You can watch movies and TV for free via online streaming sites, totally legally. The big sites usually offer free trials, so you can enjoy unlimited films and TV series such as Downton Abbey and Breaking Bad for nowt - just make sure you remember to cancel.
Alternatively, if you don't mind paying after a trial, you can then subscribe from £6 a month, and watch 100s of movies and TV boxsets for less than the price of a bag of cinema popcorn and fizzy drink.
This guide will take you through how to do it, the top providers, how to watch the top TV boxsets and movies (legally) for free and what to watch out for.
In this guide...
Watching online: the basics
Buying a new release movie on DVD can cost up to £15 - not cheap, especially if you only watch it once.
Yet for around £6 a month you could get access to unlimited films and TV shows online, including some new releases. And if you make the most of the free trials out there, you could end up glued to your couch for hours while paying nothing at all.
Here are our six key need-to-knows - or if you're ready to get started, jump straight to our our list of the top streaming services.
Streaming lets you watch films and TV online instantly. You don't download the content, but play it live on your device, such as a laptop or iPad, via your internet connection.
This gives you immediate access to a huge catalogue of films and TV series. It's not for everyone though. People who love to watch lots of specific new releases can be better off renting good old-fashioned DVDs. It's also not for those without a reliable internet connection and a hefty broadband data allowance.
Is online streaming safe and legit?
All the streaming sites listed in this guide are 100% legal, including the free ones.
However, there are plenty of websites online offering "free movie streaming" which aren't legal, and could put your PC/laptop at risk of viruses, malware and trojans. So it's important you know how to protect yourself, both from the security threats and the fine and/or prison sentence you could face for streaming an illegal movie.
We spoke to online security expert Graham Cluley to get his advice on online streaming:
Am I breaking the law if I stream movies online?
"It's not breaking the law if the site has permission to stream the movie. It's all to do with whether the site has struck a deal with the movie company to reproduce their movie in streaming form," says Cluley.
What should I be looking out for when choosing a site to stream online content?
"You're obviously going to feel more comfortable when visiting a site which has a well-established brand,' Cluley says.
Sites like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video (formerly Lovefilm) offer trusted, secure streaming services. But a quick Google for "free online movie streaming" brings up a host of illegal sites - nine times out of 10, if it's offering the latest releases for free, it's not legit. Cluley's advice? "Go with a well-established name."
What about viruses/malware? Is streaming safe?
If you're using a big name service, like Netflix, it will be safe. But be vigilant and look out for phonies. "Hackers have in the past created websites which attempt to trick you into installing malware, on the pretext of being a video plugin," says Cluley.
"You should always run up-to-date antivirus software, and only download a Flash plugin, for instance, from Adobe's real website." The Flash site will tell you what version you have here.
What about pop-up blockers?
"A site may ask you to disable pop-up blockers because it might prevent the playing of the video or because it plans to pop up adverts," says Cluley. "Either way, my advice would be to be wary of disabling such blockers."
For more info about protecting your PC/laptop, see the Free Antivirus Software guide.
How good is streaming quality?
Across the sites listed in this guide, quality tends to be pretty good. The resolution you're able to stream TV or movies at is most likely to depend on your broadband speed - the sites automatically match streaming quality to how fast your connection is.
But if you do have lightning-fast internet, then quality can vary by provider - Amazon and Blinkbox, for instance, offer resolutions of up to 720p (equivalent to HD), while Netflix and iTunes can provide even better quality of up to 1080p.
Bear in mind that only certain titles are available in HD - it varies from service to service - and if you're renting a movie via pay-per-view, watching it in HD could cost you more.
What's the difference between streaming and downloading?
Streaming lets you watch directly via the internet, whereas downloading involves copying the file to your computer or device first.
As a general rule, streaming is for renting and downloading is for buying online. But there is a grey area - some services such as Blinkbox allow you to download rented films or TV shows. That means you'll be able to watch them without an internet connection - but you'll only be able to access them for a limited period.
