What a magical time this is for movie fans. Now, for the first time in history, the technology exists to let us hunt down any movie we desire on video streaming websites, drop a few invisible credit card bucks, then sit back and relax to watch images on our LCD screens apologize for “buffering.” Then we get to watch movies, then more buffering.
It’s been a long, winding road to approach this technological utopia. Movie studios have always been clever at raking money from film lovers and have never quite gotten over their anger over the invention of the TV. Their first gambit was to charge $90 for VHS tapes, serving up a picture quality that matched the perspective of a drunken, one-eyed newt who interpreted rectangular images as squares with rounded-off edges. Laserdisc and Betamax offered better pictures, but only idiots wasted their money on those.
Next came DVDs, which were so addictive to buy that they convinced people to accept letterboxed versions of movies that used about 40 percent of the space on Stone Age, pre-HD TVs. People collected them like they were Garbage Pail Kids cards, not only trashing their VHS collections to re-buy everything they owned before, but buying way, way more DVDs than they would ever possibly be able to watch, or even store comfortably in their homes.
The introduction of Blu-ray caused the snobbiest of movie lovers to throw out their DVDs and re-buy HD versions of all the movies they owned, lest they be forced to endure the philistine existence of watching Adam Sandler tackle Bob Barker in “Happy Gilmore” in standard-def.
Now here we are in the video streaming age. Discs are all but irrelevant, relegated to sad little Redbox machines hocking their wares outside grocery stores, and movie studios have convinced us to buy licenses to movies instead. But there’s no simple, uniform way to watch these movies. Instead, we are thrown to the tundra-like terrain, left exposed to video streaming service wolves, which hunt us as we struggle to survive long enough for “The Hangover: Part III” to be viewable on our TVs, phones, tablets, computers and, someday, thanks to Google, eyewear.
That said, let’s meet some of the top wolves and talk about what’s annoying and what’s great about each.
The $79-a-year service also gives you free two-day shipping on products, which is good because its library of movies and TV shows seems to be somewhat lacking, restricted primarily to 1980s movies starring former Charles in Charge cast members and Thor. Just about every streaming service seems to have Thor, who really likes to get around. The fact that Amazon is all proud it has Thor and brags about it in ads is telling about its library.
Amazon is making some headway, though, scoring exclusives such as Downton Abbey come next month. It’s in the realm of new releases that Amazon smokes the competition. The zombie romance Warm Bodies is already available on Amazon, but won’t even be rentable as a disc on Netflix until June 4.
The go-to place for reasonably recent TV shows, Hulu Plus has positioned itself as the most viable option for those who want to get rid of cable and satellite. For $8 a month you can watch anything NBC, CBS, Fox and ABC pumps out for free. Plus, you get the added bonus of getting to enjoy commercials. The money-grubbing is actually a good thing, though, according to Hulu Plus, which explains it puts ads in there to make the subscription fee lower for you. It’s so nice of them to be looking out for its viewers, being willing to go the extra mile by charging for something it gives away for free to some customers in order to make other customers pay less.
The pioneer of streaming movies — at first tossing in streaming as a free bonus for its disc-renting customers before yanking it away and charging everyone close to double to get both discs and streaming. For $8 a month you get an impressive selection that is constantly in flux, making impressive additions while suffering devastating losses. “Oh, great!” you think. “I can get sell off my entire DVD collection because just about all the movies I own are on this thing.” And then, as if waiting for you to do that, Netflix goes and gets rid of 1,800 movies. Redbox is getting in on a similar model, charging the same monthly amount for a considerably poorer selection. Like, it doesn’t even have Thor.
The head-scratcher of the lot eschews subscriptions for a-la-carte rentals and purchases. In the manner of iTunes, Vudu lets you rent movies for $2 apiece for two nights. It boasts an incredible selection of HD movies and tends to get them in a timely manner. The problem is, it gets way too confusing to tell which movies you own, on which devices you can watch them and through which services. Example: If you buy a Blu-ray with an Ultraviolet digital copy, you go to the Flixster site to redeem it, which allows you to watch it on your PlayStation 3 on the Vudu app or the Xbox 360 via the Flixter app. It would take A Beautiful Mind-style crazy wall to explain how each service relates to the other and which movies are playable on which apps and on which device, and for what reason.
Do you use any of these services? What do you think of them?