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Best Websites to Watch Movies and TV For Less Than Cable

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 3 3

All-You-Can Watch Movies and TV is Here

Don't miss out. Here's how to make the most of this new technology.

Interested in ditching cable television for an online service but don't know where to start?  Tired of the lengthy contracts that lock you in to an eternity of ever-increasing fees?  

I've used the major online entertainment-on-demand services, and have news for you: they're not the same.  Learn the differences and make the choice that's right for you.

Whether you're a seasoned pro who's chomping at the bit for Google Fiber Internet Service or a noob on these here interwebs, there's a digital entertainment package that's right for you.  Read on to learn what's best, and what to avoid in this new age of entertainment. 

Amazon Prime

Not the newest comer to the game

Amazon has been one of the fastest-growing websites in the entire world, and was recently ranked as the #5 most-visited website in the United States and #10 worldwide[1]

Kindle Fire
Maker of the Kindle Fire tablet powered by Android, Amazon has been a strong competitor in the entertainment market, competing against giants such as Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader and Apple's dominant iPad, and has grown its market share since the Fire was released in November of 2011.

Amazon launched their video on demand service, then called "Amazon Unbox", in September of 2006.  The service was renamed "Amazon Video on Demand" in September of 2008, and in September of 2012 a deal with pay-TV channel Epix was signed, apparently in direct competition to chief rival Netflix.  Now running under the moniker "Amazon Instant Video" on amazon.com, the feature boasts about as much content as you could ever want to watch in a thousand lifetimes[2].

Using the service is as easy as logging into your account.  Once logged in, you simply navigate to Unlimited Instant Videos, and choose from the available content.  If you buy a movie, it stays available for you to watch anytime, for ever.  If you decide only to rent a movie, you have 30 days to begin watching the movie, and once begun, most movies have a 24-hour window to watch before expiring.  Like other online services, with Amazon's Instant Video you can watch them on any internet-enabled device.   

Amazon Watch Anywhere

The best way to go, however, is Amazon Prime.  For only $79 a year, you get free two-day shipping on thousands of items (look for prime-eligible when shopping this Halloween), and that's not all.  You also gain the ability to the Kindle Owner's Lending Library, where you can loan and borrow kindle books from your friends for up to two weeks, absolutely free.  And what's best, you gain access to Prime Instant Video, where you can instantly download thousand of movies and TV shows including Glee and Lost, among others, at no extra cost.

The service can be a little buggy, though, so make sure your internet connection is secure and controlled.  If you have others using your internet connection without your knowledge, not only can your entire computer network be at risk, but your buffering could be delayed too, ruining your movie experience.  The best way to make sure your network is secure is to:

  • 1) disable your network's SSID from being broadcast,
  • 2) put a password on your router (a long one... the longer, the better),
  • 3) put a password on your network.  

It's really that easy.  This will keep unauthorized web surfers off your network, and vastly improve your online experience.  Of course, as it goes with any online service, it really depends a lot on the number of users accessing the service at a given time, and overall network activity.  You can guess that Friday nights are a LOT busier for the internet than Tuesday mornings, at least in regards to online movie watching goes.  :)

Hulu and Hulu Plus

TV watching couldn't get any easier

Hulu, the free cousin of Hulu Plus, provides the days' most popular TV shows, and many hits from the past.  Movies are unavailable except for trailers, and that's the major difference.  

Hulu uses an algorithm that promotes the most popular and most searched for TV episodes and sitcoms, based on search results both inside and outside the service itself.  Content on the site's home page changes daily, but past highlights and episodes are constantly being added to the library, so the value here keeps getting better.  The major drawback? Only the most recent episodes are available for free.  However, if you're the type of television viewer that stays up to date on all the major shows, then Hulu will be great for you.

Free Shipping on orders over $50
For a nominal fee, users can upgrade to Hulu Plus, a service like Netflix.  For $7.99 a month users have access to over 1500 television programs (and their respective dozens of episodes each) and nearly twice that many movies.  The movies section is filled with documentaries, foreign language films, amateur films, and lots of sexually charged titles. If you have children that you'll be giving access to your online film archives, I hesitate against placing Hulu Plus within their reach.

Netflix

The pioneer is still a great value

Netflix was the early harbinger of doom for movie-store rental chains like Blockbuster with its mail-in service for a monthly subscription.  In a bold follow-up move, Netflix enabled instant download and video streaming to its repertoire, further simplifying the movie and television series rental process that for so long had consisted of hard-to-watch DVDs and VHS cassettes (remember those?) requisite membership cards, wasteful trips to the video store, and hefty late fees.  

The service Netflix provided actually began with many of the same features as traditional stores: membership, per-rental fees, late fees and even handling fees when the service launched in April, 1998.  By September 1999, Netflix changed to a flat rate model, and dropped the handling and late fees, and dropped altogether the per-rental model in early 2000.

Internet streaming through Netflix accounts for nearly 25% of all web traffic, according to web traffic monitor Sandvine, so it's obviously very popular.

For a small fee, now $7.99 per month, users can watch unlimited video (TV and movies) with no lengthy contract commitment, and the ability to cancel at anytime.  When my wife and I decided to become debt-free, this (although the price is low) is one of the services we cut out, simply because our efforts had become so intensely concentrated on paying off all our debts that we decided every bit mattered.  The service is available for viewing on all Mac and PC products, as well as many game consoles and tablets.  Support is not provided for Linux devices at this time.

New users to the service will enjoy Netflix's "Cinematch", an algorithm that spawned a $1,000,000 prize by the company's founders for anyone who could create a better recommendations matching system for its users.  It automatically creates recommendations to the user based on previous ratings made on other titles, and has been proven accurate to within 10% of customers' actual preferences.  If you're just starting out with Netflix, I recommend browsing for the latest title, and popping a fresh bowl of popcorn in your own living room.  Spread out the heavy blankets on the floor, prop your feet up, and crank up your entertainment system.  

No matter which of these three services you choose, it pays to keep in mind the following:

Depending on the day of the week and the time of day, web traffic can cause annoying interruptions and buffering delays when watching streaming movies over the internet.  Pausing your movie for a few minutes at the beginning will allow for a more substantial buffer if this is a common occurrence.

Shut down all other internet devices in your home while watching the movie; many modern devices have processes that run in the background that consume enormous amounts of bandwidth when added together.

Movie theaters still get the earliest releases of new movies, because that's where the majority of money is made for the movie industry.  As such, patience is required with the title releases; although typically these dates are the same dates as the DVDs become available for purchase.  If ownership of content is not your primary concern, these are a great and inexpensive way to entertain your family.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you find a service that works best for your family.

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Comments

Nov 2, 2012 11:45am
jcmayer777
I don't have cable and I probably won't in the near future. I'm pretty content with the free hulu version and my $10 per month to netflix.
Nov 2, 2012 12:25pm
psidwell
Thanks for stopping by! We don't have cable anymore, and likely never will again. For now we have Amazon Prime but with Google Fiber launching in the next year, it will be interesting to see where that takes things.
Nov 30, 2012 1:47pm
skh4you
Thanks for the article! I watch most things online now instead of TV. There are so many good sites out there.
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Bibliography

  1. "Amazon.com Site Info." alexa.com. 08/10/2012 <Web >
  2. "Amazon." Wikipedia. 9/10/2012 <Web >

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