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 viewing of the likes of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead for nowt – just make sure you remember to cancel.
If you don't mind paying for longer, you can then subscribe from £6 a month, and watch 100s of movies and TV box sets for less than the price of a bag of cinema popcorn and fizzy drink. This guide will take you through the big providers and how to watch the top TV box sets and movies (legally) for free.
Top online streaming services
- Basic free movie/TV streaming services
- Top subscription movie and TV streaming
- Top pay-per-view TV & movie services
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 five 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 Prime 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 - TalkTalk TV, for instance, offer resolutions of up to 720p (equivalent to HD), while Amazon, Netflix and iTunes can provide even better quality of up to 1080p. Amazon and Netflix now also offer some 4K titles.
Bear in mind, quality can depend on the internet browser you're using. For example, on Netflix if you're watching movies using Google Chrome, you'll only be able to stream at 720p, compared to 1080p using Internet Explorer or Safari (providing your internet connection supports at least 5 megabits per second.
Plus, be aware 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 TalkTalk TV allow you to download rented films or TV shows to some devices. 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.
Many of the bigger online streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Now TV's movies service, offer free trials for up to 30 days.
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 most 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 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 box sets or movies - see below for full info.
Where can I find the exact show I'm looking for?
Does my digital TV package include any online content?
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 box sets 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 depending on your settings, your data usage could differ massively – watching HD Netflix for an hour could eat up 3GB of data, while Ultra HD will rinse 7GB per hour.
If you don't have enough, it's worth considering a package with totally unlimited downloads, as some providers charge £1.80/GB if you exceed your limit. Compare broadband with our Broadband Unbundled tool for the best unlimited broadband deals.
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 Prime Video using a 4G mobile connection rather than wi-fi - for instance on your iPhone - you run the risk of exceeding your mobile provider's data allowance.
For more info read the Cheap Broadband guide and for deals with unlimited usage Compare broadband with our Broadband Unbundled tool. See the Cheap iPhone and Cheap iPad guides for info about mobile data packages.
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) or 5Mb if you want to stream in HD. 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 Prime 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 £14.99 and Roku costing from £29.99.
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.
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 Prime 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 10, 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. 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.
If your TV and/or laptop have unusual connections, ask for help on the Online Movie Streaming forum discussion, or in-store.
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 Prime Video|
It's important to note though that you may have to pay an extra subscription to access these services. 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.
You can get free trials for a month or 30 days with several of the major subscription sites. 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 legit free online streaming sites (often screening older movies and shows). You can also watch plenty of free box sets on Channel 4's catch up service All 4, and (if you have a TV licence) BBC iPlayer.
Free box sets with ad breaks
Channel 4's catch-up service has an impressive number of box sets available for free, and you DON'T need a TV licence to watch these online. They range from sitcoms such as Green Wing and The IT Crowd, to the entire back catalogue of popular TV shows like First Dates and One Born Every Minute.
You'll need to register (for free) to watch the TV shows and you'll watch adverts before and during each one.
- How many box sets: Over 70
- What to watch: First Dates, Peep Show, Father Ted, Green Wing
'Free' movies & box sets without ads
BBC iPlayer's advert-free catch-up service includes films and TV shows which have been shown recently on its TV channels. They're only available online for a limited time (usually around 30 days). It now also offers a decent selection of box sets, but frustratingly doesn't always include every series of each show.
It's worth noting you DO need a TV licence to use iPlayer. You'll also need to register (for free).
