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Watch Movies & TV Online

Free streaming incl Netflix & Amazon

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.

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.

What is online streaming?

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.

Quick questions:

Is online streaming safe and legit?

How good is streaming quality?

What's the difference between streaming and downloading?

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.

Online DVD rental companies such as Cinema Paradiso offer a huge choice of films, particularly new releases, and won't eat into your broadband limits. Lovefilm has now been rebranded as Amazon Instant Video*, but Lovefilm by Post still exists. It costs £6.99/month with no free trial.

Tart for months of free TV and movies

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.

Quick questions:

When shouldn't you tart?

Can I do it more than once?

Only pay for what you want to watch

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.

Never exceed your download limit - or risk hefty fines

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. If that still isn't 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?

Why does my film keep stopping and starting (buffering)?

How to stream online movies to your telly

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

Connecting your PC to your TV

Watching via a games console

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, doesn't offer a trial and costs £6.99/month straight away.)

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.

Our top 20 box sets - award-nominated plus our top picks
TV show Cheapest DVD/Blu-ray Cheapest retailer for
DVD/Blu-ray
Cheapest way to watch (1) Cost of streaming No of hours
1. Breaking Bad
1-5
£40*/£55* Amazon/Amazon Netflix 1mth free then £5.99/mth 49
2. Game of Thrones 1-3 £32*/£40* Amazon/
TheHut.com
Now TV Entertainment
(or Sky On Demand for series 1 only)
£6.99/mth 26
3. Homeland
1-3
£30*/£50* Amazon/TheHut.com Netflix 1mth free then £5.99/mth 20
4. True Detective series 1 £18*/ £24* Amazon/Amazon Now TV Entertainment
(or Sky on Demand)
£6.99/mth 9
5. House of Cards series 1 £12*/£11* Base.com/Amazon Netflix 1mth free then £5.99/mth 20
6. Dexter
1-8
£42*/NA Base.com/NA Netflix 1mth free then £5.99/mth 89
7. American Horror Story 1-3 £42*/ £54* Amazon/Base.com Netflix 1mth free then £5.99/mth 26
8. Sherlock
1-3
£15*/£16* Amazon/TheHut.com Netflix
(or Sky on Demand for series 1 & 2)
1mth free then £5.99/mth 13
9. The Walking Dead 1-4 £40*/£51* Amazon/Base.com Amazon 30 days free then £5.99/mth 15
10. The Returned 1 £13*/NA Base.com/NA Netflix 1mth free then £5.99/mth 7
11. 30 Rock
1-4 (h)
£15*/NA Base.com/NA Amazon 30 days free then £5.99/mth 25
12. Lost 1-6 £38*/£38* Zavvi.com/Amazon Now TV Entertainment
(or Sky on Demand)
£6.99/mth 15
13. Broadchurch 1-2 £9*/£13* Amazon/
Amazon
Netflix 1mth free then £5.99/mth 60
14. Mad Men 1-6 £49*/£77* Base.com/Amazon Now TV Entertainment
(or Sky on Demand)
£6.99/mth 59
15. Modern Family 1-2 £8*/£10* Tesco.com/TheHut.com Now TV Entertainment £6.99/mth 33
16. Dr Who 1-7 £32*/NA Amazon/NA Netflix
(or Sky on Demand for series 4 only)
1mth free then £5.99/mth 44
17. Luther
1-3
£10*/NA Amazon/NA Netflix
(or Sky on Demand for series 3 only)
1mth free then £5.99/mth 10
18. Arrested Development 3 £19*/NA TheHut.com/NA Netflix 1mth free then £5.99/mth 27
19. Greys Anatomy 1 -10 £19*/NA TheHut.com/NA Netflix
(or Sky on Demand)
1mth free then £5.99/mth 27
20. The Vampire Diaries  1-5 £48*/NA Amazon/NA Amazon 30 days free then £5.99/mth 25
Table last updated Tue 16 Dec. Please note prices and availability change frequently. (1) 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 British period drama Downton Abbey, the Danish TV drama Borgen and long-running American sitcom How I Met Your Mother aren't on any of the main sites - so check what's available before you sign up.

Basic free movie and TV streaming services

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.

Viewster

Free movies with ad breaks

Viewster

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, The Wanted, Ultimate Force (series 1)

Any suggestions? Share them in the Online Movie Streaming forum discussion

Top subscription streaming services

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 (movies)
Package price? £5.99/month unlimited £5.99/month unlimited £9.99/mth unlimited
HD titles available? Yes, most titles in HD Yes, most titles in HD Yes
How many titles available? 2,000+ 1,000+ 800+
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, PS3 Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4

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.

