There’s no need to queue for a DVD

Lara Pulver as Erin Watts in the spy series Spooks, which is available on Netflix
Lara Pulver as Erin Watts in the spy series Spooks, which is available on Netflix
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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For many of us trips to the local video shop are becoming a thing of the past.

Taking a drive to browse hundreds of battered-looking VHS cassettes has been replaced by a range of new options for bringing movies directly into our homes.

The most famous is Amazon-owned mail order service Lovefilm, which has caught on by offering a range of titles with no late fees for a monthly subscription.

But with the rise of faster broadband in many areas, along with new technology offering a plethora of home entertainment features, the race is on to make the process even faster and easier.

Lovefilm has introduced an online film library to make the most of the emerging market and this year saw the UK launch of Netflix – a hugely successful US internet streaming service.

Like similar existing companies it cuts out the wait for content completely.

Now films are sent straight to your TV or downloaded directly onto your computer as part of a monthly subscription package.

A spokesman for Which? Magazine said: ‘With the slow demise of the high street video store, many people are turning to the internet to rent the latest blockbusters.

‘DVD and Blu-ray rental sites such as Lovefilm have proved hugely successful, offering subscription models with no late fees and discs delivered to your door.

‘However, these sites now face competition from an even faster way to watch the newest James Bond or Harry Potter film.

‘Digital delivery services, such as iTunes, Blinkbox and Acetrax, give viewers instant access to films without having to wait for a disc to turn up.’

But with prices, libraries and options varying it’s hard to know if you’re getting the best deal, So Streetwise has taken a look at what’s on offer.

· iTunes

Apple’s gigantic music store has been joined by a significant library of films and TV shows to download onto your computer, iPad or iPhone.

Unlike Lovefilm and Netflix the iTunes store doesn’t require a subscription fee, so you won’t be charged if you forget to make use of it.

Instead you can pay one-off fees to gain access to some of the latest releases for 30 days, or 48-hours once you start watching them.

Prices range from 99p to £4.49 depending on how new the film is and whether you want to watch in high definition.

But one problem is that many recent or popular titles are only available to buy permanently for an increased price.

· Netflix

Launched in January Netflix is already a big name in the US and offers a very straightforward service.

For a subscription fee of £5.99 all members get access to its entire library which can be streamed straight to your TV, computer or video games console.

What’s on offer ranges from classic movies and TV shows to more current fare such as Spooks and Arrested Development. There is a wide range of children’s programming available, and on certain devices this is combined with a channel designed specifically for children to browse.

But while it’s likely everyone could find something to enjoy in the large library, it is hardly comprehensive and can prove frustrating when searching for specific titles only to find, time-and-time-again, they aren’t available.

· Lovefilm

The most famous mail-order DVD and Blu-ray rental service doesn’t yet offer an online-only package for those wanting to stream or download content.

For £5.99 a month subscribers get three DVD rentals and two hours of streaming. This package would essentially allow you to watch one film a month online.

And for more dedicated film fans there’s an unlimited package which costs £9.99 a month, but more recent films available for streaming must be bought separately. These range from 99p to £3.49.

The service has a high level of compatibility with common platforms such as Apple devices and the Playstation 3, but the streaming content is arguably more limited than Netflix.

This could be partly down to an ongoing dispute Lovefilm has with Universal pictures, which means none of the giant studio’s post-2009 releases are available.

· Other services

Also available are the Sony Entertainment Network, which can be used on a variety of platforms, and Xbox Live Marketplace, which runs on Microsoft’s consoles.

Both work in a similar way to iTunes, offering one-off rentals for reasonable prices.

A comparable service can be accessed by owners of smart TVs from LG, Panasonic and Samsung using the online-only Acetrax.

Last but not least Blinkbox is a Tesco-owned site with a wide range of titles that tends to undercut its rivals by around 50p per film.