Want to stream video? Here are some tips

Netflix is just one of many online services

Netflix is just one of many online services that provides subscription-based offerings for on-demand movies and television shows. (Oct. 1, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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1. You can commit to a new provider. If you're interested in a low-cost subscription that allows unlimited streaming, look to Netflix and Amazon Prime. Netflix, which has a huge video library, will run you $8 a month, or $96 a year. Prime, which is $79 for the year, gives you access to a rotating library of more than 17,000 TV and movie titles.

2. Or you can play the field. Amazon Instant Video, iTunes and Vudu charge $2 to $3 for individual TV and movie rentals, and $4 for new releases. The catch: If you want to watch a movie again, you'll have to pay for it. And for frequent couch potatoes, those payments can add up.

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3. Your cable company wants you back. A number of cable providers are touting their streaming capabilities. For example, Comcast's Xfinity TV lets you watch your favorite shows online, on a TV and on other mobile devices. But after the first 12 months, you will pay $55 a month for the privilege.

4. You're paying twice. Walmart's disc-to-digital service ($2 or $5) allows you to stream movies you already own on DVD to your tablet or mobile device. But why pay extra to stream a movie you can already watch on your TV or laptop?

5. You may need new equipment. Whatever service you choose will likely be compatible with your PC and mainstream mobile devices, such as iPads and iPods. But if you want to watch TV, well, on your TV, you might need to invest in a streaming device. You can stream content from all of the major players using a PlayStation 3 ($250) or an Xbox 360 ($200). Roku's box, a bargain at $60 to $100, works with any major service. If you want to connect your computer directly to your TV, a set of HDMI cables for high-definition TVs costs less than $10; converters for standard-definition TVs run about $75. (You will also need to route the audio through separate speakers.) Some HDTVs come Internet-enabled and ready to stream.

6. Tune in for further developments. In February, Redbox and Verizon announced a movie-streaming partnership, set to launch in the fall or winter. Two days later, Amazon and Viacom announced a similar partnership that offers channels such as MTV and Comedy Central on the Amazon Prime platform. But the most exciting development might be a scrappy start-up called Aereo that lets you watch TV on any Web-connected device with a screen via a network of miniaturized antennas. The company remains mum on its expansion plans, but it has raised enough funding to grow if the initial rollout goes well.

(Caitlin Dewey is associate online editor at Kiplinger.com. Send your questions and comments to moneypower@kiplinger.com. And for more on this and similar money topics, visit www.Kiplinger.com.)

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