Digital Movies – How, Where, and other options

More and more people are moving over to watching things digitally now a days.  Watching on Smart TV’s, mobile phones and tablet, computers and other devices.

This does not necessarily make all digital downloads equal though.  There are many options and considerations to be made when selecting WHAT services you choose use.
Firstly we will go over devices and services, and which to choose for you.  We will then go into a bit on QUALITY and what to look out for.

Which devices you plan on doing the playback on, is the first major consideration to look at.
If you are only going to be playing them on android based devices… it would be pointless to choose ITunes (or reverse, google play for iOS).  We will go in detail of some of the other services more on their own further in the article.
Below you will find a basic list of what platforms are available on what devices (of what we will be covering here):

  • Android (generally would include most android TV boxes) – Google Play, Flixster/UltraViolet/CinemaNow
  • iOS – iTunes, Flixster/UltraViolet/CinemaNow
  • Apple TV – iTunes, Flixster/UltraViolet/CinemaNow (by Airplay)
  • Roku – Flixster/UltraViolet/CinemaNow
  • WD Live – Flixster
  • PC – Generally can access all of them, usually through a web browser (though some may have windows 8 apps)

Unfortunately, most services with their files, even if downloaded, use DRM (digital rights management).  This locks the file, that it can only be played on one service/app.  You can not just copy the file from iTunes to play on an android.

Streaming vs Downloading:
Generally with most of these services, you get a few options.  To STREAM or to DOWNLOAD.. each having its advantages/disadvantages.

Streaming does not take up generally any space on your device.  This is great for phones with not a lot of storage, etc.  To store many movies you need a lot of space.  Sometimes alright on a PC, but not all other devices.
The down sides, are that you always require an internet connection.. wifi or cellular.  And a decent one at that, very slow speeds will cause a lot of choppiness or stop/start.   Usage also comes into effect.  If you are not on an unlimited plan, it will eat up some usage each time you watch it.

Downloading, while using some internet usage, will use up a bit of usage, its generally only one time.  This will also allow you to watch it any time on the supported devices, without using up usage at all.
But it does eat up a lot of storage.

(there are some options with the downloaded as well, will go over that in each of the services sections where applicable)


Google Play
Movie cost $14-25 for anything recent in HD.  Older stuff may be cheaper, as well as if SD is an option will usually be cheaper.
Playable on pretty much all android devices, phones, tablets, tv boxes, which support the Google Play store.
Stream-able.  Also able to download.  Download must be played on the android device.  Web stream playable through your google account.

Movie cost $14-25 for anything recent in HD.  Older stuff may be cheaper, as well as if SD is an option will usually be cheaper.
Playable on pretty much all iOS devices, iPhone, iPad, ipod touch.  Also will play on Apple TV.
Portable devices have the options of streaming the movie or downloading it.  Apple TV will only stream it.
Will play on PC, but is not stream-able via the web.  Must be played on iTunes, and have to be downloaded.
iTunes does hold the advantage of HomeStreaming.  If there is a PC which has the content downloaded and iTunes running, you can then locally stream from that download, to your portable device or Apple TV (you can also airplay from your iTunes to the appleTV)

Why have I grouped all these together?  They all pretty much play off of the same purchase service, ultraviolet.  If you purchase an ultraviolet movie, it will then be accessible in both Flixster and CinemaNow apps/sites.  Ultraviolet doesn’t in Canada at least have its own native app.  (You do need to LINK the accounts, but often while redeeming it will give you the option to do that (or just sign in if you already have)
Prices through these services seem to vary greatly.. from $14-32 for HD movies.
But these seem to have the widest spread of cross platform availability.  As well as being available on Android and iOS, most smart TVs, Roku, and is also able to be streamed via the web.

Quality is one thing to look out for.  Not all digital downloads are created equal.
Viewing on a portable device, which is not full 1080p HD, it does not make quite as much of a difference.  But when you start streaming on larger full HD devices or TVs, it can be.

SD quality on most services, equates to about DVD quality.
HD quality on most services, is sometimes 720p, often 1080p.

But 1080p doesn’t always mean you are getting the best quality either.  There are many types of compression, etc that are used on the videos.  While yes in 1080p, they are still not the most highest quality possible.  You can often see this by the range of file sizes on a 1080p film, can range from 1.2gb to 3+gb.
But comparing that, say to an uncompressed Bluray, which is normally in the 20gb range… watching side by side, with a bluray, the bluray is a much better quality.

That brings it to a final point, which many don’t consider.
Many people want to jump on the purely digital bandwagon, and I understand that.  Especially for the convenience.

But for the BEST full home theatre experience, Bluray is still the way to go.  You will get the highest quality picture/sound.
That doesn’t have to completely exclude you from the digital realm.   They can often work in TANDEM.

You want to buy the LATEST movie out.  On iTunes right now, its $19.99.
If you buy the PHYSICAL COPY of that movie on the first week its released, it is usually on sale somewhere, for $22-26 for the Bluray Combo Pack.  This usually includes the BLURAY copy, DVD copy, as well as a digital HD copy (usually redeemable on iTunes or ultraviolet or googleplay.  For $2-6 more, you are now getting that best quality blueray, a DVD to lend out to those who don’t have bluray or digital or for say in a portable dvd player, as well as that same $19.99 digital copy.

This is especially great, if you do not have to have the movies right away.
Wait a while, till things go cheap/sale at places like bestbuy/Walmart.
Eg:  Book of Life (relatively recent movie release), digital HD on google play, $19.99
Bluray combo pack on at Walmart currently for $10.  1/2 the price, 3x the way to watch.
You can also sometimes find some specialty ones as well.  I myself recently picked up the Jurassic Park movies (1-3) for $15 for each combo pack.  Bluray, DVD, but DUAL digital downloads.  Specifically an ultraviolet download, then another of your choice (iTunes, google play, etc).