Best Movie Streaming Services: The Verdict

Netflix vs Amazon Prime Instant Video vs Blinkbox vs Now TV

Stepping into a physical media retailer these days feels almost quaint. All those rows of DVD movies and box-sets. Who still buys these things?

Plenty of people do, of course, and for high-quality 1080p content you still can’t beat a good Blu-ray. But when it comes to picking a film to idly watch on a quiet Friday night in, more and more people are choosing to stream.

There are are loads of movie streaming services out there, but we thought we’d round up and compare four of the most popular ones…

Netflix: The pioneering standalone streaming service that started in the US before making its way over here, offering subscription-based access to movies and TV shows. In recent years, Netflix has started investing in high-quality unique programming, such as headline shows House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black.

Amazon Prime Instant Video: Amazon’s own Netflix rival had to play catch-up, but the retail giant’s enormous resources have helped it to take giant strides over the past year or two. Like Netflix, it’s even started creating its own unique content, including taking over the Ripper Street franchise from the BBC.

Blinkbox: Blinkbox is a fairly traditional movie and TV show rental service that’s most notable for the fact that it’s owned by the Tesco supermarket chain, and thus finds itself pushed into a huge number of UK homes. With that retail clout behind it, Blinkbox also tends to score a couple of notable exclusives and firsts.

Now TV: This marks Sky’s laudable (if arguably belated) attempt to broaden out from its pricey and dauntingly long-term contracts. Now TV essentially splits the Sky offering up into its constituent parts, and offers them individually as affordable monthly subscriptions.

Best Movie Streaming Service – Pricing

Netflix: £5.99 (SD and one screen), £6.99 (HD and two screens), £8.99 (HD and four screens) per month
Amazon Prime Instant Video: £5.99 per month or free for Prime subscribers
Blinkbox: £3.49/£4.49 per new movie rental (SD/HD), £9.99/£13.99 per new movie purchase (SD/HD)
Now TV: £9.99 (Sky Movies Month Pass), £6.99 (Entertainment Month Pass) per month

Pricing varies quite a lot across these four services, and that’s because the structure of the offerings differs quite dramatically.

For Netflix, prices start from £5.99 per month for unlimited streaming, but we wouldn’t recommend this to anyone. The reason for that is that it’s only in standard definition, so movies and TV shows will look pretty rough around the edges on any reasonably modern TV.

Far better to pay just a pound extra each month to secure HD content, as well as the ability to play that content on two devices simultaneously. The highest tier, £8.99, gets you four screens simultaneously, which may be best for families. It seems this will also be the home of 4K/UHD content in future.

Amazon Prime Instant Video is possibly the best-value package here, overall, and also the most flexible. If you’re already an Amazon Prime subscriber, which entails paying £79 per year for various benefits, then you’ll already have access to this service at no additional charge.

If not, then you can subscribe for just £5.99 per month, which includes HD content. It’s also possible to simply rent or purchase content directly, like you can with Blinkbox.

Speaking of which, Blinkbox is the one service on here that enforces the old rental and purchase route. New rentals tend to cost £3.49 for standard definition and £4.49 for high definition, while buying the content outright costs £9.99 or £13.99.

Older films drop in price by a pound or two each, and Blinkbox is good at promoting a number of cut-price offers on films, with frequent 99p specials.

There’s also the added incentive of Tesco Clubcard points. Yes, this only offers one point per pound spent on Blinkbox, but as the famous supermarket ad says, every little helps. I forget which one said that now. It’ll come to me.

Now TV is different again, essentially offering you access to all of the Sky Movies channels and their on-demand content for £9.99 per month. There’s no additional premium for HD content.

At first glance it seems pricier than the other two subscription services for less content – you don’t get any TV with this, remember – but as we’ll go on to see, the films that are on offer are far more recent.


