How to Choose the Best PlayStation Video Service

PSN Logo
PSN Logo. Image © Sony

Let’s say that it’s been a long day and you want to use your PlayStation 3 to either watch or buy a movie. It used to be so simple – go to the PlayStation Store, click on Video, and browse the new releases. But, now, there are more Movie On Demand options on the PS3 every day, making it hard to know which are the best PS3 apps. Are they all the same? Do you need to pick your favorite or browse them all? And what the heck is a Vudu anyway? Let us guide the way.

Don’t Believe the Hype

The most well-known video services now available on your PS3 may seem the most tempting. “Oh, I’ve heard of Hulu and Netflix, they must be what I need.” Hold up. These are great services with their own pros and cons, but they won’t get the job done when it comes to On Demand movies. Yes, they each have films that you can stream to your PS3, but they’re incredibly limited in their cinematic offerings.

Hulu specializes in television but, to be fair, also carries a lot of the Criterion Collection movie catalog, the Little Rascals shorts, and a number of straight-to-DVD titles. It’s an option if you’re looking to browse, but not for new releases or if you want something specific.

By the same token, Netflix has made a fortune on its streaming service, but their selection is remarkably bereft of new releases. You should very rarely expect a title to be there on the same day it hits DVD and Blu-ray and even their catalog is incredibly limited. They should be looked at more like a cable network like Starz – some theatrical options that came out at the multiplex about a year ago, some catalog titles, and a few interesting TV programs.

Taking Your Seat

If Hulu and Netflix aren’t the right ticket for movie night, what are the other options? There are five On Demand services available on the PS3: The PlayStation Store, Video Unlimited, Vudu, Amazon Instant Video, and CinemaNow. Before we get down to specifics, how do they each look? The Store will naturally be the most familiar to most PS3 users and has a user-friendly interface. However, Video Unlimited looks the most professional with a responsive search engine and graphically appealing front page in which new releases, sale items, and catalog titles are well-highlighted. Amazon Instant Video, the newest player, looks a bit stiff in comparison (although has the best search function). Vudu has a decent interface, but CinemaNow comes off particularly clunky. Menu presentation matters when you’re looking to spend money on entertainment. It’s like the difference between walking into a sparkling new multiplex or walking into an out-of-date theater with sticky floors and broken seats. So Video Unlimited and the Store definitely win the cosmetic battle.

New Releases

For the most part, new releases seem pretty consistently available across the board. I decided to use the Oscar-winning “The Descendants” as a sample and all five services carried the film on the same day that it hit Blu-ray and DVD. And the prices are relatively similar -- $3.99-5.99 to rent/$14.99-19.99 to own, depending on SD or HD. The PlayStation Store has one HD rental option at $5.99, CinemaNow has one at $4.99, and Vudu and Video Unlimited offer two HD prices (720 & 1080) at $4.99 and $5.99 each. CinemaNow wins the rental battle as they are the only one that boast 1080p and 5.1 surround sound for $4.99 (the other three services charge a buck more for the same specs). However, when it comes to buying options, CinemaNow stands out as the odd duck, offering only one SD version for $15.95 while the other three have SD versions for $14.99 and HD ones for $19.99. Amazon Instant Video has the standard prices for SD and HD rent but doesn't offer the title to own.

PlayStation Store: $3.99/$5.99 to rent, $14.99/$19.99 to own
Vudu: $3.99-$5.99 to rent, $14.99/$19.99 to own
CinemaNow: $3.99/$4.99 to rent, $15.95 to own
Video Unlimited: $3.99-5.99 to rent, $14.99/$19.99 to own
Amazon Instant Video: $3.99/$4.99 to rent

Catalog Titles

For this portion of the study, I wanted to test two titles – one quite common and one seemingly harder to find: “Gladiator” and “Total Recall.” Sorry Sharon Stone fans, only three services carried “Total Recall” at all and none of them did so for rental, although Amazon has a great price to own. On the PSN and Video Unlimited, you can buy the Ah-nuld hit for $9.99 standard-definition and it's only $4.99 on Amazon Instant Video. Sadly, none are HD. You will have to go buy the Blu-ray.

“Gladiator” is a different story. All five services offer the title with a surprising variety of price points. The Russell Crowe hit will cost you $12.99 to own on Vudu, but only $9.99 at the PlayStation Store and Amazon Instant Video. And it is available for rent on all five services, but the HD version will cost you more on Vudu.

PlayStation Store: $2.99/$4.50 to rent, $9.99 to own
Vudu: $2.99/$4.99 to rent, $12.99 to own
CinemaNow: $2.99 to rent, $11.95 to own
Video Unlimited: $2.99/$4.50 to rent, $9.99 to own
Amazon Instant Video: $2.99/$3.99 to rent, $9.99 to own

Conclusion

With menus that are less user-friendly, inconsistent prices, and a smaller catalog, Vudu and CinemaNow can’t yet compete with PlayStation Store or Video Unlimited. Amazon Instant Video is brand new and could use a menu overhaul, but is the clear answer for people users who also have Amazon Prime accounts. When it comes down to the Store vs. Video Unlimited, the battle is so close in every area that it comes down to which interface you find the most appealing. If you’re familiar with the Store from buying games, stick with it. If not, I would recommend giving Video Unlimited a try. Either way, you should be all set for movie night.