Over the last two years, movie and TV show streaming services have become increasingly important to the way that we want to consume our content in the UK. As well as the big and obvious free platforms from the country's major broadcasters, such as BBC iPlayer and ITV Player, digital subscription, rental and purchase services have emerged to fill the hole left by those trading in physical media.
Connected devices, from Smart TVs, set-top-boxes and games consoles, to portable devices have opened up a world of media to us all, allowing us to watch what we want and when we want it. We no longer have to sit in front of the TV and wait for the latest episode of EastEnders to air. We don't even have to record it. We can slot it into our lives when it is most appropriate and convenient.
Movies too. Why buy the latest Blu-rays or DVDs from the local store or online when you can have it streamed to you instantly? Sometimes even before the film has come out on either of the disc formats. That is progress.
However, with every rising trend there is a period where choice is perhaps too wide. Certainly, in the UK we have plenty of sources for shows and movies in the shape of multiple paid-for media streaming services, so which to choose? We hope to make that decision easy for you with our in-depth guide to the movie streaming services that are available right now. We'll also update as new ones become available or new technologies launch on the existing platforms. The only question left, therefore, is which one is best for you?
In a nutshell: Netflix offers a wide selection of movies and TV shows, with several series being exclusive to the platform or even made and funded by Netflix itself. Highlights are House of Cards, the second season of of which has been available since last week, Arrested Development and Hemlock Grove. In terms of films, it is mainly back catalogue stuff, although the occasional partnership deal will throw up a modern movie, such as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hitting Netflix before any competitors.
Price: There are two main monthly subscription fees, based on how many screens you wish to view Netflix content on simultaneously. For £5.99 a month you can view content on two screens simultaneously, £8.99 a month for four. There is a third trial option that some have been reported to have been offered in the US and UK, which costs £5.29 for one stream and all videos are limited to standard definition only, but it is only a test service at the moment so there are no guarantees that it will be rolled out globally.
Devices: Netflix apps and portals exist for a vast array of devices. It is available on PC and Mac through the browser, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, Wii, Smart TVs and select Blu-ray players from Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic and Philips, Apple TV, Virgin Media TiVo boxes, and media streamers from Roku and Western Digital, plus Android devices, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone devices. Some LG home cinema systems offer it too.
For: Although there are one or two exceptions, the user interface of Netflix is standardised, offering a similar experience no matter the platform. Almost all of the portals also offer the ability to set up different profiles, meaning you can store favourite shows and films for future viewing, and get personalised recommendations for each member of the family individually.
A kids section is available as a different homescreen, which restricts the content accessible to just films and programming suitable for children. And the media that is on offer for kids or adults is varied and plentiful. Adaptive streaming means that (most of the time) you will be able to watch your selected show or movie immediately, with the quality improving as bandwidth is made available.
Many of the films and TV episodes are presented in "Super HD", which means they are 1080p and have 5.1 surround sound where applicable. Not all platforms can display 1080p content though, so it is limited to a handful at present.
One thing that's also coming is 4K video streaming, but that's in its very early days and will originally be limited to compatible UHD TVs from Samsung, Sony and LG. You will also need a 15Mbps broadband connection, but to be honest, by the time it is more readily available to subscribers, that might be more standard than it is currently.
Against: If you're looking for the latest films, either those that have appeared recently on Blu-ray or DVD, or even made it to paid TV services, you will have to look elsewhere. In terms of movies on offer, there are some that are current, but most are two or more years old.
The UK version of the service has been criticised when compared to the US version, which has been around a lot longer. Thanks to content deals, the US service has a better array of movie content and several series of shows that many would love to be able to access in Britain. However, an interesting bonus is that when you travel to the States, you can access the local version over there on a mobile device using your UK account.
Another negative is that Netflix will remove films and TV series when the content deals expire, but with no warning. If you are halfway through a series of a particular TV show, for example, it is not unheard of for the series to be deleted from the service before you get a chance to watch the rest of the episodes. Other services do the same but will often have a section flagged as "soon to be removed" or suchlike.
Conclusion: Netflix is a great service for those who like to watch TV shows in a binge viewing fashion. There is a great selection of US and UK TV shows, and the home grown Netflix programming exclusives are excellent - Emmy award-winning in fact. It is also reasonably priced.
