Not so long ago, in a galaxy not so far away, people had little choice but to rent £4-a-night films from the high street. With hefty late fines, many ended up with a Death Star of a bill.
The resistance came in the form of online video rental, which slashed costs for all, and banished late fees to the dark side.
In this guide
DVD rental vs online streaming
A new release DVD easily costs £10-£20 to buy. This isn't cheap, especially if you only watch it once. Suppose you want The Inbetweeners Movie. This costs about £10 new, but £2-ish to rent, so you'd have to watch it five times before it'd be worth buying.
Think how many films in your collection you've only watched once or twice. Unless the DVD's as cheap as chips, the best strategy's to rent the film, then decide whether you'll watch it again. If it'll be a constant rewatch, buy it. Otherwise, rent it out again the next time you fancy watching it.
With online film rental you pay by monthly direct debit, build a wishlist of titles and receive DVDs though the post. The selection of films is usually superb, but you'll have to wait for the DVDs to arrive.
Alternatively, movie streaming services let you instantly download unlimited flicks via your internet connection. However, you'll need a decent broadband allowance. Use this online streaming v DVD rental table to help you choose...
Watch films online
Sign up online and start streaming movies straightaway. Can watch on laptops, PCs, mobiles, games consoles and TVs.
- Instant access. No waiting for DVDs to arrive or trudging to shops.
- Requires a decent broadband connection and download limit.
- Cheaper way to watch 'unlimited' films.
- Film choice can be patchy.
Online DVD rental
Online DVD rental companies post you your chosen films. You send 'em back in pre-paid envelopes.
- Wider choice of films, especially new releases.
- Cheaper for those who watch less than one film/mth to pay as they go.
- No worries about broadband usage.
- Easier for non-techies.
The most important thing to remember is postal DVD rental often involves signing up to a monthly direct debit. The money drips from your account, whether you watch or not, so...
If you always rent more than one film per month, online DVD rental wins. If not, pay as you go.
It's worth noting that since the explosion in cheap online DVD rental, high street rental has got cheaper. For example, Blockbuster now charges £3.50 a night for new releases. Here are more options for light users:
Check out your local library. Have a gander at your local library's DVD selection. Libraries typically charge just £2.50 a week for new DVDs or £1 a week for kids' films. Plus you can usually borrow for a week without additional charge.
- Half-price Blockbuster Tesco Clubcard. Spend Tesco Clubcard vouchers on goods in its Tesco Clubcard Rewards brochure and their value's up to trebled or quadrupled.
One of the featured deals is Blockbuster in-store film hire: £16 in Clubcard vouchers buys 12 rentals, worth £36. Though before spending your vouchers, check Tesco's Rewards brochure, as it may allow you to quadruple vouchers' value – see our Top 10 Tesco Rewards list.
Quite simply, online DVD strength is convenience. You pay by monthly direct debit and build a wishlist of titles in a ‘rental queue'. When the films become available, the company posts them out. After you've watched them, you simply send them back in pre-paid envelopes.
There are no due dates or late fees. Plus online rental's a boon for those with small children. Wee ones often like watching the same film on a loop for weeks. As online rental DVDs can be held for much longer, it saves you buying a film they'll quickly outgrow and never watch again.
There are two package types. With both you can keep films as long as you like, without late fees.
Here, you watch as many DVDs as you want, but can only hold a certain number at a time. So Unlimited 2 means once you have two discs, one must be returned before getting another.
You're only allowed to get a certain number of films per month, so Limited 3 means a maximum of three DVDs sent per calendar month. Usually you can only hold one DVD at a time.
When picking your rental list, bear in mind big new releases get oversubscribed, so DVD companies will send out less popular films first. Don't fill your rental queue with hundreds of films you don't want to watch.
The cheapest DVD rental deals
The provider to pick depends on the package you're after. Note that even though Tesco DVD rental is run by Lovefilm, prices vary between the two brands.
|1) Includes unlimited online film streaming - read the full Watch Films Online guide.|
If you'd like unlimited online streaming on top, Lovefilm's best buy 'unlimited 1' package gives unlimited DVDs (one out at a time) plus unlimited online streaming for £7.99/month. Alternatively, get unlimited Lovefilm streaming from £5/month - see Cheap Online Film Streaming for more.
DVD firms are so desperate to snag your custom that nearly all offer free trials, adding up to weeks of free movies. So sign up, grab the free trial, use it, then cancel and move to the next.
Tarting isn't for the forgetful, undisciplined or inattentive. If that's you, just go for one of the cheapest providers. Bad tarts could end up with multiple direct debits dripping out for unused rental or, more likely, start using a service which isn't best for them.
The following table lists companies that currently have a trial period. Lovefilm often sends out targeted 30-day trial offers to customers, such leaflets with pizza deliveries and mailouts with credit cards. Do look out for these.
|Package||Trial length||Package||How to cancel|
|Lovefilm* (1)||30 days||Any||Online form and return DVDs before end of free trial.|
|Cinema Paradiso||14 days||Limited 3 & 4||Online form and return DVDs before end of free trial.|
|Blockbuster (2)||2 weeks||Any||Call customer services or cancel online and return DVDs before end of free trial.|
|(1) You can only take one trial with the Lovefilm group, which includes/included Sofa Cinema, WHSmith Movies Direct,, Five Movie Club, Tesco and Odeon Direct. (2) The Blockbuster trial costs £1.|
The number of trials you can take is limited because most of the rental providers are owned by one company. Lovefilm will only let you trial one of its seven brands: Lovefilm, CD-Wow!, EasyCinema, Sofa Cinema, WHSmith Movies Direct, Tesco DVD Rental, Five Movie Club and Odeon Direct.
Earn free cash with trials
It's even possible to make cash from watching free movies. Cashback websites such as Quidco* or Topcashback* have been known to pay up to £18 per free DVD trial that you sign up to. Read the Top Cashback Websites article for a full how-to, and try out the Cashback-Sites Maximiser to see how much you could make.