Best Movie Streaming Service – Platform support

Netflix: Web browser, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Virgin Media TiVo, Roku, Smart TVs and Blu-ray players
Amazon Prime Instant Video: Web browser, iOS, Android, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Smart TVs and Blu-ray players
Blinkbox: Web brower, tablets, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, Smart TVs, Blu-ray players, some set-top boxes
Now TV: Web browser, iOS, Android, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, Roku, Apple TV, YouView, LG Smart TVs

Platform support across all four services is strong – that’s why they’re among the best and most popular at what they do. However, Netflix appears to be out there ahead.

Chances are, if you have any kind of web-connected device in your house, it’ll run Netflix through a compatible app – unless you’re accessing through your computer, in which case the service runs on a web browser.

All of the home games consoles, smartphone platforms (even Windows Phone), and pretty much every Smart TV has a Netflix app. Virgin Media TiVo boxes even integrate it into your setup like it’s a channel, and BT has recently announced that it’s following suit with its YouView boxes.

Amazon Prime Instant Video has a similar level of support to Netflix, with a few notable omissions, such as Windows Phone, and its Smart TV integration isn’t as deep or extensive.

Of course, you do get unprecedented support on Amazon Fire tablets and the Amazon Fire Phone, but we’re not sure that’s too much of a brag, given their generally underwhelming nature. Of course, the Amazon Fire TV box is much more impressive, so if you’ve taken the plunge here the tight Instant Video integration – complete with blissful voice search capabilities – will be a massive incentive to opt in. Although you’ve probably opted for it already through a Prime membership, right?

In terms of platform support, Now TV has the unique benefit of having a standalone dedicated Now TV box available to purchase. Sure, you could say that Amazon does, too, but the Amazon Fire TV is more of a general-purpose living room tool, and at £80 it’s also much more of an investment. At just £9.99, the Now TV box is firmly in impulse-buy territory.

Even if you don’t want an extra box under your TV, Now TV’s Sky Movies Month Pass device support is fairly wide, if far from comprehensive. There’s a strong browser-based utility if you want to use your computer, and there are solid mobile apps for iOS and Android, but again no Windows Phone. Smart TV support is limited to LG’s range, although both the popular little Roku box and Apple TV are compatible. There’s limited support for YouView boxes, though the service’s Live Movies and some on-demand films are unavailable.

As for home consoles, the PS4 and Xbox One are supported, as well as their predecessors the PS3 and Xbox 360, but neither the Wii U or the Wii have a Now TV app to call their own.

Blinkbox platform support is strong in certain areas, but there are some notable and truly curious omissions. Like the others, you can watch through a web browser on your computer, but there’s absolutely no smartphone support. No iPhone, no Android, no Windows Phone.

Instead, Blinkbox only offers iPad and Android tablet compatibility. You might think that watching films on a phone is a bit silly, and we’d agree that it’s far from an optimal experience. But the option would be nice, especially now that both leading smartphone platforms feature devices of near-tablet proportions, in the form of the iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Google Nexus 6, to name just a few.

Another snag is Blinkbox’s meagre console support. It only incorporates Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PS3 – you can’t use Blinkbox through the PS4 as yet. That’s a massive oversight given that Sony’s is the most popular current-gen console out there. Neither the Wii U nor the Wii are supported, either.

Smart TV support is stronger on Blinkbox than Now TV, though, with Samsung, Philips, and Toshiba joining LG on the roster. Some LG and Samsung Blu-ray players are also supported, as are set-top boxes from LG, Technika and Philips, as well as Google’s Chromecast dongle.


Best Movie Streaming Service – Ease of Use

Suffice to say, Netflix got where it is today through ease of use. Regardless of platform, getting in and starting up a film or TV program is ridiculously easy, with a chunky artwork-heavy interface built to operate on even the most rudimentary remote control, and recently watched content pushed to the top, right where you left off.

As a result, it can be tricky to find something specific to watch. There’s no A-Z listing, and the featured categories seem to crop up in a random order – although they’re partially determined by your recent watching habits.

This can occasionally see the all-important New Additions section going missing altogether.

