Online Video & DVD Rentals

Updated 09-18-2015

Over the past five years, watching videos in the comfort of your home has gotten easier and easier. First, there were DVD rental services that delivered movies and TV shows right to your doorstep. Then, there was the ability to download movies to your computer straight from the web. Now, there is streaming video, which allows you to watch videos instantly on your computer, TV or mobile device. With DVD rentals, downloads and streaming video becoming the gold standard of video viewing, there are a slew of providers to choose from. So which is the best? We looked at each of the top services, rating them based on pricing, selection, video quality, viewing options and customer service. Check out our reviews below to find out which one fits your needs best.

Online Video & DVD Rentals Reviews & Ratings

Services: Our Ratings: Bottom Line:
Netflix Rating:stars
Largest collection of unlimited streaming videos plus 30-day free trial make it the best online video site
Amazon Instant Video Rating:stars
Good selection of movies and TV shows, but most are pay-per-video, which gets expensive. Amazon Prime members get a great selection of free movies/TV shows.
Hulu Rating:stars
The best collection of current TV programming, unlimited streaming and a free version of the service make this one of our top choices
iTunes Rating:stars
One of the best selection of TV shows and movies, but pay-per-video pricing makes it expensive
YouTube Rating:stars
Short selection of TV shows or movies, and interface is confusing and limited
CinemaNow Rating:stars
Great selection of instant streaming movies, but no TV show rentals

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Online Video
& DVD Rentals

How do streaming video, downloaded videos and DVD rentals work?

For streaming video, each company has a library of videos that are available for streaming. When you select a video to watch, the company compresses the video and sends it over the Internet in a continuous stream of data, so that you can play the video in real time. Streaming video works best with a faster Internet connection, so if your connection is on the slower side, streaming might not be a viable option. Most companies like Netflix and Hulu only offer streaming options, where sites like Amazon and iTunes will let you download the video to your computer.

Downloaded video copies the video file to your computer, where it is housed (unless you are renting the video, in which case it will be deactivated/deleted after a specific time period.) Downloaded video can be viewed any time without an Internet connection, as long as you keep it saved on your computer.

For DVD rentals, the services we recommend all offer plans that allow you to keep a certain number (1,2,3 or more) of DVDs rented at the same time for as long as you want. You choose the DVDs you want to rent from a selection of tens of thousands through the service's website and compile a list, or queue, of the DVDs that you want to watch. They ship you the number of DVDs in your plan through the U.S. Postal Service's First Class Mail and include a prepaid envelope to ship them back. As soon as they receive a DVD back from you, they immediately ship you the next one on your queue.

What's the difference between streaming and downloaded video?

The main difference between steaming and downloaded video is speed. Streaming video basically lets you watch videos instantly, while downloading only allows you to view a video once it's downloaded. (iTunes actually allows you to start watching while the video is downloading.) The upside of downloaded video is that once it is downloaded, it is housed on your computer (unless you are renting it, then it will be deactivated/deleted after a specific time period) and you can watch it any time without an internet connection. The downside of that is that if you download too many videos, it can slow down your computer. Streaming video gives you access to thousands of videos without slowing down your computer, although it works best with a faster Internet connection, so if you have a slow connection, downloading might be a better option.

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Advertiser Disclosure: is a consumer information site that offers free, independent reviews and ratings of online services. We receive advertising revenue from most but not all of the companies whose products and services we review. For credit cards, we review cards from all of the top 10 US issuers by purchase volume (according to Issue 1035 of The Nilson Report, Feb 2014) excluding issuers that require additional accounts to be a cardholder and private label issuers. We may also review cards from other issuers in select cases. We do not review all products in a given category. We are independently owned and operated and all opinions expressed on this site are our own.