Mid-Week Poll: Best Streaming Service for TV Series

Do you ever purchase streaming versions of your favorite TV shows? If so, which service is best for owning TV content? iTunes? Amazon? VUDU? Something else?

I have more than come to terms with digital game ownership. On the PC, I have a huge Steam library, a choice set of gog.com games, and a smattering of titles on other digital download platforms. (I’ve avoided the Origin platform, but that will eventually change.) On the console side, Sony continues to get my business both within and without PlayStation Plus, while I wish that Microsoft would let me get a digital copy of ‘Forza 4’ to go with all of the DLC that I continue to buy. Even Nintendo is rumored to be moving closer to unified digital ownership. (Likely, this will apply to the Wii and Wii U, but not the handhelds that the company wants you to re-buy every year.)

At the same time, I’ve had a harder time with regard to owning some of my favorite TV series. Studios are hesitant and haphazard when it comes to putting old and new series on Blu-ray. With two specific series in mind, the studios have left me with some unfortunate choices. For both ‘The Wire’ and ‘The Shield’, the prospect of ever being offered Blu-rays seems highly unlikely. While the desire to keep the shows in a gritty, standard-def format may be a fine stylistic choice, I’m disinterested in buying DVDs. Setting aside audio and video quality issues, the 1990s format has some annoying drawbacks. DVDs scratch easily when compared to Blu-rays, and having to workaround PAL/NTSC and region-coding issues is more than an annoyance, especially if you take your discs overseas. I have also never liked the cumbersome paper DVD cases.

With studios slighting Blu-ray, and DVDs seeming like a poor long-term investment, I’m forced to consider digital video ownership. In the case of ‘The Shield’, I might actually be able to find the HD versions that were available on Netflix in the past. I have some movies in iTunes that I managed to register before they expired, and I even bought a few shows on the Xbox 360 years ago that now are part of Microsoft’s Zune service. I own a few things on Amazon’s service, but I don’t know where to turn for building a digital TV library. I do know that I want surround sound, ubiquitous device support, and that I don’t want the company to shut down anytime soon.

I’ve listed the services (that I’m aware of) that I have access to in the U.S. Please mention any other viable options in the Comments.

Which Streaming Service Do You Prefer for Owing TV Shows?

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20 comments

  1. HuskerGuy

    I stick with blu/dvd or nothing. Obviously I prefer blu, but in cases like Community, Psych, Monk, and White Collar, blu isn’t an option so we are okay settling for dvd.

    The only tv shows I own digitally are on my PS3, but I don’t want seasons on there due to size issues. I only download specific episodes from shows that I found overwhelmingly funny/great.

    • Mindboggling that a new, current, still-on-the-air-as-we-speak show like ‘Community’ isn’t available on Blu. Many of my nerdy friends rave about it, they download it, I don’t download, I want to own it legally, it isn’t on Blu-ray. Crazy.

      • Checking briefly and Community Season 2 is available in HD (whatever the services count that as) on iTunes and Amazon for $42.99 and VUDU for $59.99. PlayStation Video and Microsoft Zune seem to have the show but I can’t get pricing information from their websites (real smart guys). None of these options seem to have the commentaries and outtakes, etc. of the DVDs.

          • Barsoom Bob

            Julian, Off topic. I read your comment that you are coming to NYC in September. Carve out a morning or afternoon in your schedule and go to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queeens. It is just a 15 minute subway ride out of Manhattan on the N or Q trains.
            Google it to go to the website, to see what films they will be screening when you are in town, films a re included in the museum admission which is only $10. I guarantee you it will be the best 10 bucks you spend in NYC.

            There a couple of rotating art exhibits as well as the screenings, but the fun is in the main colection called “behind the scenes” this covers everything from set design models, costumes, beautiful glamour stills of all the big stars, to examples of the history of film technologies. There are many, very fun interactive areas where you can play with ADR sound, foley sounds on a Terminator clip, stop motion animation and a section dedicated to video games that a has a whole row of vintage cabinet games free to play.

  2. William Henley

    I’ve got to justify my answer. It is really hard to say who is the best with the two services I use – Vudu and Amazon.

    As far as quality is concerned, its Vudu hands down. If the show is available in 1080P, it blows everything else away. The shows I have bought on Vudu tend to be even better quality than what comes from the networks.

    As such, I have cut the cable. Most shows I stream through Netflix, Amazon or Hulu. It has saved me a fortune.

    But there are a few shows that are not available for streaming. In that case, if its on Vudu, I go with them.

    However, many shows are not available on Vudu, so in that case, I go with Amazon. Amazon also tends to be cheaper per season, and you can buy individual episodes before the season is finished airing on Television. On Vudu, you tend to have to wait.

    That being said, I have not been impressed with the quality of the shows I have purchased off of Amazon. I am not sure if its because they are overcompressed, or if they are only in SD.

    So, Vudu for quality, Amazon for quantity.

    • I was ready to buy a season of ‘The Wire’ from Amazon before I noticed that it was only in stereo. As for quality I’ve visited friends who talk about 1080p of whatever service they are using (saying it as good as Blu-ray) and seem to ignore how blocky dark scenes are (among other challenging light/compression issues).

      • William Henley

        Yeah, I have that issue with Amazon – I don’t think they actually offer 1080p – I think they are only 720p. But check out Vudu – most shows you can watch the first 2 minutes of for free, so you can judge the quality for yourself.

  3. Alex

    Because I had an iPod touch, my wife has an iPad, there’s a macbook in the house, and I had downloaded the iTunes version of all of my digital copies, I’m kinda stuck in the Apple Ecosystem. I’m actually okay with it too.

