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UPD UK Comparison of Broadband Movie Download and Web Streaming Services

Posted Thursday, April 12th, 2012 (2:04 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 9,343)
broadband internet video and movie streaming

Over the past few years the UK has witnessed an influx of new internet based video streaming services, many of which offer a wide selection of both online TV and Movie (Film) content. This boom, which has in no small part been fuelled by the growing prevalence of ever faster and more flexible broadband ISP connectivity, has now established its own unique position in the market. But which service is best?

Until recently the only way to get good quality movie content was to either buy / rent physical media (DVD, Blue-Ray etc.) or subscribe to premium movie channels from one of the big commercial media firms (e.g. Sky / Sky Broadband, Virgin Media). These are all still very viable options and often carry many advantages, such as higher quality video content and extra features (deleted scenes etc.), but they still aren’t as flexible as some would like.

The Streaming Revolution

Now a new generation of paid video streaming (Video-on-Demand) services, such as LOVEFiLM Instant, has slowly begun to change all that by offering consumers a much wider and instantly accessible library of related content. Available at the mere touch or click of a button, across multiple different internet connected devices (PC’s, Smartphone’s etc.) and without you needing to buy any new kit or software (most run directly through either a web browser or special app).

Sadly video streaming services aren’t perfect and as a result, before can we even get into the main comparison, there are a few important things to consider.

Key Considerations for Picking an Online Movie Streaming Service

* FREE Trials / Free Content. Many of the new services offer a free trial period, just be aware that these might not be identical to the final premium product. Free trials or content might restrict how much you can view, impose ad-breaks or even hinder video quality. Check the service terms first.

* Rental Period. Most of the following services give you between 1 and 4 weeks to start watching the rental and then 24-48 hours to finish viewing it from the first time you press play.

* Video Quality. Don’t expect the video quality, especially services that claim to offer High Definition (HD) streams, to match what your TV can deliver. Unlike computer monitors, TV’s are specifically designed to optimise even low quality video so, if you can, it’s a good idea to output your video to a TV rather than your computer. We’d need another article to explain this as there are many different methods and some won’t work due to DRM restrictions.

* Sound Quality. Sadly many streaming services deliver good but not the best quality audio, which is intended to help keep the connection speed requirements under control. So do not be surprised when your expensive surround sound system fails to deliver an ideal experience, it’s probably not the kits fault.

* Broadband Speed. Ideally you should have a STABLE broadband connection speed of at least 2Mbps (Megabits per second) for reasonable video and sound quality. Many services do deliver streams for slower connections but the video quality will only get worse and buffering (pauses in your movie) are likely to become an increasing irritation. You’ll also need more like 5Mbps for some of the “HD” streams.

* Broadband Usage. Watching a single 2 hour movie could consume anything between 1.5GB to 5GB (GigaBytes) of data (depending upon video quality, codec and movie content). So it’s important to make sure that your broadband package can cope with heavy usage because some ISPs will impose extra charges or limit your connection speed. Check your package details for any Fair Usage Policies (FUP) or simply ask your ISP directly beforehand.

At this point we’d like to remind readers that a significant chunk of both TV and some Movie content can also be accessed for FREE (usually provided you have a UK TV Licence) through web based video streaming services from most of the UK’s major television broadcasters. We’ve posted a few examples below.

4OD (Channel 4)

iPlayer (BBC)

ITV Player (ITV)

Demand 5 (Channel 5)

Unfortunately these services are dominated by UK content and often only carry recent catch-up TV shows from the past week or two. As a result they’re not very useful for movie buffs. Likewise both Sky (Sky Go) and Virgin (Player) also have their own video streaming solutions but these are normally quite expensive, can require additional software and have certain catch-up-TV style restrictions (like the free services above). In any case our focus here is movies, not TV.

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6 Responses
  1. Stuart

    I have tried Love Film, NetFlix USA & NetFlix UK.

    For me NetFlix USA wins hand down. Good selection of content, and HD streaming is excellent. Being rate-adaptive, it looks almost 8-bit like for a few seconds, and then gradually ramps up, to “X-High/HD”, which is their 1080i format.

    NetFlix UK didn’t have much content when I looked at it.

    LoveFilm is ok on content (if you like mostly films), but the user interface is not a patch on Netflix, and only SD. I find the picture quality can be poor sometimes too, on some titles.

  2. Deduction

    All the pay PER FILM services are utter garbage, low bitrate video that looks blocky on a large screen TV and 9/10 times only stereo sound at best.

    Ive tried all which are mentioned in this news item and more not mentioned such as film4od (which ironically in picture quality terms compared to some mentioned is alot better it doesnt buffer as much as some either, just a shame their selection is small).

    If you really must go for a pay PER FILM service then i recommend people get a sky or virgin sub and pay per film from that, or buy a ps3 or xbox 360 and pay per film on those devices. The picture quality and sound is vastly (AND I MEAN VASTLY) superior to any of the pay per film services mentioned and cost per film is about the same. (though obviously with sky and virgin you have to pay a monthly fee also, so a ps3 or xbox may be better). The other downside is the time they will take to download if you have a slow connection and silly DRM limits on how long you have to view them before it magically vanishes from your box.

    If you want a “online” service you may as well go for lovefilm or netflix, the quality is about the same (low bitrate dvd like at best) as all the pay per film services mentioned but you will be able to watch a lot more for your money.

    Its a shame the UK is still playing catchup in the movie streaming stakes, i suspect until we start seeing services that use more than a piddly 2-5Mb bandwidth which most of them do, many will just stick to torrents and a 10gig MKV file.

  3. Daniel

    Lol i noticed that Lovefilm affiliate link :P

  4. Don’t you need a VPN or Proxy for Netflix USA, which adds to the cost?

    • Stuart

      Yes you need a VPN. About £3 extra. If you want the highest bitrate, you will need a router that can handle it. My regular netgear was not up to it.

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