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UPD UK Comparison of Broadband Movie Download and Web Streaming Services

Thursday, April 12th, 2012 (2:04 am) - Score 20,245

The website is simple but almost annoyingly so. We couldn’t find a search box, there doesn’t appear to be a community and for some reason Netflix appears to limit access unless you’re a subscriber, which makes it difficult to know what’s really available. Suffice to say that we were left feeling a little underwhelmed.

On a brighter note the service does appear to include a number of popular TV shows from the USA, such as Dexter and South Park. But that’s not our focus here and most of the shows were from older seasons.

YouTube Movies (Google)

Type: Streaming Free / Rental
Video Streaming Quality: Standard Definition (SD), High Definition (HD)
Stable Broadband Speed Required: 0.5Mbps (512Kbps) – 4Mbps [Estimate]
Platform Support: PC, Mac, Smartphones, Tablets.. pretty much everything
Price: £0.00 – £4.49 (Per Film) Pay Per View
Streaming Technology: Adobe Flash

It’s surprisingly easy to forget that YouTube has its own paid Movie streaming service, which offers both free content and rentals for up to £4.49 a pop (most are £3.49 or less). As a result the service benefits from having a community feel website with good navigation. The catalogue isn’t vast but there are some recent releases to be found, such as ‘Immortals’ and ‘Contagion’. But out of the ‘The Kings Speech’, ‘Fright Night’, ‘Real Steel’ and ‘300’ we only discovered ‘300’ for £2.49.

YouTube’s video quality is reasonable and many releases, including some surprisingly good FREE choices (check out ‘Life In A Day’), offered HD streams. The platform is also widely supported across many different devices, probably more so than their rivals, although there are a few pitfalls. Aside from the smaller catalogue we also found that searching could be a problem. The movie service lacked its own system and would frequently return general results from the whole of YouTube instead of just the film catalogue.


Type: Streaming Rental / Free
Video Streaming Quality: Standard Definition (SD)
Stable Broadband Speed Required: 0.3Mbps (300Kbps) – 2Mbps
Platform Support: PC, Mac, PS3, XBox 360, iPad and Internet TVs
Price: £0.00 – £3.49 (Per Film) Pay Per View
Streaming Technology: Adobe Flash

BlinkBox has been around a bit longer than some but is priced similarly to other rental services like Knowhow Movies. It has a large catalogue of films like LOVEFiLM, including a reasonable selection of free content, and is supported by a fairly strong website. We found recent releases like ‘Fright Night’ and ‘Real Steel’ on the service for £3.49 (rental), while ‘300’ cost £2.49 and ‘The Kings Speech’ was a buy-only title.

Unfortunately BlinkBox lacks HD video quality options and most of its TV shows are UK based, although we’ll give it some credit for including the hit USA show ‘The Walking Dead’.


Type: Streaming Rental
Video Streaming Quality: Standard Definition (SD)
Stable Broadband Speed Required: 2Mbps
Platform Support: PC, Mac
Price: £0.99 – £3.99 (Per Film) Pay Per View
Streaming Technology: Microsoft Silverlight / FilmFlex

HMVOn-Demand is yet another rental service with familiar pricing and a lack of HD quality video streams. It has a somewhat small selection of movies but does a good job with focusing on new releases through a clean and clear website. Both ‘Fright Night’ and ‘Real Steel’ were available for £3.99, while ‘300’ was found for £2.49 and the ever illusive ‘The Kings Speech’ didn’t seem to exist. A lack of content appears to hold this one back, much like Knowhow Movies.

Practical Conclusions

Overall we found quite a bit of choice in the market, although far too many services lacked content, failed to offer HD video streams, almost nobody seemed to bother with admittedly niche foreign films and none included the latest cinema releases (Rights Holders still won’t allow that). Suffice to say that the legal movie streaming industry is very much in its infancy but can only get better.

Another thing we discovered was that a lot of rental services appear to charge far too much for older content. For example, the movie ‘300’ has been out for years and can be picked up for about £3.50 new on Amazon (DVD) or less than £2 pre-owned (includes delivery). As a result it’s hard to justify paying £2.49 just to rent an online video stream for 48 hours, especially when it might add a similar amount to the cost of using some broadband packages with smaller data allowances.

The new generation of “unlimited” style services are also beginning make the rental/PPV model look both dated and overpriced. Admittedly you can’t usually get the latest releases without PPV but we can see that gap closing in the future.

At the end of the day, if you really have to pick one of these, then LOVEFiLM is the service that gets our vote. We loved the website, it’s got a good catalogue, they’re well supported, affordable and also offer physical media rental for both movies and games.

UPDATE 4th September 2012

Since this article was first written a number of new services have either launched or are about to launch. Sadly most of them are just online rental services but they’re still worth checking out before you make a final decision.

Acetrax Movies


Google Play Movies


Sainsburys Entertainment (Movie service not yet launched)

NOW TV (Sky)

The NOW TV service is probably the most interesting, provided you’re not already a Sky TV customer, as it appears to be attempting to bring much of Sky’s TV channel and movie content to the online world for a fixed price with “unlimited access” (not unlike Netflix and LOVEFiLM).

Leave a Comment
6 Responses
  1. Avatar Stuart says:

    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. Avatar Deduction says:

    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. Avatar Daniel says:

    Lol i noticed that Lovefilm affiliate link 😛

  4. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

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

    1. Avatar Stuart says:

      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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