenience of Netflix, Consumer Reports' Jim Willcox says many of those polled were not satisfied with the service overall.

"The selection of movies is a real problem for Netflix, especially with newer releases," Willcox said. "People that we polled have said that that's also true of other subscription services, like Amazon Prime or Hulu Plus."

For a better selection, those surveyed preferred pay-per-view services that charge for each title. The best of the bunch -- Vudu, iTunes and Amazon instant video.

"But pay-per-view can get expensive," Willcox said. "New movies cost about four or five dollars each to watch, and that can really add up if you're a family that watches a lot of movies each month."

For free content, Hulu.com was a hit. It lets you stream TV shows as well as movies, but only on a computer.

Willcox explained, "If you want to watch on your TV or a tablet, you'll need a Hulu Plus subscription, which costs about eight dollars a month -- the same as Netflix."

Interestingly, though, Consumer Reports found plenty of people still prefer to rent discs. Netflix was one of the best for selection. And for low prices, the Redbox video kiosks were a favorite.

If you want to stream video to your TV and it doesn't have internet capability, you need a device to get online access. Consumer Reports recommends a set-top box like an Apple TV or a Roku 2. They work with just about any LCD or plasma TV and go for about $100.


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