That said, if you are looking for a subscription service to sate an appetite for blockbuster films, you might want to read on. Netflix has plenty of movies on offer, and plenty of blockbusters, but more on a par with terrestrial TV presentations. Its release schedule is just one step ahead of general TV channels in the studio roadmap.
Amazon Prime Instant Video (formerly Lovefilm Instant)
In a nutshell: Like Netflix, the newly renamed Amazon Prime Instant Video offers a subscription-based streaming service. The previous Lovefilm name continues as a postal disc-rental service, but is now separate from the digital concern. also continues to offer physical rental copies delivered through the post too.
It is possible to pay a monthly subscription for Amazon prime Instant Video, but it also comes as a default extra for existing and new Amazon Prime subscribers. By doing so, you get a whole stack of Amazon-based incentives too. Another change is the addition of more recent movies to rent or buy digitally. They are available on all platforms and you can download them to a mobile device for offline viewing.
Price: Pricing for just the streaming service is simple. For £5.99 a month you get access to Amazon Prime Instant Video. This gives access to the entire gamut of TV shows and movies, which are similar to those of Netflix, with a few exclusives here and there and Amazon Studios generated content. Amazon Prime customers also get it as part of their package, so represents better value as the service offers extra incentives, such as free postage and next day delivery on a vast amount of Amazon.co.uk items, plus the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, which allows you to borrow for free any one of over 500,000 books at a time to read on a Kindle.
Amazon Prime costs £79 a year, which is just over £7 more than a monthly subscription to the streaming service works out over the 12 months. You do have to pay up front for Amazon Prime, so might still prefer the no commitment monthly payment of £5.99 a month anyway.
Devices: Like Netflix, you can watch your Amazon Prime Instant Video ontent across a broad range of devices, and you can activate as many as you like. It also goes one better than its closest rival by offering streaming on up to three devices concurrently. Devices currently able to access the service include PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii, Wii U, Smart TVs and Blu-ray players from Samsung, LG and Sony, some Sony home cinema systems and Sony's Network Media Player. PCs and Macs are supported through a browser player and there are apps for iPad and iPhone. The Kindle Fire range all have the service hard coded into the operating system - as they are Amazon devices - but there is no player for Android as yet.
For: With more of a heritage in the rental business in the UK, it seems that Amazon has a heads up over some competition in the quality of the films on offer. Although there might not be more films as such (although some reports suggest there are in number terms), the amount of more recent movies is apparent. They are still plucked from the release window nearer the end of a film's cycle, but from a seemingly better pool.
It has also upped the stakes in its picture and audio quality of late, with much of the content presented in 1080p and with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, such as on the PS3 and PS4. This is dependant on the device you use to watch the video though and many of them limit you to 720p - less for some mobile platforms. The adaptive streaming is similar to Netflix, in that it alters the bitrate of pictures depending on bandwidth.
The user experience for many devices has been dramatically improved lately and although there are no profile options as yet, you can still mark shows or films for later viewing. They will then appear in a dedicated area of the start-up screen.
The Amazon tie-in also means that content especially commissioned in the US for its version of Amazon Prime Instant Video will also be exclusively available in the UK too.
The bonus of being able to purchase or rent more recent releases (as they come out for Blu-ray and DVD) adds an all-new element that creates a more complete package - much like that offered by Wuaki.tv. You can also download your purchased content to a mobile device for offline viewing.
Against: While there are some exclusive TV series on the service, they don't generate as much excitement as the shows only available on Netflix. Vikings is great, but it's no Breaking Bad. Also, iPad playback is limited to standard definition still, even though its rival has switched to HD.
The content, while plentiful, does still suffer from the lack of current triple-A titles. Adding the buy or rent side of the service for more recent movies and shows helps, but does increase the cost further.
The lack of profiles for individual family members means that you will find your suggestions quickly filled with those based on siblings' viewing habits. If you have young children, that means you'll find a fair few kids movies and shows among the content recommended by the service for you. That said, it's not a major problem and you might find the odd animated film you might have missed otherwise.
Conclusion: When it was simply Lovefilm, the service was a direct competitor to Netflix and it essentially boiled down to which of the two had the exact movie or TV series you most wanted to watch when you first signed up. However, now that the Amazon angle has launched, it offers a different proposition.
