The Best Places to Buy Your Digital Movies

Apple vs. Amazon vs. Google vs. Vudu

In 2000, it was hard to imagine the music CD becoming obsolete, and even crazier, being replaced by... nothing. In 2001, Apple released its first iPod. Vinyl has outlasted the CD, perhaps in the same way that the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) became a best-selling console over 30 years after its original release. Even digital music is seeing its replacement looming as subscription services pop up left and right. And soon, the digital world will eat our movie collection. But where should we buy our digital movies and TV shows? 

Person on their bed in bunny slippers watching Vudu
Theresa Chiechi / Lifewire

In 2001, Apple released the iPod and unleashed digital music unto the world. So when the launched the iTunes Music Store two years later, it was an easy decision to go with Apple. But with digital video, Apple, Amazon, Google are all competing to be our provider. Even Microsoft is belatedly getting into the mix. They all have their perks, but one unsettling fact remains true with all of these providers: you can't simply download your movie and use it on any device you want. You are locked into using that particular company's app, which may not be available on every device.

Which company is the cheapest? With retail prices set by the studios, they are all about the same in terms of price. However, you can still find some movies on sale, so it's possible to shop the deals. Unfortunately, this splits your library, which means you'll need to use multiple apps and even multiple devices to view your collection.

So which provider should you choose for your digital movie library? The answer to that question may be decided by what devices you use as much as which company you like the most, so we'll go over the pros and cons of each provider. 

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VUDU logo

Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

What We Like
  • You can download movies and TV shows to both PCs and mobile devices for offline viewing.

  • Vudu is platform neutral, so it is available on most devices.

  • Supports both UltraViolet and Movies Anywhere.

  • Has their own 'HDX' format that improves (slightly) on HD quality.

  • Large selection of 4K/UHD titles.

  • The 'free with ads' collection of movies is a nice bonus.

What We Don't Like
  • The interface isn't quite as smooth as the competition.

  • Not as well known as Amazon, Apple, and Google.

We'll start with the one that you may not have heard about before reading this. Vudu popped up in 2007, so they've been around for a while. But who are they? One primary thing you need from your digital movie provider is trust. You don't want to buy some movies and have the company shut down in two years, and with Amazon, Google and Apple, you don't have those worries.

You also don't have those worries with Vudu. In 2010, they were acquired by Wal-Mart. And while Vudu isn't a household brand, Wal-Mart certainly is. Vudu offers movies in SD, HD and their own HDX format, which is a slightly superior rendition of HD. Some movies are also available in Ultra HD (UHD)

One nice benefit of Vudu is the ability to download the movie to your PC. Most video providers are now offering offline downloads for mobile, but Vudu and Apple offer the same service for desktop and laptop PCs. You still must use their respective apps, but it's a nice benefit.

Vudu supports UltraViolet, which was a digital locker that gives you access to digital copies of DVD and Blu-ray titles. This was a great way to build your online collection while still buying DVDs and Blu-ray discs.

UltraViolet has shut down, but you can continue to redeem unexpired codes at Vudu.

Vudu also offers some movies for free with advertisements.

Compatibility? Vudu has perhaps the widest range of support for devices. You can get it on your Roku, iPhone, iPad, Android smartphone or tablet, Chromecast, Xbox, PlayStation, and a number of smart TVs

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Google Play

Google Play logo

Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

What We Like
  • Available on a wider range of devices than Apple and Amazon.

  • Good selection of 4K/UHD video.

  • You can download video to your mobile device.

  • Offers an introductory $0.99 rental.

  • Supports Movies Anywhere.

What We Don't Like
  • There's not a dedicated app for game consoles.

  • No offline downloads for the PC.

While this list isn't to be interpreted as best-to-worst, Google Play gets the second mention based mainly on the ability to stream their offerings on a wider range of devices than Amazon Video or Apple's iTunes movies and television.

It's easy to trust Vudu's neutrality in the war over our digital video lockbox because they don't have a device they are trying to push. Google's Android, Chrome and Chromecast platforms don't exactly make them Switzerland, but they've played nice in the war for our living rooms. Google's philosophy is more about providing the opportunity to watch on the largest range of devices rather than battling it out for platform dominance. 

