Renting movies online is one of the most popular ways to enjoy entertainment today. Companies realize this, which is why there are so many choices available.
Amazon and iTunes have offered movies to rent online for some time now. Google entered the marketplace by offering movie rentals on Google Play, as did Walmart with Vudu. YouTube now offers YouTube Movies to customers willing to pay a small fee to watch blockbuster movies.
With so many options, how do you choose? In this article, we compare the top online movie rental services in terms of price, quality, and options.
1. Amazon Movies
Amazon has been our family’s go-to service for many years when we want to rent movies at home on a Saturday night. It’s especially nice if you have an Amazon Prime subscription.
With that said, the options available in Amazon Prime are usually somewhat older movies, low-quality B-movies, independent or unrated films, or simply movies that were never very good to begin with, even when they were first released.
With that said, if you hunt hard enough, you can find some pretty good ones. The best movies though, are the ones you pay a rental fee for.
With most movies, Amazon gives you the option to permanently buy the movie, or rent it in HD or SD format. Buying the movie stores the movie permanently in your Amazon video library.
Renting it usually gives you about 48 hours to watch it.
You can access the SD option by clicking on More Purchase Options.
Not all movies have this less expensive option, but most do.
It’s worth exploring if you’re hoping to save money on your rentals.
If you make your purchase on a computer or laptop, you can go into your video library and watch it immediately.
If you want to watch the movie on your TV using your computer, there’s no native option for casting like you’d find in other apps. One option is to use Google Chrome to “cast” the tab where Amazon is playing to your Chromecast device.
As with most media streaming services, the quality of playback is heavily dependant on the bandwidth of your Internet connection. If you have any reservations that your Internet may not be able to handle a lot, you’ll want to stick to buying only SD movies which don’t require a very high connection speed.
Note: Android mobile devices default to SD, so don’t waste your money buying a higher-definition movie if you plan to watch it on an Android.
High Definition (HD) displays at resolutions up to 1080p, and enhanced sound with 5.1 multi-channel audio. HD typically requires a high-speed internet connection to avoid lag.
Ultra High Definition (UHD) offers 4k resolution for devices that can handle it. With a resolution that’s four times greater than HD, Amazon recommends an internet connection of at least 15 Mbps.
However, since you can install iTunes on any PC, this option isn’t limited to just Apple users. This is especially useful if you’ve used iTunes for a long time and now you’ve switched over to a PC or an Android.
iTunes has a library of movies to rent that’s just as varied and full of options as Amazon or Vudu.
Just like with Amazon, you have the option to buy the movie permanently, or rent it for 48 hours from the moment you first start watching it.
You can see those options to purchase on the individual movie synopsis page.
You also have the option to rent a lower resolution movie if you like, but unlike Amazon this doesn’t appear to change the purchase price at all.
If you own an iPhone, then obviously you can access your iTunes library just as you normally would. However, if you own an Android, you’re really out of luck unless you’re willing to install a third-party app to try and sych with iTunes. But even that may not work due to DRM restrictions. There are ways to get around that, but they aren’t legal.
On the upside, if you own an Apple TV, you’ll be able to use the Home Sharing feature in the iTunes clien to stream your rented movies to your Apple TV.
This is a pretty sweet feature considering most streaming boxes like Roku, Fire Stick, and various media streaming boxes don’t allow streaming from iTunes.
Apple is known for being a company that provides a superior multimedia experience, at least when you’re watching media using their products. This actually seems to be reflected in the quality of playback in the iTunes client app a well.
When you play a movie in iTunes, the player fills the screen completely and has the capacity to play movies on a wide-screen, high resolution laptop, or any kind of large screen display you may have.
It probably isn’t the best solution for someone already entrenched into the Google ecosystem with Chromecast devices and an Android smartphone. But if you’re a former Apple user, at least it’s good to know there’s still a way to enjoy the movies you may have purchased in iTunes even on non-Apple devices.
3. Vudu Movie Rentals
In 2010, Walmart saw the potential of the online movie rental business, and purchased the company Vudu. Today, Vudu is as now as ubiquitous as Amazon and Netflix these days, on most popular streaming devices.
If you ever find yourself running out of movies to watch on Amazon, YouTube, or elsewhere, Vudu is actually a great place to turn.
It isn’t better than other services by any means, nor is it less (or more) expensive, but it at least provides additional titles and shows to choose from.
The nice thing about Vudu is how simple the filter feature is. You just check off the items that are important to you.
For example, most of the time we look for 80% fresh tomatometer, and from the 1990s or 2000s era.
When we first started using Vudu, I assumed you’d have to pay for anything you want to watch. But that’s not the case at all. If you’re looking for free content, you have two options.