Watching online vs renting by post
Streaming movies or TV shows online is much quicker and more convenient than renting DVDs by post and it will typically work out cheaper too. However, it's always worth checking what's on offer before you sign up.
There are far fewer online DVD rental options than there used to be, but Cinema Paradiso and Lovefilm by Post* offer a huge choice of films, particularly new releases, and won't eat into your broadband limits - see full info in our newly updated Cheap DVD Rental guide.
Many of the bigger online streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Now TV's movies service, offer free trials for 30 days or a month.
That means if you're quick, you can plough through scores of movies or entire TV box sets completely free of charge, then cancel your subscription before the direct debit kicks in.
You can even try out the different services one after the other, giving you months of free TV and movies. Just sign up, grab the free trial, then cancel it and move on to the next. Do make sure you remember to cancel in time though to avoid paying.
When shouldn't you tart?
Tarting isn't for the forgetful, undisciplined or inattentive. If that's you, just choose a provider which suits you best. Bad tarts could end up with multiple direct debits dripping out for unused rental, or paying for a service they don't use.
Can I do it more than once?
Bear in mind many sites only allow you one free trial. It's fine to try out all of the different options, but if you want to sign up for a service you've already tried, check the T&Cs: many say you can't sign up again.
If you are going to pay for a service, make sure you choose the one that best suits what you want to watch.
Consider how often you're planning to use it, whether you want the latest releases or a library of older films and TV shows, and how much you're happy to pay.
If you're not that fussed about watching the latest blockbusters and just want more choice of what to watch on TV, you may find that a basic free site offers more than enough. Equally, if you want the new releases but only watch once a month, pay-per-view might be your best bet.
If there's a specific TV series you're after, it's worth checking out our pick of 20 top box sets - must-watch shows such as Breaking Bad, Sherlock and Downton Abbey are often included in free trials, but some are only available on certain services.
If you're already a Sky TV or Virgin Media TV customer, you're likely to have access to some on-demand content as part of your deal. This could include boxsets or movies - see below for full info.
Before you start, a word of warning: ensure your broadband is fast enough and you've a generous download limit. Otherwise you'll risk being hit with added costs and constant buffering. As a general rule:
You need a high (or unlimited) download limit, or you could be slapped with gargantuan charges.
For example, if you're going to watch four 90-minute films a month in standard definition, you'll need a download allowance of at least 6GB. But it's worth being aware that depending on your settings, your data usage could differ massively - watching Netflix on High for an hour could eat up 3GB of data, while Ultra HD will rinse 7BG per hour.
If you don't have enough, it's worth considering a package with totally unlimited downloads. See our Cheap Broadband guide for the best unlimited broadband deals.
Some broadband providers can charge up to £5.30/GB if you exceed your limit. Viewing just one 90min film will use around 1.5GB (more for HD films), so this could cost £4 in fines if you've exceeded your limit.
How does my broadband data allowance work?
Your broadband download allowance is a limit on the amount of data that can be transferred over your broadband connection.
Any internet use counts towards your total usage, whether you're actually downloading something or not. Even casual surfing or Facebook-ing will use up some of your allowance.
So, although you're not actually downloading a film when you stream, it will still use a large chunk of data. As a general rule:
A standard definition (SD) film of about 90 minutes will use about 1.5GB of data
A high-definition (HD) film of about 90 minutes will use about 4.5GB of data
It's important you keep tabs on how much you're using, as unless you have a totally unlimited broadband package, you may be hit with huge charges for going over your limit.
Likewise, if you're routinely watching Netflix or Amazon Instant Video using a 3G mobile connection rather than wi-fi - for instance on your iPhone - you run the risk of exceeding your mobile provider's data allowance.
Why does my film keep stopping and starting (buffering)?
When streaming a movie, the data is sent to you bit by bit. As each bit arrives, it is processed by your PC (or other device).
The provider will try to send the data to your device as smoothly as possible, but if your broadband connection isn't fast enough to process it, the film will keep pausing while the connection waits for the next bit of data to be sent. This is known as 'buffering'.