Google Play offers some titles in UHD, but these titles aren't marked in the store, so it can be difficult to know if any particular movie is available in UHD until you go to buy it. Google Play does offer a $0.99 rental to new customers, so it is worth checking out if just to save a couple of bucks on a movie night.

You can stream Google Play on your iPhone, iPad, Android, PC, Roku, many smart televisions or through Chromecast. While there's not an app for game consoles, as long as your Xbox or PlayStation can open YouTube, you can get to your rentals and purchases in the YouTube app.

Google Play isn't available for Apple TV (yet?), but if you have an Apple TV, you can use YouTube or AirPlay to stream your Google Play collection. 

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Apple iTunes

iTunes logo

Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

What We Like
  • One of the first to offer streaming video, movies, TV shows, and rentals and still a leader in terms of stability and performance.

  • Works great with the iOS TV app, which will let you browse and select movies and shows from various sources alongside your own digital collection including Hulu, Max, Starz, etc.

  • Allows offline downloads to both PC and mobile devices. 

  • Supports Movies Anywhere.

What We Don't Like
  • Compatibility limited to Apple's ecosystem (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple TV) and Macs and Windows-based machines. 

If you own an iPhone, iPad and Apple TV, it may seem like a simple decision to do your shopping in iTunes. As you can imagine, Apple's ecosystem works great together. The TV app on Apple TV and iPad brings your collection together with various subscription services like Hulu, which makes browsing for what to watch much easier. You can also download movies to your desktop or laptop and well as your iPhone or iPad, so you can enjoy your collection offline.

What you can't do is watch anything on Android. Or your Smart TV. Or that Blu-ray player with all the streaming apps. Or basically anywhere besides a PC or an Apple device. 

That's enough to give even Apple Watch owners some doubts on whether or not to put all those eggs in Apple's basket. 

There is a Roku channel for iTunes purchases, called, appropriately enough, Apple TV.

Apple also offers 4K streaming. While digital 4K movies are expensive compared to HD and the titles are limited, if you want to build a top-quality movie collection, having the option is a definite must.

Apple isn't a bad choice for those who love their products. But in a decade, we could all be using smart devices from a company that doesn't even exist yet. And will we be able to take our movie collection with us? 

Despite its limitations, Apple is top-notch in just about every other category. They offer a great streaming service, you can download your movies to any device that can actually play them, they always have some type of deal going on, and what's better, those deals are easy to find thanks to a pretty decent interface. 

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Amazon Prime Video

Amazon logo

Amazon / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

What We Like
  • The tie-in with Amazon Prime video makes it easy to browse through available movies and TV from both Prime and your digital lockbox.

  • Plenty of 4K titles.

  • You can download to your mobile device for offline viewing.

  • Supports Movies Anywhere.

What We Don't Like
  • No downloads for the PC.

  • Amazon is known for not playing nice with others.

Amazon Prime includes a Netflix-style streaming service alongside its many other benefits. It also offers a selection of 4K video and allow downloads to mobile devices for offline viewing.

Amazon doesn't always play well with others: for a time, it wouldn't sell Apple TV or Chromecast, because, neither device worked with its streaming service. The company eventually reversed course, Amazon Prime Video is now available on a wide range of devices, including Apple TV and Chromecast. Amazon also supports iOS devices, Roku, XBOX, PlayStation, PC, most smart TVs and (of course) Amazon's Fire devices, which run on top of Android.

Where NOT to Buy Your Movies and TV Shows

It's all well and good to list out the various options for your digital video lockbox, but what about those companies you should avoid at all costs?

Obviously, if you've never heard of the company, you shouldn't trust them with your movie collection. We've all heard of Apple and Google and Amazon, which makes us more comfortable doing business with them.

But what about your cable company? It might seem easy to purchase movies directly from your cable provider, but it really becomes just one more thing that locks you into the service. While some companies offer ways to view your purchases after you end the service, it's much better to go with a company that offers more permanence.

Movies Anywhere

Don't like your digital library tied to one single company? Neither does Movies Anywhere. The big difference is that Movies Anywhere can actually do something about it. And the big surprise is that they actually did.

Movies Anywhere allows you to buy movies from iTunes, Prime Video, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube, Microsoft, XFINITY, and Verizon FIOS.

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