In the spring of 2016, I wrote about the major digital movie stores: Amazon, Vudu, iTunes, and Google Play. Given some major changes since then, I thought it was time for a new, updated guide about current digital video store options.
To outline my criteria:
- I’m only looking at digital video stores. If you’re looking for a review of streaming video services like Netflix, see here.
- HD is an assumed default (it’s 2017). However, I’ll look at support for 4K (aka “Ultra HD”).
- I favor cross-platform support versus a “walled garden.”
- Piracy isn’t an option.
- Ripping DVDs/Blu-Rays is (in my opinion) the most flexible, best option; it results in a video file free of digital rights management (DRM) concerns. However, since most people can’t or won’t do that, I’ll look at the most flexible conventional digital video options. For those that do want to rip discs, I recommend Handbrake (for DVDs) and MakeMKV (for Blu-Rays); if you want to set up a media server, I recommend Plex.
Movies Anywhere: A big game-changer
Several days before I wrote this post came news of a new service, “Movies Anywhere.” A retooled version of Disney’s Movies Anywhere (and apparently still run by Disney), Movies Anywhere is a digital “locker” supporting cross-store support for most major studios’ movies. (Paramount and Lionsgate aren’t on board yet; sorry, “Star Trek” fans.)
It’s similar to Ultraviolet, and supports use of the same digital movie codes. However, Movies Anywhere comes with better, broader device and platform support; thus, I suspect Ultraviolet’s days are numbered.
Once you register with Movies Anywhere and link your iTunes, Amazon, Google, and Vudu accounts, you’ll see purchased films on any of those stores appear in the other ones. They’ll also be accessible and playable through Movies Anywhere’s own app/website, though without some of the more advanced features of the individual stores.
Movies Anywhere’s site also offers a search feature for films supported by the service, which is helpful; a few smaller or more obscure films aren’t available.
As for the downsides, besides a lack of Paramount and Lionsgate films, there’s also no TV show support yet. Linux users also will find the Movies Anywhere site doesn’t work for playing films (I got a HDCP support error on my Linux laptop), though it works with Chromebooks/Chrome OS. Amazon, Google, and Vudu do support Linux playback. 4K support also isn’t offered at this time by the Movies Anywhere app, leaving that to the individual services.
This is a big game changer for cross-platform support of DRM-using digital movies. One now doesn’t have to worry about juggling multiple services for an entire library of films. Digital movie purchases are also now much more future-proofed; there’s less worry about being locked into the “wrong” platform, or what’ll happen if said platform goes under. For major film releases, buying a digital copy can now be more like buying a DVD: choosing the store that offers the best price and features, not just guessing which one might still be in business in a decade.
Hopefully, this feature will extend to TV shows; I also hope Paramount and Lionsgate get on board.
A comparison of the major digital movie stores
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Below are my recommendations for each service. Since my last post in April 2016, digital movie stores have expanded device support; there’s also the rise of Movies Anywhere. Thus, Paramount/Lionsgate/TV shows aside, you can choose a store based on price and desired features.
If you’re just renting digital movies, any of these services will also work fine.
For Fire TV/Amazon Prime users, broad cross-platform support: Amazon Video
Amazon is available on a variety of devices, including the recent addition of regular Android devices. There’s also Amazon’s own Amazon Prime service, which offers streaming video; users might find buying movies on the same service they already get streaming from convenient.
On the downsides, support for Chromecast is so-so.
For an independent store, broad cross-platform support: Vudu
Vudu’s not owned by any of the big tech companies, but instead by Walmart. As such, Vudu’s not bound to any particular operating system or hardware. Thus, it’s available on pretty much every platform and device, save Amazon’s Fire TV.
As for downsides, Vudu’s user interface leaves something to be desired. The service is also owned by Walmart, which might be a show-stopper for some. Finally, Vudu’s tied to brick-and-mortar retail giant Walmart’s own fortunes; however, I doubt it’ll shut down anytime soon.
For Android/Chromecast/Chromebook users: Google Play
Google Play offers a fairly broad range of device support. As Google’s the company behind Android and Chromecast, users will find support already built-in to their Android smartphones and tablets.
As for the downsides, Google Play doesn’t have the strongest Apple TV support. Fire TV (owned by rival Amazon) doesn’t support it at all. I also found Google Play’s app a bit sluggish on my Roku stick (2014 model), though newer devices might be faster.
For Apple device users: iTunes
iTunes is Apple’s digital media store. Per Apple’s famed ease of use, iTunes works smoothly with iOS and MacOS devices.
On the downside, iTunes offers little or no support for non-Apple devices. I’d advise those not heavily into Apple’s ecosystem to choose one of the other digital stores above.
Recommended streaming device: Roku
I recommend Roku as a streaming device. Roku supports everything non-Apple-related; it’s platform-neutral (not owned by the above companies); and the streaming sticks are inexpensive.