Most services recommend a connection speed of around 2MB to prevent buffering (check your speed with a Broadband Speed Test). If you find your broadband can't handle streaming a film, there are a few things you can do to help speed up your connection:
If you pause the film, it will continue to be streamed. This will queue up more of the film, so when you hit play, it should run more smoothly.
Try switching from HD to standard definition (or 'normal resolution'). Streaming in HD requires more bandwidth so will slow down the connection, causing buffering.
Turn off any other applications that may be using bandwidth. Some applications, such as Skype or iTunes, are often running in the background and eat up vital bandwidth that you could be using to stream your film.
Also, if you (or someone else in your house) are downloading anything else, playing games etc, this will slow your connection speed and cause the film to buffer.
If you're watching on a computer that's using a wireless signal, connecting it straight to your router with an ethernet cable could make a big difference.
Wireless signals travel through the air, so they can weaken when they have to go through walls and furniture. So, if you're watching a film upstairs but your router is downstairs, the signal could be intermittent, causing the film to buffer.
It may also be worth talking to your internet provider to see if your connection speed is being reduced at all. Your provider can reduce your connection for streaming at certain times of the day or on certain days of the week.
If your broadband is still too slow to stream a film without it buffering, consider switching to another provider with a faster service. Full info in Cheap Broadband.
Traditionally, streaming is done on a PC or laptop via the web, but it's possible to watch on your normal TV as well, or even using your games console, smartphone or tablet.
Smart TVs - televisions which are web-enabled - allow you to stream movies and TV directly without having to connect your computer. If your TV isn't smart, you can still hook it up to your computer. It isn't too techy either...
Watching online movies on your smart TV
Many smart TVs, sets that are web-enabled and use apps like smartphones and tablets, allow you to stream movies without having to connect your computer to another device. Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and other sites have apps allowing you to access their content quickly and easily.
Some smart TVs can also connect to your wireless hub, allowing you to share content on your laptop, tablet and smartphone directly with your TV set. Check with the manufacturer of the TV or with the streaming site itself for compatability.
Connecting your PC to your TV
If you don't have a smart TV, there are two ways you can connect your laptop or PC to your TV.
If you don't want to turn your living room into spaghetti junction there are a number of ways you can watch online movies on your TV - whatever model you have.
TV streaming devices such as Roku, Apple TV*, Now TV* and Amazon Fire TV* connect to your set and your wireless broadband allowing you to stream movies and other content direct to your telly. Prices for the devices vary, with Now TV starting at £9.99 and Roku costing from £49.99.
Streaming via cables
If you don't want to shell out for a streaming device you can connect your PC or laptop to your TV the old fashioned way - using cables. We've created a little tool to help you find the right connections.
Before you do anything, make sure you have:
A compatible internet browser.
When you sign up to an online streaming service, check what it needs you to have. Most won't play unless you're using a compatible browser.
For example, Amazon Instant Video suggests installing the latest version of either Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome or Apple Safari. You may also have to install the latest version of Microsoft Silverlight Player.
A new-ish PC/laptop.
You should be running either Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, or, if you've a Mac, OS 10.3+. Almost all recent laptops and PCs come with one of these, so it shouldn't be a problem.
Now, find the right cable(s) for your connection:
The movie streaming device connection tool
We've created a special tool to help figure out what type of cable you need to connect your device to your TV. Unfortunately, this doesn't work on mobile, just on desktop, so why don't you just email yourself this guide.
First of all, you need to check what sort of connection you have on your laptop/PC:
If your TV and/or laptop have different connections to those shown above, ask for help on the Online Movie Streaming forum discussion, or in-store. It's likely cables will be cheaper online than in-store though, so don't be pressured into buying anything there and then. Use the MegaShopBot to compare prices.
Once you're set up with the right cables, you'll be ready to watch. Click the AV button on your remote (or 'input', as it's sometimes known), until you find the picture that's showing on your PC.
Watching via a games console
All the newest games consoles are capable of streaming TV and films when connected to the internet (either over wi-fi or via an ethernet cable straight from your router).
