Published July 28, 2011
Unlimited channels and everything's on?
No wonder Americans streamed more than 15 billion videos online in May, according to new numbers from Nielsen. It's also no surprise given the dramatic increase in services available. With retail giants like Wal-Mart and Blockbuster joining popular online services from Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, consumers have never had more streaming video options.
In fact, there are so many that the market may seem confusing. Here's a quick guide.
Amazon Prime ($79 per year):
Amazon's new Prime streaming service just announced access to NBC videos, in addition to the new CBS library, bringing the total number of videos available to more than 9,000. The service costs $79 annually for unlimited access to all those shows and movies, and has gotten decent reviews. Don't let the price scare you.
"Ultimately Prime Instant Videos is actually quite good," wrote Engadget in a February review -- while noting that the quality isn't as good as that from Netflix. If that's too much, the Amazon Instant Video service lets you rent individual movies at reasonable prices ($1 to $4 for SD; $2 to $5 for HD), with access to more than 90,000 videos -- a whopping selection.
BestBuy / CinemaNow ($1.99 - $3.99 per video)
BestBuy bought the CinemaNow streaming service in 2009 to offer up the 14,000 available titles. The company offers no monthly subscription , but those many movies and TV shows are available for as little as $1.99 -- though add a buck for high definition.
The site has fallen by the wayside however, while Hulu, Netflix and others have soared in popularity. If the company's plans to embed the service in DVD players and TVs takes off, it could make a comeback.
Blockbuster on Demand ($2.99 - $3.99 per video):
Netflix customers are fuming over recent price hikes, and Blockbuster has the solution -- free 30-day accounts for irate users looking for something new. The service offers more than 10,000 video titles at $2.99 to $3.99, as well access to video games for all the major platforms.
Blockbuster says it will have several new releases well ahead of Netflix and Redbox, and the service has received generally favorable reviews -- though there's one big caveat: No HD, at least not yet. But if you're into video games, the option to rent those as well is compelling.
Hulu Plus ($7.99 per month):
Offering a wealth of TV shows, including full seasons and full series, as well as access to movies, the Hulu streaming service is wildly popular among TV fans -- probably because it's free. Hulu Plus offers a deeper catalog of videos and content at a higher resolution, 720p format for $7.99 a month.
Subscriptions aren't publicly available to the newly released service yet, and paying subscribers have to deal with just as many ads as everyone else. The experience is great on an iPhone, PCMag.com recently noted -- but "if deep content is your main concern, however, Netflix gives you a better variety of content … for a dollar less without commercials," the site noted.
Netflix ($8 per month):
The granddaddy of streaming video may have turned off as many as 2.5 million users with the recent news that prices would go up as much as 60%. Netflix plans to charge $16 a month for services that used to cost $10 a month when bundled together, for example. It's still charging $8 a month for streaming, which it launched late last year.
Price increases aside, Netflix is still the giant in the space, with 22.8 million subscribers in the U.S as of March -- that's more than cable giant Comcast. And it offers access to over 17,000 titles. But will it remain on top?
RedBox doesn't stream video -- yet. But the buzz is on that the video rental company -- you've probably seen one of the 27,000 kiosks the company keeps nationwide -- will offer a service soon. In April, the company sent out a survey to customers asking how interested they would be in a $3.95 monthly package that would provide unlimited video streaming as well as four free DVD rentals.
Vudu / Wal-Mart ($1 - $5.99 per video):
Wal-Mart Stores bought video-streaming service Vudu.com 18 months ago and now offers 20,000 titles that can be viewed on almost any device with Internet access, from computers to televisions to Sony's PlayStation3 and other Blu-Ray disc players. The company claims it will offer movies the same day they come out on DVD, a big selling point if true.
Movies are available at Walmart.com to rent for $1 to $5.99 or to purchase for $4.99 and up. Wal-Mart is not offering subscriptions, making its service more similar to Apple's iTunes, which charges $3.99 to rent newly released movies and $14.99 to buy a movie.