It will be hard for Netflix to compete with the more rounded package offered by Amazon Prime, with all manner of other incentives tacked on to streaming access. There are some who will be fuming, however, that their Amazon Prime subscription has been raised by £30 a year and that might put them off from subscribing in the future.
In a nutshell: The Sky-owned Now TV is a service offered by the broadcaster and provider for those without access to a satellite dish or want something a bit more simple and flexible than the conventional TV package. It offers content to view live and on demand that would normally be broadcast by Sky on one or more of its many channels.
Price: Now TV is split into separate services through the same portal, so there are separate prices at play. The first service to have launched was the Sky Movies Month Pass, which costs £8.99 a month for all of the Sky Movies channels and the entire line-up of films thereon, available both streamed as they are shown and on demand at any time.
The Sky Sports Day Pass costs a one-off fee of £9.99 and provides access to six Sky Sports channels, including Sky Sports F1, for 24 hours. This is ideal if you're not a big sports fan but want to watch a specific event and don't want a regular, contracted subscription. Finally, there is the Now TV Entertainment Month Pass which currently costs £4.99 a month as an introductory offer (it expires on 29 May, so you have to sign up before then or might have to pay an extended fee after - the exact sum is yet to be determined). This provides access to several channels not available on Freeview, including Sky 1 and Sky Atlantic - the home of Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men in the UK.
Devices: As well as a range of different devices, which we'll get to in a moment, you can also buy a dedicated Now TV streaming box for a one-off fee of £9.99. As well as offer access to Now TV, it also features applications for BBC iPlayer, 4oD, Demand 5, Spotify and Facebook.
Unlike Amazon Prime Instant Video or Netflix, you are limited to four activated devices on your Now TV account. There are applications for iPad, iPhone, selected Android devices, PC or Mac, Roku, Smart TVs from LG, PS3, Xbox 360, and some on demand content - films basically - can also be accessed through YouView boxes. The Sky Sports Day Pass is also available on Apple TV.
For: With Sky being higher up the movie release window list, the films on offer through Now TV are excellent. Not quite in line with new Blu-ray releases, but not far behind. It is also speedy in use, with films playing quickly after selection, although that might not be as true with lower-speed broadband connections.
The service also uses adaptive streaming, meaning the bitrate can be altered depending on internet speed and its quality is very stable over a half-decent connection.
There are sections for content that is soon to be removed from the service, so you can ensure you catch up quickly before it is gone. And the sports pay-per-view option is really handy for those who want to catch a specific football match, for example.
Against: Picture quality is not on a par with many rivals as Now TV is not a Full HD service at present. This means that images are streamed in only standard definition or 720p at best, depending on the platform. When viewed live you will get only SD content, but games consoles, the Now TV box and a couple of other devices will get the high-definition footage for on-demand movies. They look better than a DVD but not quite Blu-ray quality.
At present, there is no 5.1 audio either, but that is apparently on the roadmap for the service. And the Now TV box supports 5.1 even though the content is not available yet.
Finally, while the movie line-up is incredibly impressive, the entertainment TV side of Now TV is not as expansive as found elsewhere. You are limited to the programming shown on certain channels, so there's a lack of entire series or box set style on-demand offerings.
Conclusion: Sky is constantly adding new features to Now TV and it's still fairly new in comparison to many others. Therefore there are some things missing that make it a direct competitor to the main subscription services, certainly on the TV front.
But if it's movies you're after, you can't get much better for the price. There are a large selection of very recent films on offer, albeit not in Full HD, and £8.99 a month seems cheap for the amount of choice. More so when you consider that a subscription bolt-on for Sky Movies on both Sky's and Virgin Media's TV services are almost twice that price.
In a nutshell: Sky Go is a live streaming and catch-up TV service predominantly for existing Sky TV customers. The content available depends on your TV subscription and there is an extra add-on that allows you to expand the offering to include offline viewing on mobile devices.
Price: If you are a Sky TV subscriber, Sky Go is free with your existing contract. You just need to use your Sky iD to log in. The free version covers all channels you subscribe to as part of your TV service, so if you also have sports and/or movies you will be able to access them through Sky Go too. If you don't you won't. This includes watching the output from the shows streamed live and as catch-up and on demand content through Sky's large library of shows, plus other third-party channels such as Channel 4 and E4.