- How many box sets: 47
- What to watch: Line of Duty (series 1-4), Miranda (series 1-3), Sherlock (series 3-4), Gavin and Stacey (series 1)
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: Over 12,000 films and TV programmes
- What to watch: Night of the Living Dead, Anime
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 Prime Video||Now TV|
|Package price?||£5.99/mth for Basic1||£5.99/month unlimited2||£9.99/mth for movies; £7.99/mth for TV; £2.99/mth for kids; £6.99/day, £10.99/wk or £33.99/mth for sports|
|HD titles available?||No||Yes, most titles in HD||Yes|
|How many titles available?||4,500+||30,000+||1,200+|
|Can I watch new movie releases?||No||No||Yes, a new title every day|
|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 Prime Video, Music and one-day delivery on eligible items. If you're a student, it's £40/year.|
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 Prime Video* - Unlimited movies and some big box sets for £5.99/mth
Previously known as Lovefilm, Amazon Prime 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 Lion and Spotlight, plus TV shows such as Top Gear, The Walking Dead and Mr Robot. 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 £3.99) separately. Alternatively, pay £79/year (£6.58/mth equiv) for Amazon Prime (£40/yr for students), which gives Prime Video plus one-day delivery on eligible items.
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? 0.9 Mbps
Free 30-day trial:
New customers who sign up online can get a free 30-day trial of Amazon Prime 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 Prime 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 4,500 movies and TV shows available to watch instantly, with minimum subscriptions starting at £5.99/mth for unlimited viewing on one device.
The selection of films on Netflix is relatively limited compared to other services, but its back-catalogue of TV shows is impressive. Notable entries include Narcos, Planet Earth, The Crown 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" (£7.99/mth) enables HD streaming, and also allows you to watch on two devices at the same time. "Premium" (£9.99/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? 0.5Mbps
Feedback: Discuss Netflix
Sky Sports, Entertainment and Cinema packages
Now TV* – Watch Sky TV without having Sky, incl half price Sky Sports Pass
In 2012, satellite TV giant Sky launched Now TV*. It's effectively four separate services, covering movies, entertainment, sports and kids – you don't need a Sky TV subscription to watch any of them. You get a 14-day free trial with the Cinema, Kids and Entertainment passes - you'll then be charged full price unless you cancel.
The Entertainment Pass* costs normally costs £7.99/mth and includes 11 live channels not available on Freeview, including Sky Atlantic and Comedy Central, plus access to 250+ box sets, such as Modern Family and Billions.
If you're not into its entertainment offering, Now TV also offers other passes...
The Sports Pass* allows customers temporary access to all Sky Sports channels. You have three options to choose from: the Day Pass which costs £7.99 for 24 hours, the Week Pass which is £12.99 for seven days or the Month Pass costing £33.99/mth.
For lovers of new films, the Cinema 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 Logan, Beauty and the Beast and more, with 16 new premieres a month.
The Kids Pass* costs £2.99/mth and includes six live channels including Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.
How much is it? Following any promotional period it'll be £9.99/mth for movies, £7.99/mth for entertainment, £33.99/mth for sports and £2.99 for kids. Now TV also offers the standard box for £14.99 and the Smart Box which lets you pause and rewind live TV, it costs £39.99. Both boxes connect to your set and your wireless broadband allowing you to stream directly to your TV.
How can I watch? You can watch it on a computer, smartphone or tablet. And you can hook it up to a TV via a console, Now TV streaming box, set-top box (eg, YouView), HDMI cable, stick (eg, Chromecast) or airplay box (eg, Apple TV). You can register four devices per subscription.
Min broadband speed required? 2.5Mbps as a bare minimum, according to Now TV. But a faster connection may be needed for undisturbed HD viewing, especially if there are lots of you in one home using the internet.
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: TalkTalk TV store (formerly Blinkbox), iTunes, Google Play, and YouTube.
These sites are much of a muchness pricewise. For example, a big release like Jason Bourne is around £3.50 to £4 on TalkTalk TV, Google Play and YouTube. 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
TalkTalk TV store - for renting or buying recent releases
TalkTalk TV was called Blinkbox until it was acquired from Tesco. There's no monthly contract and it gives access to over 7,000 titles - it claims to have more of the latest movies and TV shows than competitors. 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' 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 TV titles if you're just looking to rent.