There’s a decent search function here that, if it can’t find the film you’re after – which is likely, given the limited selection – will at least be aware of that film and will recommend similar alternatives. It’s a bit of a pig navigating this search function with a TV remote, though, so we’d recommend pairing up the mobile app and using your phone’s keyboard wherever possible, such as through Smart TVs and consoles.

We also like the profile system, which means you can get personalised recommendations and watch lists for multiple users in the household. It also enables you to jump straight into a kid-friendly profile, omitting any undesirable content for young eyes.

As a user experience, Amazon’s service is a bit of a mixed bag. Through a web browser, it’s tightly integrated into Amazon as a whole. This gives it a slightly messier, less distinctive feel than Netflix.

Take to the apps, however, and it feels quite similar to Netflix, with a similar simplified grid approach and chunky banner art in place of a comprehensive list of content. Recently watched and interrupted content is pushed to the top for you to continue watching, regardless of platform.

We actually found Amazon’s categories a little more useful than Netflix’s, with handy examples such as ‘Exclusive Movies’ doing a better job of highlighting what we might want to watch – particularly in a household where multiple streaming services are used.

One notable omission, by comparison, is the lack of a profile feature, so families will be stuck with a single set of recommendations. It could also do with an option to filter out content not available through the Instant Video service, as it’s more of a frustration when you can’t watch something than it is a tempter to rent or buy it.

It’s not completely dissimilar to Netflix, then, but Amazon Prime Instant Video is less pretty and lacking in some features, but generally better for content discovery.

The general experience of browsing and playing content through Now TV’s apps and services is an excellent one. The initial view is ostensibly similar to Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video, but the potential for drilling down and refining your search is arguably better.

Priority is given to fresh content, with large banner artwork along the top of any app or web browser, while currently popular films are listed below. The fact that the next category is Superheroes shows that Sky has its finger on the blockbuster pulse.

Beyond that, Sky takes the rather more traditional approach of offering sidebar menus packed full of categories and shortcuts to its various sections. This includes a great Live Movies feature which shows you what’s playing on its live channels at any time, and lets you jump in and watch them, offering a pleasant mix of the new and the traditional.

The Blinkbox browsing experience has to be the worst of the four overall. The core browser experience is okay, with a generous spread of new and featured movies presented on the main page, and a gently branching array of options for films and TV shows, then genres and latest/bestselling.

There’s also the ability to filter out films that are only available to buy – there’s nothing more annoying than seeing a big new film featured on the main page, only to find that it’s not yet available to rent.

It’s a good job the browser is at least functional, because if you wanted to actually browse and purchase or rent content from the Blinkbox Movie tablet app, you’d be out of luck. It’s purely there to play the content you’ve already bought or rented.

All in all, Tesco has a lot of work to do to make Blinkbox as pleasant and easy to use as it needs to be.

Now TV

Best Movie Streaming Service – Catalogue

Netflix: 3000 movies and TV shows.
Amazon Prime Instant Video: 15,000 movies and TV shows
Blinkbox: 6700 movies and TV shows
Now TV: Over 800 movies, 16 new premieres every month

While Netflix in the UK is a very slick service in many ways, it has one particularly glaring weakness – it has relatively little content.

US users will argue that this is part of the deal – you pay a low rate for a limited but constantly shifting library of older films, a few notable newer ones, some top TV shows, and some original content.

This is true, but even compared to the US Netflix, the UK version is sorely lacking. It’s difficult to pin exact numbers down, but it seems that UK Netflix has less than half the number of titles of the US service – and much less than half at that.

Then there’s Netflix’s annoying habit of removing movies and TV shows without warning. One day you’re watching a movie, the next it’s not available to finish.

As a movie service, Netflix isn’t that great. When it comes to the timeliness of its movie releases, it’s prioritised behind Blu-ray and DVD rentals, and even behind Sky’s movie channels.

However, it’s recently started investing in fresh movie content, with the recent announcement that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend would appear on Netflix and the cinema simultaneously.

Don’t let Amazon Prime Instant Video’s seemingly greater number of movies fool you – it too has a similar low-priority release schedule to Netflix. Of course, what it has in addition is the rental and purchase side of things mixed in.