This free offering does not include offline viewing. It is also limited to just two devices being registered at a time. To up that to four devices and include offline viewing - by downloading the programmes or films you want to watch when there's no internet connection - you will need to add-on a Sky Go Extra package, which costs £5 a month. Sky Multiscreen customers get Sky Go Extra for free.
If you're not a Sky TV customer you can still buy access to Sky Go, but at a healthy premium. The Sky Entertainment package covers five live entertainment channels on a smartphone or tablet for £15. You also get more channels and entertainment on demand on a laptop.
If you want Sky Movies too, that's £32 a month. For Entertainment and Sport, that's £35 a month. And the complete Sky Go package will set you back £40 a month.
Devices: Sky Go is essentially Sky's mobile TV solution and not a competitor to Now TV in that there are few ways to get it natively on to a television. A couple of ways exist: as access can be gained through any browser and played back on a PC or Mac, you can hook a laptop to a TV either through a HDMI cable or wirelessly (through technologies such as Wi-Di or Miracast). You can also use the Sky Go application on an Xbox 360.
Alternatively, you can play Sky Go content through select smartphones or tablets, with both Android and iOS applications available. A list of compatible devices that work on each operating system can be found at sky.com.
One warning for those who plan to stream Sky Go content through AirPlay to an Apple TV, you can't. The feature is blocked due to content rights issues.
For: If you are a Sky TV subscriber downloading and using Sky Go on your smartphone or tablet devices is a no brainer. Watching live sports when you're not at home, or downloading a movie to watch on a plane (with a Sky Go Extra add-on) are each enough for a recommendation on their own. Being able to also access a vast library of on-demand content to watch streamed to a device for no extra cost is an amazing bonus.
Consider too that, if you have a Sky Movies package, you will gain access to the same reasonably up-to-date library as those who subscribe to Now TV.
The apps for the numerous devices are intuitive and well presented and the streamed content is of a high enough quality for the screen sizes.
Against: If you're not a Sky subscriber, Sky Go shouldn't really be on your radar. You'd be better looking at Now TV if you can only have paid telly over internet. And while the amount of devices supported by the application is growing, it is still limited so you might find your older handset not covered.
The picture quality on the Xbox 360 is ropey, to put it politely. It is standard definition only and at a low bitrate. Some might not mind that if it's the only way to catch the new season of Game of Thrones, but consider that it will cost you plenty for the privilege.
Conclusion: Sky Go is an amazing incentive for Sky TV customers and an excellent service in use. However, that's where it ends. It's not really an alternative to Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video and the rest because although there are some external subscription options, they are priced dramatically higher than the rest.
It is also not truly designed to replace a set-top-box or Smart TV service, rather be a mobile version of Sky's existing line-up. But in that, it is truly excellent.
In a nutshell: Tesco's Blinkbox streaming solution is a movie and TV show rental and purchase service. There is no subscription option. Instead, you can rent or buy the latest films as they are released on DVD or Blu-ray to store in a digital locker and watch at your leisure.
Price: As there is no subscription option, prices for TV shows or films vary per title and depend on the format, standard or high definition.
A new film, including those that are released before they even make it on to disc formats, cost £3.49 to rent on SD, £4.49 for HD. To buy a new film, expect to pay £10.99 for SD, £13.99 for HD. Bought films stay on your account "forever". Rented films or shows must be watched within 30 days of rental, you then have 48 hours to finish watching them once started.
Older catalogue films cost £2.49 to rent the SD version, £3.49 for the HD. To buy them it will cost £6.99 and £9.99 respectively.
TV shows cost from £1.89 per episode for standard definition, £2.49 for HD. Box sets are also available to buy outright. You cannot rent TV shows.
There are also some special offers and sales on content.
Devices: Blinkbox apps are available for a wide range of devices, including Xbox 360, PS3, iPad, Android, Windows 8 tablets, select Samsung, LG, Philips and Toshiba Smart TVs, certain Blu-ray players from LG and Samsung, and some set-top-boxes from Technika, LG and Philips. You can also watch content through a browser on a PC or Mac.
