iPad Video: Which Service is Best?

The iPad’s Retina Display is fantastic for watching videos in either HD or Standard. So, when you have an iPad, the question is not whether to watch videos with it, but which service you should use.

I have my movies and TV shows all skewed across four different Apps, and this list reflects my experience with them. Which service you choose depends largely on your individual need, since they’re all actually pretty good.

  • iTunes
  • Since it comes standard with the iPad, and is obviously an Apple-designed App, iTunes works seamlessly with your iOS device and I have never had a problem with it. I own all six seasons of The Sopranos via iTunes, as well as all three Robot Chicken Star Wars videos, and all of them look fantastic, even the ones that are in SD. The downside of iTunes is that you’ve got to download the videos, and I have yet to see a truly workable solution for streaming when you’re out and about on borrowed WiFi. Also, they are not as competitive with their pricing as the other services, which is why some of my videos are on . . .

  • Amazon Instant Video
  • When it comes to competitiveness, it’s hard to match Amazon both in price and sheer determination. The Amazon Instant Video App works great, and allows for downloading as well as streaming. My biggest issue with Amazon Instant (back in my laptop days) was the lack of any “buffering bar.” Since I could never tell how far ahead the video was loading (and since Amazon only allows streaming and NEVER DOWNLOADING on a traditional computer), my viewing of The Wire would be constantly interrupted and I would have to cut it off ten minutes before the end because my lunch break is over and I’d spend the afternoon in suspense before watching the last ten minutes at home. This led me to seek a better service, so I tried out . . .

  • Google Play
  • The nice thing about Google Play’s streaming video is that it uses Youtube, which has the handy grey buffering bar so that you know whether you need to pause it or just let it ride. I bought seasons 2-5 of Breaking Bad through Google Play, and was pleasantly surprised by their consistent episode updates for the pre-purchased 5th season. Usually the new episode was available about a day after airing, great for someone like me who doesn’t have cable (or a TV, for that matter).

  • Netflix
  • The granddaddy of the video streaming service, Netlflix remains a top choice for people looking for good quality video on the cheap (base service is $7.99/mo.). Like Amazon Instant, it also doesn’t have a buffering bar, but this seems like less of a problem. The few times I’ve had the video stop to load (usually while watching at a heavily-trafficked Starbucks), it has started playing again within a minute. Sometimes the App has lowered the quality to allow for more fluid playback, and it is noticeable, but it’s still not terrible quality, and I’ve never had a single video do this more than once.

    Honorable Mention

  • Hulu Plus
  • Hulu Plus is the upgraded version Hulu’s free TV service. My wife and I watch all of our TV shows on Hulu through the desktop browser, and unfortunately the app is only compatible if you have a Hulu Plus account (which costs $7.99/mo.), which is too bad because I enjoy the free version of Hulu and it seems like they would offer that as well in order to maximize ad revenue. Oh well.

Remember to consider your needs and situation before signing on with any given service, and especially how that service works with your specific device. Some of these services worked terribly with my laptop, but completely dominate on the iPad. In an ever-changing technological landscape like ours, I believe we will eventually see online services that work pretty much the same way regardless of device. But that is not our world. Yet.

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