Amazon does still seem to have a slight edge on range of films overall, but both tend to have their share of movies that the other doesn’t. For example, one of Amazon’s latest releases at the time of writing was the second-tier 2014 Liam Neeson vehicle Non-Stop, while Netflix had Harrison Ford’s sci-fi blockbuster Ender’s Game.

Of course, if you lump in the original box-set content, which these days has a certain filmic quality to it, Netflix fights right back. It’s got things like House of Cards, the fourth series of Arrested Development, Orange Is the New Black, and more in the pipeline.

Amazon, for its part, has it own original content in the likes of Betas and Alpha House.

Of course, if you’re serious about your movies, you’ll be wanting one of the other two services. Because it’s a more traditional rental and outright purchasing service, Blinkbox has the most current roster of films of the lot.

As Blinkbox itself puts it, you can “watch the newest blockbusters months or even years before they become available as part of subscription services.” We’re not sure about the “years” bit, but we’ll certainly go with “months”.

At the time of writing, its new section had Godzilla to rent, which only hit cinemas in May 2014. Meanwhile, it has the not inconsiderable incentive of having exclusive dibs on the latest Game of Thrones series, which many a staunch cinemaphile will be attracted to.

Now TV sits somewhere between Netflix and Blinkbox in terms of the freshness of its movie offering.

As anyone who’s ever had a Sky Movies subscription will know, the service doesn’t sit too far behind DVD and download rentals in release schedule priority terms. However, you’re still limited as to the sheer number of films available. While they relatively current, there isn’t a vast catalogue of movies here as there is on the other services.

When we checked, the latest addition was Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom, which hit UK cinemas in January 2014. Interestingly, it was only available to purchase on Blinkbox, so there are clearly still battles for exclusivity being fought out by all of these four titans, despite their varying approaches.


Best Movie Streaming Service – Streaming Quality

Curiously, while Now TV and Blinkbox have the libraries and fresh content to appeal to movie nuts, they lag behind Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video on the quality of their streaming technology.

While Netflix and Amazon both offer solid 1080p streaming with 5.1 surround sound, both Now TV and Blinkbox max out at 720p with stereo sound.

Blinkbox’s device support is the worst of the lot. It only just added 720p support to its iPad app, and the PS3 and many Smart TVs continue to lack it altogether.

In terms of the two Full HD services, Netflix has the best, most consistent offering by some stretch. Amazon can match it through a web browser and some devices, but most devices – including mobiles and tablets – seem to only allow for 720p streaming.

Watching the opening minutes of Pixar’s Brave on the Amazon and Netflix iPad apps, the difference in quality is like night and day.

Which is the best movie streaming service?

These are four of the most popular movie streaming services in the UK, and they all have very different approaches and clear strengths and weaknesses.

Netflix is fast becoming shorthand for video subscription services in much the same way as Skype was for video calling, and is the slickest service by some stretch. It has a peerlessly intuitive UI, plus the best all-round platform support and streaming quality.

However, it’s badly lacking in the sheer range of content, meaning it’s simply not enough as a primary movie service. With a low price and some stellar original content, however, we’d advise it as a secondary service in addition to one of the others.

Now TV is a very compelling movie service that offers a limited but high-quality and timely catalogue of films for a reasonable £9.99 per month. If you love Sky Movies, but don’t want to sign up for all the guff that comes with a full Sky subscription, it’s a worthwhile option.

Blinkbox is a strange one. As a simple rental and ownership service it has the best range of new films of the four. Yet it’s our least favourite of these services to use, and the viewing experience is by far the worst overall.

And so it’s Amazon Prime Instant Video that’s the most complete service of the lot. Admittedly, it’s not the best at any one thing, but it does a lot of things well. It offers a Netflix-like subscription service complete with original content and reasonable device support, as well as giving the option of individual movie rentals and purchases in the same way as Blinkbox.

If you only choose one of these for services, Amazon Prime Instant Video is the one. Otherwise, there’s never been a stronger case for splashing out on two or more.

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