Xbox One support is planned for spring time, while Tesco has revealed that it hopes to release an app for PS4 in the summer.
For: Unlike many of the subscription services, Blinkbox offers the very latest movies as they come out on Blu-ray of DVD. And thanks to the Digital HD initiative from Fox Home Entertainment and other studios, you will often find blockbuster content that hasn't even been released on disc yet.
Tesco Clubcard members get one Clubcard point for every £1 spent on Blinkbox. And because you can also add credit on to your account rather than pay via card for each transaction, it's a good way to budget your entertainment consumption.
Against: It may feature the very latest films, but if you want to watch whole series of shows or several movies a month you could run up a weighty bill. Some of its TV shows on offer are also available on subscriptions services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Instant Video, for example, so are not as cost effective as watching them for the set monthly fees they charge. You're not contracted by Blinkbox though, so at least you can control what you spend and when you spend it.
HD content is only offered in 720p at present and with stereo sound, much like Now TV. And some devices can't play content in HD at all at present. These include iPad and Android tablets, PS3, Smart TVs, Blu-ray players or set-top-boxes. They will play the content purchased, but only in standard definition. There's also no smartphone support.
Conclusion: One of the benefits to Blinkbox, other than the fact that it offers the latest films bar those still in cinemas, is that it is owned and maintained by Tesco, one of the UK's largest supermarket chains. That not only means that it has a large presence, thanks to in-store marketing, and goodwill through brand loyalty, but it is secure financially. This last fact is vital when considering a company to safeguard your digital content.
Like many digital content retail outlets though, the films and shows can be pricey and with just 720p video and no surround sound, you could get better quality elsewhere for the same money.
In a nutshell: Wuaki.tv is a Rakuten company, the same overarching firm that saved Play.com from administration a while back. It has a strong reputation in its homeland of Spain already and has made considerable waves since its launch in the UK last year.
Its main selling point is that it offers both types of streaming service under one banner. You can subscribe for a regular monthly fee and gain unrestricted access to archive content, plus, if you want to watch something more recent, you can rent or buy the same kind of content offered by Tesco's Blinkbox.
Price: A Wuaki.tv account is split into two distinct services. Wuaki.tv Selection is its subscription service in the same mould as Netflix and Lovefilm. For £5.99 a month you get unlimited to access to a well-stocked back catalogue of films and TV series, with a similar base collection as the two major rivals.
Renting and buying movies costs roughly the same as Blinkbox and others, if not identical. Standard definition versions of new films cost £3.49 to rent, HD £4.49. To buy they cost £10.99 and £13.99 respectively. Older films cost £2.49 to rent for the SD version, £7.99 to buy. The HD versions cost £3.49 to rent and £8.99 to buy.
TV shows can only be bought outright. And, if they're not part of the Selection subscription, their prices vary, costing about the same as a DVD or Blu-ray box set. Wuaki.tv also has sales and special offers for some content.
Devices: Compatible devices listed for Wuaki.tv include Xbox 360, Xbox One, iPad, Android, and select Smart TVs from Samsung, LG and Panasonic. PC and Mac access is also available through browser. Wuaki.tv also told Pocket-lint that support for PS3 and PS4 is planned.
For: Wuaki.tv's biggest plus point is its variety of choice. Using just the one account, you can get unlimited access to much of the same content available on other subscription services, but with the added option of renting or buying a current film or TV show using the same app and account.
It has gained in popularity quickly in the UK, but is still fairly new to the game over here, so you can expect the library and services to grow over time.
Its layout and presentation is clear and concise too, giving you clear indication as to cost and availability. You can see, for example, which films are available to buy and which are part of the subscription from the main collection screens.
Against: Wuaki.tv will lose its unique position as offering subscription and purchase services side-by-side when Amazon Prime Instant is launched on 26 February, so that may devalue its main selling point somewhat.
The HD stream quality is dependent on each video, Pocket-lint has been told, which means it could be presented in either 720p or 1080 (interlaced or progressive, we're not sure). Both come with with stereo audio though, much like Blinkbox's. Others already offer surround sound.