In both cases, you’ll find hundreds of movies. Many do tend to have the same quality as Amazon Prime “free” movies, but there are quite a few gems if you don’t mind sifting through all of the listings.
One huge bonus point in Vudu’s favor is that they’ve integrated Chromecast into the web-based player when you log into your account on Google Chrome.
There is also a Vudu app available for both Android and iPhone.
The app has all of the same features, including range of movie and TV show choices, filters, and Chromecast functionality.
Not only is the Vudu app a nice place to turn when you’ve run out of movies to watch elsewhere, but with Chromecast built right into the app, it’s a peace of cake to cast the app to your TV set.
If you don’t have a Chromecast, no need to worry. It’s supported on Roku and Tivo, Samsung, Sony, and LG Blu-Ray players, as well as Playstation and XBox.
Like Amazon, VUDU has the option to rent SD and HD options, as well as UHD for select movies.
One thing we noticed while testing the various streaming options is that Amazon sometimes had lag or problems with freezing up when streaming content to Chromecast with the Chrome browser. VUDU didn’t have those issues.
As with any other service, always keep in mind that purchasing higher definition versions requires more bandwidth, so make sure you have the internet bandwidth available!
Google Play was one of the last online movie rental resources I personally turned to, mostly because I was tired of running out of choices elsewhere. You may not find a whole lot of different choices here, but there are a lot of them.
You’ll notice that Google Play listings don’t look much different than those at other sites like YouTube and Vudu. But it’s a good resource to check if you’re shopping around for the best prices. Sometimes you’ll find some great deals.
Options span across production studios, TV stations, and networks.
You can sort movie listings by all of those as well as genres.
There isn’t any “free” category to search through, but if you search Google Play Movies for “free movies”, you’ll find a list of a couple of dozen movies you can watch at no cost.
It isn’t much, but it’s somemthing. These are mostly B-movies or documentaries—the kind of thing you might try watching if you’re really bored.
Purchasing movies through Google Play is just as easy as anywhere else. All you need is a credit card, and you can start watching any of the movies available on the site in just a few minutes.
When you purchase via the web, Google obviously natively supports streaming to your Chromecast device.
Google supplies a list of other devices that support streaming from Google Play. The available PDF download includes over 600 pages of devices, including mobile devices.
Google Play Movies is also available on the Google Play app. The GUI on mobile is really easy to use. It’s almost too easy to scroll through movies in different genres and purchase them. It’s very easy to get carried away and spend a fortune!
In Google Play, SD is available for any supported device. You can purchase HD movies for laptops, Chromecast, Roku, as well as iOS and Android devices. UHD is available for Android TV, and Ultra HD for Chromecast Ultra.
While I’ve seen streaming issues from my laptop to Chromecast when Chrome tab casting with Amazon, I had no issues at all streaming from the same laptop to Chromecast using casting from Google Play.
YouTube is a great place to turn when you’ve run out of options for finding a good movie to watch on a Friday night.
YouTube doesn’t have a very well segregated “movies” section, but if you Google “YouTube Movies” you can find the channel where all of the movies to rent are listed.
There are movie categories like new movie releases, hot deals, or top selling, but the front end for searching through movies leaves a lot to be desired. Unlike Vudu or Amazon, the filtering option is pretty much non-existant.
The best you can do is search by Genre, or search for the movie title you want to rent.
The volume of available movies is just about as plentiful as Amazon though, and the prices here usually align perfectly with Amazon rental prices.
Renting via the YouTube website is really simple. Clicking on the movie you want to rent instantly plays the trailer, and over half the trailer you’ll see the “From $x.xx” button that you can press to rent the movie.
You’ll need to playfor the rental with a credit card (which you can save to your account for future rentals).
Once you click on Start rental period, you’ve got 48 hours to watch it until it disappears from your rental queue.
Watching YouTube on your TV if you’re using Chromecast is about as easy as it gets. YouTube has casting natively available on its website video player.
You also have the option to purchase and watch YouTube movies using the YouTube mobile app.
If you’re a Chromecast user and you want the convenience of buying and launching the movie from your mobile device and casting it to your TV, this is a better option than Amazon.
Amazon has not embraced the Chromecast culture, due to their push for adoption of the Fire Stick. But if you do own a Fire Stick, then Amazon will probably become your preferred rental option.
All of the video resolution choices available at other online rental services are available at YouTube as well.
Both the web-based player and the mobile players are fairly minimalist, but it does offer features like Chromecast, adding to your “Watch later” queue or a playlist, or modifying the playback speed.
Even though the players are simple, the playback quality is awesome for both the web and the mobile versions.
You can easily stream high definition movies to HD television sets (so long as your internet bandwidth can support it).