The streaming services available to you will depend on your console:
Which service can I use on my console?
|Streaming service||PS3||Xbox 360||Wii/Wii U||PS4||Xbox One|
|Amazon Instant Video|
It's important to note though that you may have to pay an extra subscription to access these services. For example, if you've an Xbox 360, you'll need the Xbox Live Gold membership, which costs £39.99/year, to use online Xbox services including gaming and streaming.
Combining this extra cost with a subscription service such as Now TV will mean your overall cost is higher. So watching via your console may not necessarily be the best route for you, unless you're already paying for these subscriptions for your online gaming.
Watch the latest TV box sets for free
If you've got unlimited broadband, forget box sets. Most of the big series are available online, and if you can watch them quickly, they could be free (if you're tarting free trials, do make sure you remember to cancel in time - though even if you pay the monthly charge, it'll almost certainly be cheaper than the box set).
Netflix offers a one-month free trial and Amazon Instant Video (which used to be Lovefilm) gives you 30 days free, as does Now TV with its movie-only package. (Now TV's entertainment package, which covers box sets, offers a month's trial for £1 which renews for £6.99 if you don't cancel.)
After that, it's all about how much you're willing to watch. If you're happy to put the laundry to one side, let the dishes pile up and keep personal hygiene to a minimum, the savings could be huge. Even if you have a more socially acceptable box set habit - say, two hours a day - you should still be able to watch an entire series for free.
Here we've picked our top 20 box sets, based on awards nominations, bestsellers and some of our personal favourites. You can see how much you'd fork out to buy the DVD or Blu-ray, the cheapest place to watch it online and how long it'll take to get through.
|TV show||Cheapest DVD/Blu-ray||Cheapest retailer for
|Cheapest way to watch1||Cost of streaming||No of hours|
|£40*/£55*||Amazon/Amazon||Netflix||1mth free then £5.99/mth||49|
|2.||Game of Thrones 1-4 (Season 5 has started and is being released week to week)||£55*/£65*||Amazon/Amazon
||Now TV Entertainment (series 5 only1)||6.99/mth on Now TV||45|
|£23*/£35*||Amazon/Amazon||Netflix||1mth free then £5.99/mth||20|
|4.||True Detective series 1||£12*/£20*||Amazon/Amazon||Now TV Entertainment
(or Sky on Demand)
|£1 for trial mth then £6.99/mth||9|
|5.||House of Cards 1-2 (season 3 is on Netflix)||£21*/NA||Base.com/Amazon (currently unavailable)||Netflix||1mth free then £5.99/mth||20|
|£44*/NA||Amazon/NA||Netflix||1mth free then £5.99/mth||89|
|7.||American Horror Story 1-3||£25*/£20*||The Hut/The Hut||Netflix||1mth free then £5.99/mth||26|
|£14*/£22*||Amazon/Amazon||1mth free then £5.99/mth||13|
|9.||The Walking Dead 1-4||£30*/£36*||The Hut/Base.com||Amazon Instant Video (series 1-3 only)||30 days free then £5.99/mth||34|
|10.||The Returned series 1||£7*/NA||Amazon/NA||Netflix||1mth free then £5.99/mth||7|
|£20*/NA||Amazon/NA||Amazon Instant Video (series 1-3 only)||30 days free then £5.99/mth||25|
|12.||Lost 1-6||£35*/£40*||Zavvi.com/Zavvi.com||Amazon Instant Video
or Sky on Demand2
|30 days free then £5.99/mth||60|
|13.||Broadchurch 1-2||£18*/£20*||Base.com/Base.com||Now TV Entertainment (series 1 only)||£6.99/mth||15|
|14.||Mad Men 1-6||£44*/£50*||Amazon/Amazon||Now TV Entertainment
(or Sky on Demand)
|15.||Modern Family 1-5||£33*/N/A||Zavvi.com/TheHut.com||Now TV Entertainment||£6.99/mth||41|
|16.||Doctor Who 1-4/ 1-7||£37*/£160*||Amazon/BBCShop.com||Netflix
||1mth free then £5.99/mth||44|
||1mth free then £5.99/mth||10|
Arrested Development 1-4
|£25*/NA||TheHut.com/NA||Netflix||1mth free then £5.99/mth||27|
|19.||Downton Abbey 1-5||£29*/£40*||Amazon/Amazon||Now TV Entertainment
(or Sky on Demand)
|20.||The Vampire Diaries 1-5||£34*/£41*||Amazon/Zavvi.com||Netflix||1mth free then £5.99/mth||80|
|Table last updated 4 June 2015. Please note prices and availability change frequently. (1) Each episode is available for 30 days after airing. (2) If you're a Sky customer, and have its Family, Movies, Sports or Complete packages (excludes Original or Variety packages), Sky On Demand is included so you can watch the series for no extra charge. See full Sky on Demand details below.|
Remember, though, not everything can be streamed. For example, the Danish TV drama Borgen isn't on any of the main sites - so check what's available before you sign up.