Also, only certain devices are capable of displaying HD content at all: Smart TVs and consoles, basically. Tablets and computers are unable to stream HD content at present. You do get a free SD version to watch when buying a HD edition, so can still view the bought film or programme, but it's still not ideal.
Finally, the wealth of content available doesn't quite match up to rivals. For rental and purchase, there's a good selection, but considering that Netflix and Lovefilm are more established and have longer term partnerships with studios, even making their own programming, they each give a wider selection to choose from. Many exclusives too, which Wuaki.tv lacks in the UK.
It recently acquired the exclusive streaming rights for Breaking Bad in Spain though, so it is working to secure regional rights for shows in the future.
Conclusion: Wuaki.tv is an interesting proposition and by adopting subscription and retail options under one roof, it removes some of the confusion and complexity surrounding digital services. Users don't have to jump between apps to get from one type of content delivery mechanism to another.
The are caveats, however. There's not as wide a selection of content as other subscription services, and there are better options if you are a stickler over picture and audio performance. Wuaki.tv is great if you just want to watch a movie, not so if you want to watch a movie in the best format available.
In a nutshell: Knowhow Movies is the digital content store belonging to the company behind PC World and Currys (DSG Retail). Like Blinkbox and the non-subscription side of Wuaki.tv, it offers films and TV shows to rent or purchase outright. There is no subscription option, so you pay for the content you want to watch and it is stored in a digital locker.
It is the only service to be powered by Rovi technology, which makes a huge difference to quality.
Price: Like Blinkbox and half the Wuaki.tv offering, Knowhow Movies deals in the rental and sale of first window movie releases and catalogue titles. It also features TV box sets, so charges both rental and buy-to-own prices. It is however more expensive, and for a reason which we will get to.
New movies cost £3.99 to rent for the standard definition version, £4.99 to rent the HD. To buy, they are £12.99 and £17.99 respectively. Older titles cost £2.99 to rent in SD, £3.99 in HD (when available). Buy-to-own prices vary, with some back catalogue films at £3.99 up to £12.99 for the HD version.
TV Shows tend to cost £1.99 for each standard definition episode, £2.99 for HD. There doesn't seem to be an outright price for complete seasons. All content bought is stored in the Knowhow digital locker with rental movies having a 30-day period within which they need to be watched. Once started, they must be completed in 48 hours.
Devices: As well as offer streaming through PC and Mac, there are Knowhow Movies applications for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Android smartphones and tablets, select Samsung Smart TVs and Blu-ray players and select LG Smart TVs and Blu-ray players. The company promises support for Xbox 360 soon (and possibly Xbox One) and says that it is in talks with other manufacturers of home entertainment kit.
For: Because Knowhow Movies uses Rovi technology to power its delivery, the picture and audio performance is amongst the best available at present. Rovi owns DivX, one of the firms at the forefront of AV compression, so HD movies are presented in 1080p and with 5.1 surround sound. There is also potential to offer menus and other traits commonly associated with Blu-rays and DVDs in the future.
The system is also adaptive, meaning it raises or lowers the bitrate of the video stream depending on the bandwith offered by an internet connection. That means you will get an uninterrupted service, even though the quality may dip at times.
As Knowhow Movies is owned by the Dixons Store Group, you might also get bonuses and offers with items bought in PC World or Currys stores or online.
Against: Apart from the price, which is at the top end of what you will pay for rental and bought content, Knowhow Movies perhaps suffers from a lack of exposure. In our experience, not so many Pocket-lint readers mention it in the same breath as some of the other services. And because it is less known that others, it doesn't have as wide a spread across devices.
To watch Knowhow Movies films and shows on a HD TV that isn't made by Samsung or LG you need to connect a laptop or desktop PC or Mac. HDMI and Airplay streaming from an iPad is reportedly blocked due to rights issues, so you won't be able to play it through an Apple TV, for example. We expect the same is true for Android tablets, you won't be able to watch the content on a TV through Miracast, therefore.
The PC and Mac option is obvious really, considering the company running the show. It's a shame there's been no movement on Xbox 360 support as that's been promised for a fair while.
Conclusion: Knowhow Movies offers a good-quality service, with up-to-date movies and TV show releases. It's more expensive than rivals, but does offer Full HD and 5.1 surround sound where possible - and if your connection is speedy enough.
