Video stores have long been a thing of the past. I remember spending many Friday and Saturday nights during my childhood and early teen years at the local Blockbuster, wandering through the aisles and arguing over which video to rent before heading back home to pop the VHS into the VCR.
Now movies are rented from kiosks placed outside grocery stores, drug stores and even fast food restaurants. For about $1 a night, a new release will glide out of the machine on a DVD.
But how long before these kiosks disappear, too? Instant video streaming is hot right now and more and more companies are vying for your attention.
Here’s what the most popular companies offer:
Amazon.com offers instant video purchases and rentals of both TV shows and movies. With an Amazon Prime membership, instant streaming is unlimited. Otherwise, most rentals start at $3.99 for popular titles, though there are some offered for less or free. These rentals will be available for a 24-hour viewing period after purchase. Digital movies can also be purchased for prices comparable to physical DVD prices.
Supported devices: Kindle Fire, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, iPad, Roku, smart TVs, Blu-ray players, set-top boxes and computers.
Cost: Unless you purchase a membership for Amazon Prime at $79 per year (includes free two-day shipping on most products and other perks), Amazon instant streaming is pay-as-you-go. Select shows and movies are free.
The former brick-and-mortar retailer now offers movie rentals and purchases on demand. This service is not as tech-friendly as others, as it’s only available for streaming on Mac or PC computers. Once you have chosen a rental, you have 30 days to start watching and 24 hours to finish watching once you’ve started. You can re-watch rentals as many times as you want during that 24-hour period.
If you are a registered member of Blockbuster.com, select movies are available to stream for free. Many of these freebies are similar to DVD extras: featurettes, behind the scenes video and interviews with cast members.
Supported devices: Mac or PC with Flash 10, supported browsers include Internet Explorer 6 and above, Firefox 3 and above, and Chrome 5 and above.
Cost: Rentals come in three categories: Free, $2.99 or less and $3 or more. Movies available for purchase range from $9.99 or less to $20 or more.
Hulu offers tons of clips and trailers for popular TV shows, video games and movies for free. Select movies can also be viewed in their entirety for free, though most are not popular or new releases. Much of the free selection includes documentary and independent films. A larger selection of entire TV shows is available for free compared to movies, though most are only available to view for a limited amount of time.
For more features and new releases, you can subscribe to Hulu Plus and access full seasons of television shows and a larger selection of movies.
Supported devices: Smart TVs, Blu-ray players, gaming consoles, set-top boxes, mobile phones, Roku, Apple TV, and more.
Cost: Hulu Plus is available for $7.99 per month. Select shows and movies are free. Note that there are ads on Hulu and Hulu Plus.
There are still plenty of subscribers, despite the limited selection of new releases on instant streaming, and more will consider joining now that the company has made a deal with Disney to begin streaming its films in 2016. Of course, a lot could happen between now and then.
Currently you can stream entire seasons of TV shows (no ads) and select films. There is a huge selection of documentary and indie films. DVDs can still be sent to your door for an additional subscription cost.
Supported devices: iPhone, iPad, Android, PS3, Wii, Xbox, Roku, Apple TV, smart TVs, Blu-ray players, and computers
Cost: $7.99 per month (streaming only); for an additional $7.99 per month, you can add unlimited DVD rental (one out at a time).
The new program is still in the beta version with select users testing out the features, so changes could be made before it’s offered to the public. According to the website, popular titles will be made available to rent or purchase via instant streaming, plus credits will be provided for subscribers to rent DVD titles at Redbox kiosks.
Supported devices: No information available yet.
Cost: $8 per month
Like Amazon, Vudu offers instant streaming a la carte — you only pay for what you watch. The website claims that Vudu offers the most HD movie titles, and new titles are added each week. TV shows and movies are available to rent or purchase, though the selection of TV shows is smaller than that of the movies. The company just added TV shows to their selection in the fall of 2012 and more shows are being added.
Once you have chosen a rental, you have 30 days to start watching and 24 hours to finish watching once you’ve started. You can re-watch rentals as many times as you want during that 24-hour period. However, some documentaries have a 48-hour viewing period.
Supported devices: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, HDTV, Blu-ray players, Android tablets, Roku, iPad and computers.
Cost: Many rentals are $2 for two nights, though the cost of select titles can be more or less. Each day there is a new featured 99-cent rental. The purchase price of TV shows and movies varies.
Have you tried any of these instant streaming services?