You can get free trials for a month or 30 days with several of the major subscription sites, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Now TV's movies channel. But remember to cancel, or you'll start to pay.
If you're looking for a long-term free option and aren't bothered about the latest releases, then there are some well-known free online streaming sites (these often screen older movies and TV shows though, and definitely not the latest Hollywood blockbusters). The best we've found right now is Viewster, but if you know of others please let us know in our forum.
Free movies with ad breaks
Though it doesn't boast any Hollywood blockbusters, Viewster has a host of free films and TV shows, spanning action, thriller, war, horror, comedy, Bollywood and world cinema, including films from Turkey and Russia.
You don't need to register to watch the free movies but you'll be subjected to around five minutes of adverts per two hour film. Viewster says it updates its service with new titles "all the time".
- How many films: 12,000 films and TV programmes
- What to watch: Laurel & Hardy, Superman, Looney Toons, Betty Boop
Any suggestions? Share them in the Online Movie Streaming forum discussion
The streaming service that's right for you will depend on a number of things, such as how you're planning to watch, whether you want the latest releases or a library of older films, and of course how much you want to pay. Here's a quick comparison table to help you decide:
Online streaming services compared
|Netflix||Amazon Instant Video||Now TV|
|Package price?||£5.99/mth for Basic1||£5.99/month unlimited2||£9.99/mth for movies; £6.99/mth for TV|
|HD titles available?||Yes, most titles in HD||Yes, most titles in HD||Yes|
|How many titles available?||2,500+||1,000+||1,000+|
|Can I watch new movie releases?||No||No||Yes, up to 4 new movies added every Friday|
|Which games consoles can I watch on?||Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4||Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4||Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4|
|1 Basic gives unlimited streaming, but not in HD. See below for other plans. 2 Or pay £79/year (£6.58/mth equiv) for Amazon Prime, which gives Instant Video and one-day delivery on eligible items.|
Below is a bit more information about each of the services, including what you can watch on each, how much it'll cost you, plus any current deals for signing up.
Free 30-day trial, then £5.99/mth for unlimited films & TV
Amazon Instant Video* - Unlimited movies and some big box sets for £5.99/mth
Previously known as Lovefilm, Amazon Instant Video* has thousands of films and TV shows for you to stream instantly to your device but the selection of films included in the package is only a fraction of what you can get via the postal service.
It includes movies such as The Impossible, The Bling Ring and Toy Story 3, plus TV shows such as Dexter, The West Wing, Top Gear, The Walking Dead and Vikings. However it doesn't include new releases.
How much? It costs £5.99 a month, though only content labelled ‘Prime’ is included. For everything else, you’ll need to rent out the episode (from £1.89) or series (from £14.49) separately. Alternatively, pay £79/year (£6.58/mth equiv) for Amazon Prime (£39/yr for students), which gives Instant Video plus one-day delivery on eligible items.