    But I don’t buy TV series digitally very often. I typically rent from Netflix or purchase the physical versions (and then rip them) of the seasons of the stuff I really love.

    • If you were offered a free copy of a TV series that you liked in either iTunes HD or Blu-ray, would you choose iTunes?

      I have plenty of iTunes game purchases for some iPhones and a MacBook Air, but the Apple TV part of the equation is less enticing.

  4. EM

    I find the poll choices difficult, as there are too many “none”’s. I buy physical discs, I rent physical discs, and I also borrow physical discs from my local public library. Streaming has yet to capture my interest—mostly because of bandwidth issues, though there are other concerns such as quality.

  5. “I just download scripts and re-enact my favorite episodes with my pets.”

    Quite possibly the best option in a poll ever, worldwide, globally, universally, wholesaley.

  6. I dont bother much with owning TV shows, I watch what I can on TV and usually wait for Amazon or Netflix or something to get them. I own one TV show on DVD and thats Supernatural and thats only because its probably my all time favorite. Otherwise I NEVER watch a TV show again, too long and too involving to do repeat viewings for me, these are like books, I never read a book again either, I think I’ve done that maybe twice in my lifetime 🙂

    • EM

      What I’m usually interested in is strong, rewatchable individual episodes, and so the twin trends in season sets and increased serialization mitigate against my buying much TV on Blu-ray or DVD. The few shows that I have acquired on disc therefore tend to be more episodically-oriented, usually older series such as Twilight Zone or Star Trek and its spinoffs. Another I’ve acquired, Babylon 5, is famous as a “five-year novel for television” but nevertheless often produced episodes that had a strong complete-story-of-the-week feel despite their connections to the ongoing plot arcs.

      That all said, I recently bought the entire four-season run of the comedy serial Soap on DVD and am having a blast.

      As for books, Chaz, maybe you haven’t picked the right ones. If you haven’t already, try Dracula; I’ve read that one cover-to-cover a few times…

      • I’ve read quite a lot of good stuff, I’m a big Fantasy lover and Harry Potter has been some of the best reading I’ve ever done but I just dont really go back and reread something, I’m one of those people that dont read fast, I read every single word on the page, cause if I dont I feel like I’m missing something. So it takes me quite a while to read something and its not a main hobby of mine either so it could be months before I finish one book, so in that sense I have other books I’d like to read over going back and reading something a second time, same goes with Movies and TV Shows, there are quite a few movies that I watch multiple times but they are only 2 hours each, but I’m usually watching something new instead and with TV spending 25 hours to watch a season again just isnt going to happen, but I do go back and watch some of the older shows I watched as a kid since I havent seen them since then, if enough time goes by then I will consider revisiting something again 🙂

      • William Henley

        I think Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis make for good series to go back and rewatch. While you do have an ongoing story, many of the episodes are pretty self-contained, and if not, then the it stretches over two or three episodes. And if an episode does go back and build on a previous episode, that brief recap at the begining brings you right up to speed.

        As far as books, very few will I reread, but there are a couple of exceptions. I am reading the Harry Potter books now for probably the seventh time through the series, and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books for probably the 12th time. I’ve read the Narnia books probably three times, and the Little House on the Prarie books (ALL of them, not just the Laura years) probably about three times (and then I will reread individual series each time there is a new book introduced – probably read the Caroline years 4 times, the Rose years about 5 times. Disappointed that there are not more books about Martha or Charlotte).

        I am debating if I am going to go back and reread Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat. I read those about 5 years ago, and started Queen of the Damned, but then life stepped in and I put the series down for a while. But I LOVED Interview with the Vampire, so I may just go back and reread it.

        Pretty much, I guess I really only reread books if they are part of a series. The characters tend to grow on you, and if the book is rewritten, going back and rereading them a couple of years later is like revisiting old friends. Its especially sad in the Little House books when you read that someone dies. I mean, Martha died 150 years ago in real life, even the real Rose died in 1968, so you know that all the characters have been dead centuries, but still, you connect with the people so much in the books, that it is like you know them, and it hurts when they die.

  7. JM

    I’ve been watching ‘The West Wing’ in HD from Amazon and the video and audio is a step down from the dvds.

    The only thing I appreciate is the widescreen aspect ratio.

    Even the convenience of going disc-free is offset by the annoyance of the online menu clunkiness and connection tests / episode buffering.

    It’s too bad the economics of blu-ray is so unfriendly for television.

    I just started watching ‘The Sopranos’ for the first time, and only seasons 1 and 6 are on blu-ray, the rest are only on dvd.

    What kind of stupidity is that?

    • Ian Whitcombe

      With Sopranos, its an unfortunate case that has hurt other series’: Seasons 6.0 and 6.5 were day-and-date releases with the DVD and priced on HBO’s old model. Season One, on the other hand was a catalog release of decade-old content with no additional frills. In short: the season six BD’s were competing with DVDs released the same day, while the season one BD was competing with accumulated sales of that counterpart DVD set for almost a decade. (Not to mention the Complete Series DVD set, which often reaches discount pricing.)

      For what its worth, I expect HBO/Warners to release a complete series set when all is said and done.

    • I watched Season 1 when it came out on Blu-ray, and even with the pretentious lack of a play-all or resume functionality, the sound and video were excellent.

      I’m glad that HBO puts its current shows out on Blu-ray, but they have done themselves, the Sopranos show, and the consumer a disservice by not bringing seasons 2-5 to Blu-ray.