The cheapest way to watch films

TVThere are now two serious rivals to Lovefilm in the UK movie rental market.

Almost everyone I know is a customer of Lovefilm, the postal and online film rental service now owned by Amazon.

That's partly my fault – having been a customer for a couple of years, I regularly get sent gift cards offering family and friends a two-month free trial of the service. It's a smart way for Lovefilm to expand its customer base, and I get to look generous without actually spending any money to boot. Perfect!%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
However, if you're happy to stream films over an internet connection, there are two serious pretenders to Lovefilm's crown in the shape of Netflix and NOW TV. Let's take a look at how they measure up.

The Lovefilm service
While I've long made use of Lovefilm's postal service, I haven't ever tried the online streaming service, Lovefilm Instant.Pricewise, it appears pretty similar to the Netflix deal. If you're not already a Lovefilm customer and you haven't had a free trial in the past, Lovefilm is currently offering a free 30-day trial to this. After the 30 days, you will pay £4.99 a month for an "introductory period", £1 cheaper than Netflix.

You can watch the films on your computer, or on your TV via a Lovefilm-ready device. These include the PS3, Sony Bravia TVs (with internet video) and Samsung TVs. Check out this section of the Lovefilm website for more info on Lovefilm-ready devices.

Or if you want physical DVDs as well as the option to stream, you can sign up for a free trial of that too. And if you sign up via, you can also get a free voucher, ranging from £20 off at M&S to £20 off at Amazon or £10 off at John Lewis.

The Lovefilm selection
There's currently nearly 7,500 films available if you watch as part of a package or take the streaming-only service, and while they are not exactly the latest releases, they seem a lot more current than the Netflix selection.

It's worth noting that the online library is still nowhere near as comprehensive as the physical DVD library, but Lovefilm's selection of films still seems far more enticing to me than the current Netflix range.

Netflix is well established in the US and Canada, and claims to have more than 20 million customers across 47 countries and territories.

The service makes use of your internet connection, streaming films and TV shows direct to your home. You can watch that content in a variety of ways, whether using your PC, streaming it onto your smartphone, or even straight onto your TV by making use of a games console, like a PS3 or Nintendo Wii.

For £5.99 a month, you can watch whatever content you like, whenever you like. You can even connect through Facebook so that your friends can see what you're watching.

You can sign up for an initial month's free trial to give the service a go too!

Films and shows available on Netflix
OK, I'll be honest, my excitement at the launch of Netflix in the UK was pretty seriously dented when I saw the selection of films for subscribers. There isn't much in the way of new releases – yes, there's Drive and Warrior, but most of the line-up is dominated by films that are at least five years old.

I love Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey and Reservoir Dogs as much as the next guy, but I've got them on DVD already, and I doubt I'm alone.

There are plenty of classics though, from West Side Story and Brief Encounter to Some Like It Hot and Midnight Cowboy.

The TV selection is a little better with programmes like Breaking Bad and 24, as well as full seasons of British shows like The Inbetweeners and Torchwood. You can also catch up on old episodes of Top Gear, which will no doubt be a blow for the digital channel Dave.

Sky has now got in on the act with its NOW TV offering. For £15 a month you can watch unlimited films via the online service on a PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Xbox 360, YouView and some Android devices. You can also tune in to any of the Sky Movies TV channels.

You can also stream a further 1,000 individual films from the Sky Store, which cost between 99p and £3.49, depending on their age.

While its selection is currently modest, Sky's USP is that it's offering new films to stream before its competitors. And it's certainly current – you can already watch Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, which hasn't long left cinemas. It definitely needs to add more films to its on-demand range to justify the monthly subscription charge but that will undoubtedly happen.

YouTube now offers paid-for films (and some free ones) alongside its millions of hours of free videos. Prices range from £1.49 to £3.49 for recent blockbusters.

Other options
There are some other pay-per-view services out there, all powered by a company called FilmFlex. HMV has hmv on-demand, Virgin Media has its own Movies On Demand and Film 4 has Film4OD. They all offer a fairly limited selection of films, in comparison to Lovefilm or Netflix, that you can stream online or offline. The cost ranges from 99p for an older film to £3.99 for a recent blockbuster.

The new way of watching movies
I've no doubt that in the coming months the selection of films and TV shows from Netflix will improve significantly, and we will then see a real battle between the firm and Lovefilm.

However, the more important point in all of this is that streaming movies directly to our TVs is going to become an ever more mainstream thing to do.

Apple, Google, Roku and YouView (a joint venture between the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, BT, TalkTalk and Arqiva, backed by Lord Alan Sugar) have all launched TV boxes that use your internet connection to offer streaming services.

Both Apple and Google boxes will stream Netflix and YouTube to your TV and cost £99 and £200 respectively. The Apple box can synchronise with your other Apple devices while the Google box also offers the BBC iPlayer, a Chrome browser and the Google Play app store.

Another American import, Roku, includes iPlayer and Netflix and its two boxes cost either £49.99 or £99.99.

Meanwhile, YouView offers the iPlayer and NOW TV as part of its internet TV offering which, unlike the others, includes Freeview and a digital video recorder as standard, although it is far more expensive at £299 (read Lord Sugar's YouView set-top box is a letdown for more on its initial offering).

However, TalkTalk is already offering YouView boxes to new subscribers to its Plus broadband and phone package with Lovefilm Instant bundled in free for the first year. BT will also be offering the boxes as part of BT Vision soon.

What it means for your broadband
So you've decided which firm to stream films from, and whether to do it via a laptop, internet-ready TV, digital TV box or games console.

The final thing to bear in mind is your broadband. It's all well and good streaming a film every couple of nights, but what about the dent that will make into your broadband allowance? If you're only on a package with a very small download ceiling, streaming films could see you smash through that limit, incurring additional charges along the way. So bear that in mind next time you shop around for broadband.

You can compare broadband deals in your area over at

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