If you'd like to rent DVDs as well, you can do this through Lovefilm by Post - see Cheap DVD Rental for more info. There are also combined DVD and streaming packages, eg £6.99/month for streaming and unlimited DVDs (two at home at a time).
How can I watch? Laptop/PC, smart (internet-connected) TVs, Xbox 360, XBox One, PS3, PS4, Wii, Wii U, Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD, iPad, Roku boxes, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast
Min broadband speed required? 2Mb
Free 30-day trial:
New customers who sign up online can get a free 30-day trial of Amazon Instant Video. Just cancel over the phone before the 30 days is up if you don't want to continue - otherwise you'll be charged £5.99/month. This offer is ongoing.
The offer involves setting up a recurring payment, where you agree to let money be taken regularly from your credit/debit card. This isn't as easy to cancel as a direct debit if the company plays games. It hopefully won't be an issue in this case, but do double-check your bank statement. (See the Been charged for unwanted Amazon Prime MSE news story for more info.)
Feedback: Discuss Amazon Instant Video
Unlimited movies & box sets, 1-month free trial then £5.99/mth
Netflix* - Unlimited HD films, but smaller selection
Already hugely popular in the US, online film site Netflix* launched in the UK in 2012. It has over 2,500 movies and TV shows available to watch instantly, with minimum subscriptions starting at £5.99 for unlimited viewing on one device.
The selection of films on Netflix is quite limited at the moment, but its back catalogue of TV shows is impressive. It includes shows such as The Office (season one and two), Alan Partridge, That Mitchell & Webb Look, and Breaking Bad.
How much: There are three different payment options: "Basic" (£5.99/mth) gets you the basic package which allows you to watch Netflix on one device, but not in HD. "Standard" (£7.49/mth) does give HD streaming, and also allows you to watch on two devices at the same time. "Premium" (£8.99/mth) allows ultra-HD streaming and covers four devices.
Free one-month trial: New customers who sign up online can get a free 30-day trial of Netflix. Just cancel online before the 30 days is up if you don't want to continue - otherwise you'll be charged £5.99/month.
The offer involves setting up a recurring payment, where you agree to let money be taken regularly from your credit/debit card. This isn't as easy to cancel as a direct debit if the company plays games. It hopefully won't be an issue in this case, but do double-check your bank statement (see Regular Payments for a full guide).
How can I watch? Laptop/PC, smart (internet-connected) TV, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, Android/Windows/Apple tablets or smartphones, Chromecast, Roku boxes, YouView.
Min broadband speed required? 0.5Mb
Feedback: Discuss Netflix
Sky Movies, Sky Sports and Sky Entertainment packages
Now TV* - Watch Sky TV without having Sky
In 2012, satellite TV giant Sky launched Now TV*. It's effectively three separate services, covering movies, TV and sports - you don't need a Sky TV subscription to watch any of them.
For lovers of new films, the Movies Pass* is one of the most impressive film streaming options, with more than 1,000 films to choose from - so it's no surprise it costs a hefty £9.99/mth (and that's without TV). Currently it includes The Grand Budapest Hotel, Northern Soul, The Wolf of Wall Street, Philomena and more, with 16 new premieres a month.
The Entertainment Pass* includes 13 live channels not available on Freeview, from Sky Atlantic to Comedy Central, plus access to 250+ box sets including 24 and Mad Men. It costs £6.99/mth, though until Sun 28 Jun newbies can trial it for £1 for one month. After the first month it'll automatically revert to £6.99/mth unless you cancel.
The Sports Pass* meanwhile allows customers to buy a weekend's or week's access to all Sky Sports channels. You have two options to choose from, a day pass, which costs £6.99 for 24 hours of access, or a week pass which is £10.99 for seven days (if you watch sports regularly enough, it may be worth signing up to a TV sports subscription - full info in Cheapest Football On TV).
How much is it? Unlimited movie streaming has a 30-day free trial, then it's £9.99/mth. Or for TV shows it's £6.99/mth for the 'entertainment pass' which you can try for a month for £1. Now TV also offers a TV streaming box (about £15 from John Lewis at the moment) which connects to your set and your wireless broadband allowing you to stream directly to your TV.