Highlights of movies available for renting include Dunkirk, Baby Driver and Spider-Man: Homecoming (all £4). With films, it typically costs 50p more to get the title in HD; with TV shows it varies. Shows to buy include Game of Thrones: Series 7 (£12.99) and The Big Bang Theory: Series 10 (£11.99).
How can I watch? PCs, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, iPad or Android tablets, Chromecast. Unlike the other services mentioned above, TalkTalk TV 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, you can also watch on 2 seperate devices.
Min broadband speed required? 2Mbps, 5Mbps for HD
Feedback: Discuss TalkTalk TV
Stream films on your iPhone or iPod from 99p
iTunes offers a massive range of over 85,000 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. Most big releases like Baby Driver and Wonder Woman are priced at £5.49 to rent. Some titles are priced at 99p but these tend not to be the latest releases.
Films are generally all in HD and no minimum broadband speed is required. As with TalkTalk TV, if you rent a film you'll need to watch it within 30 days (once you start playing the video, you'll have 48 hours' access).
If you're not too picky about what you watch, there's a 'film of the week' available to rent for 99p each week. The app Movie of the Day also lets you know when films are discounted on iTunes.
How much? 99p-£13.99
How can I watch? Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad and iPod touch or on your HD TV using Apple TV.
Min broadband speed required? No - you just need the latest version of iTunes.
Watch films from Sky Store on pay-per-view
Sky Store* - movies from Sky from 99p to £5.49
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 TalkTalk TV 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 subscription could be more MoneySaving.
Included are recent Hollywood blockbusters such as War for the Planet of the Apes (£5.49), plus classics such as It's A Wonderful Life (£3.49) and One Fine Day (99p). 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 £5.49, while older movies start at 99p. HD movies are available for Sky+ HD TV customers with a set-top box and cost £5.49 for the latest flicks.
How can I watch? PC/Mac, Now TV box, Sky box, Roku boxes.
Min broadband speed required? 2.5Mbps, 5Mbps for HD
Pay-per-view TV and movies from 99p
Previously known as Wuaki.tv, Rakuten TV is a subsidiary of Rakuten (which owns Play.com, among other companies). Although not as big of a player as iTunes or Sky in the online streaming world, it has over 400,000 users in the UK.It's got all the major releases past and present you'd expect to see, including Manchester By Sea (£1.99 to rent), Arrival (£2.49) and Moonlight (£3.45). Rental films are available in your library for 48 hours, and during this time you can watch them as many times as you want.
Rakuten TV now also includes some of the most popular TV to buy including shows from HBO and the BBC. Amongst the titles are Westworld (from £16.99) and The Young Pope (from £14.99).
How can I watch? PC/Mac, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Smart TV, iPhone, Android tablets and Chromecast.
Min broadband speed required? 3Mbps, 5Mbps 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 Box Sets add-on, you'll have access to Sky On Demand (you'll need a broadband connection, check how to set it up), offering over 350 box sets through your set-top box, including Mr Robot, Modern Family and Catfish. If you're a Sky Cinema subscriber, you'll also have access to Sky Cinema 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 3,000 movies to rent though this content isn't included – prices range from 99p to £5.49 (HD).
TalkTalk: Boost your package with TV Boost
Existing TalkTalk TV customers can upgrade their package with a PictureBox Boost*. This means you can watch hit US series like Grimm and Heroes as well as 60 classic movies. 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. 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 £3.99. 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 Bundles* 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.
The savings over DVDs can be huge
If you've got unlimited broadband, forget box sets. Watching online is considerably cheaper – if you're tarting and get through them quickly enough, they're entirely free (if you remember to cancel in time). Typically you'd pay between £10 and £45 for an entire box set whereas a streaming subscription can cost you as little as £5.99/mth.
Netflix offers a one-month free trial and Amazon Prime (which used to be Lovefilm) gives you 30 days free. Now TV offers a 14-day trial with its movie-only package. It's then just down to how many hours you're willing to put in before they ends.
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.
How to complain
If you're not happy about your product or the service you receive, you should contact the company first. However, if you're still not satisfied, then...