Amazon Instant Video

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 (£2.49) or series (£24.99) separately. 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 (one 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.

Min broadband speed required? 2Mb

Free 30-day trial:

Netflix

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 around 2,000 movies and TV shows available to watch instantly, with minimum subsxcriptions 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: £5.99/mth gets you the basic package which allows you to watch Netflix on one device. The middle package is £6.99/mth and allows you to watch on two devices at the same time. The third is £8.99/mth 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, PS3, Android/Windows/Apple tablets or smartphones. Be warned though, if watching on a mobile or tablet using 3G this could eat heavily into your download limit.

Min broadband speed required? 0.5Mb

Feedback: Discuss Netflix

Now TV

Sky Movies, Sky Sports and Sky Entertainment packages

Now TV* - Watch 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 subscription to watch any of them.

For lovers of new films, the movie service is one of the most impressive streaming options, with more than 800 films to choose from - so it's no surprise it costs a hefty £9.99/mth. Currently it includes The Wolf of Wall Street, Brave, Philomena and more, with 16 new premieres a month.

The entertainment package includes 16 live channels, from Sky Atlantic to Comedy Central, plus the ability to catch up on missed episodes and whole series from the beginning, including 24 and Modern Family. The sports service, 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 (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' with no free trial. Now TV also offers a TV streaming box (£9.99) which connects to your set and your wireless broadband allowing you to stream directly to your TV. Now TV also offers pay-per-view Sky Sports - full info in Cheapest Football On 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.

Min broadband speed required? 2.5Mb

Feedback: Discuss Now TV

Top services to buy or rent new releases

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 £9.99 on Blinkbox, YouTube and Google Play. So if you're after a specific flick, quickly check 'em all. Here's the lowdown on the sites we checked out.

Blinkbox

Pay-per-view TV & movies from 99p

Blinkbox* - for renting or buying recent releases

A good option for light movie watchers, Tesco-owned streaming site Blinkbox* has no monthly contract and access to over 20,000 titles. However, if you want to watch more than one specific film a month, especially new releases, a streaming or Cheap DVD Rental subscription is probably more MoneySaving.

Unlike the other services mentioned above, Blinkbox also gives you the option to download the film to your PC so you can watch it offline later. You'll need to download the Blinkbox download manager if you want to do this.

Once the movie's finished downloading, you can watch it in Windows Media Player. You will be asked to enter your Blinkbox login details before you view the movie/TV episode.

Highlights of shows and movies available include Robocop (£3.49), The Monuments Men (£3.49), The Wolf of Wall Street (£9.99), Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (£7.99), Blue Jasmine (£6.99), 21 Jump Street (£2.49), The Walking Dead (to buy, £1.89 per episode). New releases are typically £3.49 per film.

Min broadband speed required? 2.25Mb

How can I watch? Laptop/PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, iPad or Android tablet.

Feedback: Discuss Blinkbox

itunes-logo

Pay-per-view TV and movies from 99p

iTunes

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 After Earth, Insidious and Much Ado About Nothing are available for £3.49-£4.49 and it includes new releases.

Films are available in HD 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

Sky

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.

There are currently over 1,200 movies to choose from, including recent Hollywood blockbusters such as The Lego Movie (£4.49) and The Amazing Spiderman 2 (£4.49), plus classics such as Forrest Gump (£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, Roku and YouView

Min broadband speed required? 2.5Mb

Already paying for a TV package? See if you can get box sets on demand

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 – New subscribers can get Netflix free for six months

BT

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, £6.99/mth for access on two or £8.99/mth for access on four devices.

At the moment BT is running a promotion that means that some new subscribers signing up with certain packages are able to get free access to Netflix for six months. To find out if this applies to you, you'll need to check the terms of your deal.

Sky – Access over 300 box sets with most packages

Sky

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 Grey's Anatomy, 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

TalkTalk

TalkTalk's on-demand service normally costs £5/mth on a rolling monthly contract. But add TVBox* boost to your TalkTalk TV package before Wed 17 Dec and you'll get a month’s free trial of the service, which includes series like 30 Rock and Heroes. The service also gives access to Collections from ITV, which includes popular ITV shows like Lewis and Celebrity Juice.

When the month's free trial ends it's £5/mth thereafter. 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, but bear in mind TalkTalk will be giving access to Netflix from next year. Whether they'll offer any promotional deals is unknow as yet.

Virgin – On-demand box sets, plus Netflix free for six months for some new customers

Virgin Media

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 Bundle' subscriptions you'll also get six months access to Netflix free. For existing Netflix customers, this'll mean a six-month payment break. For new customers, it's a straight six months without charge.