How can I watch? Laptop/PC, selected Android phones, iPhones, iPads, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, YouView boxes, Roku boxes, Now TV box, Chromecast, YouView.
Min broadband speed required? 2Mb
There are several sites where you can pay to stream online movies or TV shows legally, some also let you download them to keep and watch again. These include: Blinkbox, iTunes, Google Play, Film4oD and YouTube.
These sites are much of a muchness pricewise. For example, a big release like The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is £6.99 on Blinkbox and £7.99 on Google Play. But then American Hustle is £6.99 on Blinkbox and £5.99 on Google Play, so it's neither here nor there. If you're after a specific flick, quickly check 'em all. Here's the lowdown on the sites we checked out.
Pay-per-view TV & movies from 99p
Blinkbox - for renting or buying recent releases
A good option for light movie watchers, TalkTalk-owned - and recently acquired from Tesco - streaming site Blinkbox has no monthly contract and access to over 20,000 titles. However, if you plan to watch more than one specific film a month, especially new releases, a streaming or Cheap DVD Rental subscription is probably more MoneySaving.
You can either buy titles and watch them whenever you want for an unlimited period of time, or rent them and watch within 30 days (once you start playing the video, you'll have 48 hours to watch it before losing access). Newer films are usually available to both rent and buy, while some older ones and most TV series you may only be able to buy. Unfortunately you can't filter out buy-only titles if you're just looking to rent.
Highlights of movies available for renting include Robocop (£2.49), Shaun The Sheep (£3.49) and Arbitrage (£2.49). With films, it typically costs £1 more to get the title in HD; with TV shows it varies. Shows to buy include The Walking Dead (£1.89 per episode / £2.49 (HD)) and Suits: Series 3(£19.99/£24.99(HD)).
How can I watch? Laptop/PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, iPad or Android tablet, Chromecast. Unlike the other services mentioned above, Blinkbox also gives you the option to download the film to your tablet, smartphone or PC (not Mac) so you can watch it offline later. There are iOS, Android and Windows Phone apps for your device. On a PC, you'll need to download the Blinkbox download manager.
Min broadband speed required? 2Mb
Feedback: Discuss Blinkbox
Stream films on your iPhone or iPod from £3
iTunes offers a massive range of 45,000 films and 190,000 TV episodes, but you'll need to download its software and set up an account to stream films. There's no charge for this. Big releases like A Most Wanted Man, Insidious and Toy Story 3 are available for £2.49-£3.49.
Films are available in HD (for typically £1 more) and no minimum broadband speed is required.
How much? £3-£5 to rent major new releases.
How can I watch? Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad and iPod touch or on your HD TV using Apple TV.
Min broadband speed required? No
Watch films from Sky Movies on pay-per-view
Sky Store* - movies from Sky from 99p to £4.49
In December 2013, Sky opened up its Sky Store to movie lovers who don't subscribe to its services. With only 1,200 movies, it's a far smaller choice than iTunes and Blinkbox offer, but it does include the latest movies available to Sky subscribers. Once you press play, the movies are available for 48 hours. But if you want to watch more than one specific film a month, especially new releases, a streaming or Cheap DVD Rental subscription could be more MoneySaving.
Included are recent Hollywood blockbusters such as Sin City (£2.99) and The Theory of Everything (£4.49), plus classics such as Chariots of Fire (£2.99). Sky Store users have a similar choice to Now TV subscribers, but can use the service on a pay-per-view basis.
You can rent releases online as they become available on Sky for £4.49, while older movies start at 99p. HD movies are available for Sky+ HD TV customers with a set-top box and cost £4.49 for the latest flicks - they're not available to those watching on their laptop or PC.
How can I watch? PC/Mac, Now TV box, Sky box, Roku boxes, YouView.