It does suffer from lack of device support though, and the applications are dumb players with no means to rent or purchase films, so you'll need a computer. Competitors are more friendly towards those that are less computer-literate.
In a nutshell: Apple's digital media store is well established and it has a lot of experience with selling standard definition and HD movies and TV shows. It offers a vast selection to rent or own, which can then be played through Apple products or a PC.
Price: Although considered expensive a while back, Apple's prices for iTunes movie and TV show content are about the same as the rest of the non-subscription services. A new movie costs £3.49 to rent in standard definition, £4.49 to rent in HD. Prices to buy are £9.99 for the SD film, £13.99 for HD. These remain on your iTunes account and can be streamed online or downloaded for offline viewing, depending on the device you use.
Older movies cost £2.49 to rent in SD, £3.49 to rent the HD version. Buy-to-own prices vary depending on the title and whether there is an offer, but on average they are around £4.99 for SD, £5.99 for HD.
Like some other services, films that are rented are available for 30 days from purchase. Once you start watching though, you have 48 hours to finish.
TV shows can bought as a collection on a series pass and as individual episodes in SD and, more often than not, HD. Standard definition shows start at £1.89, while HD episodes start at £2.49. Those prices rise depending on how recent the TV shows are. Prices for series passes depend on how many shows are available in the package.
Devices: As well as PC and Mac, through the iTunes desktop software, you can also play back iTunes-bought content through iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and Apple TV.
For: iTunes is well established and has, perhaps, the greatest collection of content available thanks to partnerships with just about every studio, major and minor, and broadcaster. Its system is robust and easy to use, and the devices it is compatible with mostly have the service integrated into their systems.
Its HD content is offered in Full HD 1080p and 5.1 surround sound where applicable. You can also chose to play back or download content in 720p if you do not feel your internet connection is speedy enough. Some older devices will have this as their default anyway, such as Apple TVs before the third generation.
Unlike many other services, you will be able to play iTunes content through a digital AV adaptor and HDMI cable plugged into a TV. Your TV will need to have HDCP enabled for HD content though. They also work over Airplay, but you might as well use the Apple TV to play them instead in that instance.
Against: Movies and shows bought and stored in Apple's iCloud are locked within that ecosystem. Apart from on a PC running the iTunes desktop client, all other means of watching content require Apple hardware of some kind. If you decide, for example, that you want to move from iPhone or iPad to Android for your next purchase, you'll not be able to access the films and programmes you've bought on your new device.
Conclusion: For Apple device owners, iTunes is an excellent way of accumulating digital video libraries. The quality on offer in both range of titles and AV performance is up there with the best. It is limited to the Apple and iCloud ecosystem however, and that won't be everyone's cup of tea.
In a nutshell: Like Apple, Google has its own digital content store. It's mainly for Android device owners, but is available on a far greater selection of devices than Apple's iTunes thanks to the open source nature of the platform itself. It offers both standard and high definition content, but has a more limited selection available, certainly when compared to its main competitor. Again, any films or shows you purchase will be stored in a Google digital locker.
Price: Prices with rentals and purchases of movies are similar to others. A new standard definition movie costs £3.49 to rent the SD version, £4.49 for HD. To buy it will cost £9.99 for SD, £11.99 for HD. Older films can be bought from £3.99 for SD, £5.99 HD.
Rental of back catalogue movies costs £2.49 for the SD version, £3.49 for the HD.
Like with iTunes and other services, you have 30 days to start to watch rented content, 48 hours from the point you start it to finish it.
TV shows vary in price and are available mostly as individual episodes or in series packages. Overall prices depend on how many episodes there are in a series, but episodes start at £1.89 each for standard definition, £2.49 for HD,
Devices: Google Play content can be played back or streamed over a vast array of Android-based devices, including smartphones, tablets, set-top-boxes, Android games consoles, and can be streamed to HD TVs via select devices, such as Google's own Chromecast. A new iPhone and iPad app, Google Play Movies & TV, has recently launched as a free download on the iTunes App Store too.
Although iOS device users cannot purchase Google Play content through the app, they can play back videos purchased on a computer or separate Android device. It shows Google has a more open mindset when offering services across other platforms. You can, of course, play Google Play movies and TV shows through PC and Mac too, using a browser.
