New York Times writer David Pogue calls it the "glorious future" -- movies that stream from the Internet on demand to our televisions, laptops and phones. As wireless technology makes higher-quality picture resolution possible at ever faster download speeds, it has become easier and more feasible than ever to stream movies online.
You've probably heard of Netflix, YouTube and iTunes, but they aren't the only players in the movie-streaming game. Several companies have jumped into the fray. Some, like Sears Holdings Corp., which paired with Alphaline Entertainment to launch an online movie streaming site in 2010, fold almost as soon as they start. Others, like Zediva, Inc., run afoul of the law and are forced to shut down (Zediva thought it had found a legal loophole in copyright laws by legally purchasing DVDs and streaming them one at a time, jukebox-style, from banks of standard DVD players. Sadly for cinephiles, the courts did not agree, and Zediva recently lost its lawsuit).
Netflix, YouTube, Blockbuster, iTunes and countless other sites, however, are still in the streaming game. Movie buffs will want to pay close attention as these contenders spar over everything from price models to rental periods. For the moment at least, there are plenty of free and affordable movies to be found online. For movie lovers who can't bear the iffy picture quality, annoying re-buffering and spotty selection of online streaming, cheap DVD rentals are another good budget bet. We explore those next.