In the increasingly competitive market for streaming videos services, there's always one surefire way to attract attention: Offer something free.
That's the latest approach taken by Vudu, the Walmart-owned à la carte streaming service that lets you rent or buy movies and TV shows on a per-title basis. The new service, called Movies On Us, is ad-supported, so you while you don't have to pay to stream, you do have to sit through a limited number of commercials.
The arrival of Vudu's new free streaming service comes at a time when more companies are launching competitors to traditional pay-TV packages and alternatives to Netflix.
Just this week several news outlets reported that Google is readying its own "skinny" streaming pay-TV service, tentatively called Unplugged, which will be launched under its YouTube umbrella. And the DirecTV Now "satellite TV without a dish" service is scheduled to debut by the end of the year.
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Movies On Us will probably appeal to some of the same people attracted to both "skinny" TV packages and free streaming services (Crackle and Tubi TV), including cord-cutters not willing to pay for movies and TV shows, and those looking to supplement what they get from Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and other subscription-based streaming services.
Movies On Us offers "thousands" of movies in the same resolution—from 480p to 1080p HDX—as the titles you can buy or rent from Vudu, according to the company. The exceptions are 4K titles with HDR, which remain exclusive to the Vudu pay service.
To use Movies On Us, you'll need a Vudu account, though you don't have to provide payment information. And just like Vudu, Movies On Us will be available on a pretty large number of hardware platforms, including smart TVs, streaming media players such as Roku and Chromecast, game consoles, personal computers, and iOS and Android devices.
While Movies On Us doesn't offer new movies, it does have a decent collection of older titles—including recent releases such as "Area 51" and "Margin Call," popular-but-not-quite-new films such as "School of Rock" and "Star Trek: Nemesis," and classics like 1960's "The Magnificent Seven." It has the rights to movies from Paramount, WB, Lionsgate, MGM, Anchor Bay, and others.
And despite its name, the service does offer some TV shows, though that selection is fairly limited.
We found the site easy to use. You can search by movie title using Vudu's main search bar. If the title is offered in Movies On Us, the title card will have a "Free With Ads" banner across the top. You just click on the movie and then on the Watch button.
You can also find movies by browsing through about 20 different genre categories—Top Drama, Top Comedy, The Professor of Rock, Extreme Sports, and more. Before a title starts playing, you have to watch a few commercials. Before we could watch "School of Rock," for instance, we had to sit through three 30-second ads.
Movies On Us vs. Tubi TV and Crackle
To get a sense of how Movies On Us stacks up against its free competition, we also took a fresh look at Tubi TV and Crackle.
Since its launch in 2014, Tubi TV has been working hard to up its library of content, which it claims now contains some 40,000 titles. That number is impressive, but we found Tubi TV's roster still pretty light on recent popular films and somewhat padded with filler titles you've probably never heard of. Still, it does provide access to films from the libraries of MGM, Lionsgate, and Paramount Pictures. A more recent deal with Starz Digital adds some independent films and TV shows from that channel.
Other pluses include a decent selection of international shows and movies, and a good-sized collection of kids' TV shows and movies from networks such as Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.
There are few recent blockbusters, but you can find older but well-known dramas such "Glengarry Glen Ross," comedies including "Get Shorty," and the action-adventure flick "Aeon Flux." There are also cult classics, including "Killer Klowns from Outer Space."
There are almost 40 genre categories to choose from, which can help narrow the options when you're browsing. In addition to the basics ones (Drama Movies, Comedy Movies, etc.), there are also niche-oriented categories, including Black Cinema, Anime, and Korean Dramas. Novel categories include Cult Favorites, Highly Rated on Rotten Tomatoes, and Not on Netflix. That last category has some decent titles, but we can't blame Netflix for ignoring others—yes, "Son of Rambow," we're talking about you.
Overall, the streaming quality ranges from okay to good. I experienced some choppiness and judder when watching on my computer at work, but not so much when using my Roku player at home.
I found the site fairly easy to use. Featured content is at the top of the screen, with the genre categories listed below. Tubi TV doesn't require you to create an account. If you do, however, you can sync your movies across multiple devices, and save movies and shows to a queue for watching later. Click on a title and you immediately get a commercial, and new ones tend to run every 15 minutes or so.
Tubi TV is widely supported, so you can get it on iOS and Android devices, Roku streaming players, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung smart TVs, and Xbox One game consoles.
Sony's free, ad-supported service Crackle is probably best known for the series "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," where you can watch Jerry Seinfeld tool around in cool automobiles while cracking wise with various guests.
Overall, the site has a more polished feel than Tubi TV, with a larger selection of better-known releases and less filler content. You can search for movies by title, actor, or genre, or browse through the 13 genre categories. Crackle has a nice library of titles, ranging from classic TV shows ("All in the Family," "Mad About You," some episodes of "Seinfeld") to popular older movies (the original "Ghostbusters," "Do the Right Thing," "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"). There are few recent blockbusters, but there are a decent number of critically acclaimed movies, such as "An Education."
Like Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix, Crackle has also been taking a crack at developing more original content, including the game show "Sports Jeopardy" and the auction-house drama "The Art of More."
Like Tubi TV, Crackle is easy to use and navigate, and it too lets you stream shows and movies without registering. If you do sign up, you get the added benefits of being able to add titles to a watch list for future viewing, and you can pause while watching on one device and then pick up where you left off on another one. You can also get recommendations based on your viewing history.
Video quality on Crackle is good, not great, with a maximum resolution of 480p, something to consider if you're used to watching the 1080p or even 4K videos offered on the bigger pay services.
You can get Crackle on Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku streaming players; Android and iOS mobile devices; LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio smart TVs; and game consoles.
So how does Vudu's new Movies On Us stack up against those competitors? The service that works best for you will really depend on what you like to watch and whether your interests run more to the mainstream or toward niche fare.
Based on its assortment of better-known content, Movies On Us reminds us more of Crackle than Tubi TV. If you watch on a big-screen TV, opt for Movies On Us over Crackle. If you mainly watch on a smaller-screen TV or smaller mobile device, or if a wider assortment of content is more important, choose Crackle. If you have wider-ranging viewing habits, with interests in niche categories and a taste for watching cultish fare—often with unintended comedic consequences—give Tubi TV the nod.
But since all three services are free, there's no reason not to check them all out yourself and pick those that work best for you.
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