For: Google's digital store is simple and uncomplicated to use. It is also managed and maintained by one of the largest organisations in the world, so you can be pretty sure your content is not going to magically disappear.
The vast array of Android-powered devices also ensures that you should be able to play your films or telly programmes on any screen you like. You can also watch content on a television through a HDMI cable connected to your Android device if it supports it.
Most films are also presented in 5.1 surround sound, which is more than some other services offer. And you can store content locally for offline viewing.
Against: Unfortunately, there are many reports that HD playback of Google Play content is currently restricted to 720p. The service also has a smaller library of movies and shows available. This is growing, but Google Play is still in its infancy in comparison to some of the more established rivals.
The library size is more apparent with rental than purchase. There are many films you can't rent at all.
Conclusion: If you own an Android device, Google Play is there for you whenever you want. It is also tempting to sign up to even if you sport an iPhone or iPad because of the ability to play content through the new app for those devices. That way you can be safe in the knowledge that you can switch systems without being locked out of your bought content.
In a nutshell: Xbox Video is the digital movie and TV show streaming service for Microsoft's software and hardware solutions, such as Xbox games consoles, Windows Phone smartphones, Windows 8.1 on PC and through browsers. Like many of the other non-subscription services, it offers new and back catalogue shows and films to rent and buy.
Price: Prices on Xbox Video are nigh-on identical to its direct equivalents from Google and Apple. Standard definition versions of new films are available to rent for £3.49 with the HD versions available at £4.49. To buy, SD versions of the latest titles are £11.99, while the HD versions cost £14.99.
Rental of a back catalogue title costs £2.49 for SD, £3.49 for HD. Prices to purchase back catalogue films vary, starting at around £6.99 for SD, £8.99 for HD.
The rental period for movies is 14 days, with the standard 48 hours to watch a film after it has been started.
TV shows are available to buy in collections and as individual episodes, starting at £1.89 each for the SD versions, £2.49 for HD. Prices for entire series depend on how many episodes and the age of the show.
Devices: You can watch Xbox Video content in any browser on a computer, but only in standard definition. Windows Phone will only play SD video too. HD content will play through the Xbox Video applications for Xbox One and Windows 8.1 only (for PCs or tablets). The Xbox 360 also plays Xbox Video content, in SD and HD, but not through a dedicated application. Instead, the shows and films are available directly through the Xbox Live dashboard.
For: Xbox Video has an advantage over other apps on Xbox 360 and Xbox One, for example, by being more contained and integrated into the existing user interfaces. It is easier to use without having to spark up a separate portal.
Many of the movies and TV shows are presented in 1080p with 5.1 surround sound on the Xbox 360, Xbox One and Windows 8.1 PCs.
Against: The number of devices able to play Xbox Video content is limited. You will basically need an Xbox of some description or a media PC set up in your living room if you want to play movies or TV shows through your HD TV. You can do it using a laptop and a HDMI cable too, but you will be limited to the resolution of the computer should you have a display less than 1920 x 1080.
Conclusion: Xbox Video is really a service for people who own an Xbox console, Windows PC or tablet, or Windows Phone smartphone. Its prices are standard and the amount of content available is decent.
There are other movie and TV streaming services out there that are accessible by UK users, but they tend to be either locked to membership schemes, such as Tesco Clubcard TV which is for Clubcard members, or as an additional benefit to existing subscribers, such as Virgin Media's Virgin TV Anywhere. The reason why these were not included above is that these are free services that do not offer a paid alternative to users who are not Clubcard members or Virgin Media customers. Sky Go does.
Virgin TV Anywhere is a great free service for its TiVo box subscribers that offers streamed live TV and on demand content online through browsers or via dedicated iOS and Android apps. The apps can also control customers' TiVo boxes, including switching channels, setting recordings, browsing through the EPG and even managing the existing recordings on a box.
Tesco Clubcard TV is a free channel of on demand content powered by Blinkbox. Some of its content is exclusive to the service. It can be accessed through a browser on a computer or on Android devices, including Tesco's own Hudl, thanks to a free app.
If you know of any other UK service you think we should include, please let us know in the comments below. This feature is designed to be updated as and when there are changes to the streaming services featured or new ones appear.