Min broadband speed required? 2.5Mb
Pay-per-view TV and movies from 99p
Wuaki.tv* - £1 movie rentals for EE customers
Wuaki.tv is a subsidiary of Rakuten (which owns Play.com, among other companies), and although not as big of a player as iTunes or Sky in the online streaming world, its presence in the UK grew substantially last year and it now has over 400,000 users in the country.
EE has replaced its 'Orange Wednesdays' cinema tickets offer (which has already ended) with £1 movie streaming via Wuaki.tv. This means all EE, Orange and T-Mobile mobile and broadband customers can watch one film in standard or high definition for £1 every week via the service.
To get the offer, text 'film' to 141 (texts cost 35p) during the week you want to watch your film to receive a promotional code via text. This can then be redeemed Monday to Wednesday for a payment of £1, and will allow you to watch it anytime within 48 hours of redeeming. For full info see the EE reveals online streaming offer MSE News story.
If you're planning on streaming a film anyway, the EE offer is pretty good as otherwise renting movies costs between £1 and £3.49 (HD typically costs £1 on top), with new releases at the top end of that scale. It's got all the major releases past and present you'd expect to see, including Funny Games (99p), Enemy (£3.49) and Gone Girl (£3.49).
How can I watch? PC/Mac, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Smart TV, iPhone, iPad, Android tablets and Chromecast.
Min broadband speed required? 3Mb (5Mb for HD)
If you already pay for a TV package, then rather than signing up for online streaming, you may be able to watch box sets on demand through your set-top box. Here's a summary of what each of the top providers offer:
BT – Add Netflix to your package
BT TV at its basic level is essentially Freeview with catch-up – it doesn't come with a specific on-demand service. However, you can add Netflix to your BT package. Normally this costs the usual Netflix price – £5.99/mth for access on one device, £7.49/mth for access on two or £8.99/mth for access on four devices.
Sky – Access over 300 box sets with most packages
If you've got Sky's Family, Movies, Sports or Complete package (NOT the Original or Variety package), you'll have access to Sky On Demand* (you'll need a broadband connection, check how to set it up), offering over 300 box sets through your set-top box, including An Idiot Abroad, Mad Men and Girls. If you're a Sky Movies subscriber, you'll also have access to Sky Movies On Demand, with more than 1,000 titles available to watch when you want.
What's more, you're not restricted to accessing the on-demand services through your TV. Sky Go allows you to watch them via a free app on a smartphone, tablet or laptop anywhere in the UK or Ireland, providing you've a working internet connection. Just download the app and log in using your Sky account details.
If you want an even wider choice, the Sky Store has more than 1,200 movies to rent though this content isn't included – prices range from 99p to £4.49 (HD).
TalkTalk – Free month-long trial of on-demand box sets
Existing TalkTalk TV customers can add the TVBox* boost to their package which includes series like 30 Rock and Heroes, and gives access to collections from ITV, which includes popular ITV shows like Lewis and Celebrity Juice. It usually costs £5/mth, but occasionally they run promotions so keep an eye out if you're already a customer.
Essentials TV offer
Given the selection of shows on offer though, for that price you may be better off getting a subscription to one of the paid streaming services above. As of January, TalkTalk customers can access Netflix via their TalkTalk YouView box. You'll need to subscribe to Netflix the usual way but remember you can try it for free for the first month. It's then £5.99/mth after that.
Virgin – On-demand box sets
Existing Virgin Media TV subscribers have access to around 4,000 hours of content on demand through their TV box.
If you have a Virgin TV package which includes Sky channels, you'll also get access to Sky's on-demand content too. However, you may only get access to a portion of Sky On Demand – it depends which Sky channels you have access to. If you have Sky Movies, you'll also get Sky Movies On Demand.
Virgin Movies also offers a pay-per-view service, with more than 500 titles available from 99p. There's also Virgin TV Anywhere, which works like Sky Go and lets you watch TV on other devices.
If you take out one of Virgin's 'Big Easy Bundle'* subscriptions you'll also get a TiVo box through which you can access Netflix for the usual price – £5.99/mth for access on one device, £7.49/mth for access on two or £8.99/mth for access on four devices.
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