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Movies Online

Learn how to watch movies online -- or movies on-demand -- safely and legally.

Watching movies online can save a trip to the video store and eliminate unwanted late fees. [©Jupiter Images, 2008]
©Jupiter Images, 2008
Watching movies online can save a trip to the video store and eliminate unwanted late fees.

With the advent of the Internet comes the availability of movies online. Consumers often have trouble choosing the best place to find movies online or movies on demand especially when movies seem to be everywhere. They may also find it difficult to determine which Web sites are legal.

Consumers can access movies online in two ways: by downloading them onto their computers or simply watching them online. 

Download Movies Online

Consumers wishing to download movies online have many options, but not all of these options are legal. iTunes is a popular legal software option that allows users to purchase, download and watch movies. The free software is available for all platforms and is standard on Apple computers. The iTunes Music Store offers consumers a choice of more than 100,000 movies that they can download quickly and legally.

The iTunes Music Store also gives consumers the option of "renting" a movie. Rented movies are available for 30 days and for 24 hours after consumers hit "play." Rented movies disappear once they expire. Consumers should be aware that they cannot use a CD burner or any similar device to copy purchased or rented movies. Movies online from iTunes can only be legally downloaded onto a computer, an iPod or a cell phone. For the most recent updates on downloading and watching movies through iTunes, visit the iTunes homepage.

Consumers can also purchase movies online from Amazon.com through Video On Demand. There is no set rate for Video On Demand, and many free and 99-cent movies are available. Video On Demand also gives consumers the option of renting movies.

Popular movie rental sites such as Netflix also offer movies online. With these companies, users pay a monthly fee for a subscription, which allows them to request DVDs that the company mails to their home. The subscription also gives users permission to download movies onto their computers or to watch them immediately online. The subscription fee is based on how often a user intends to use the service.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) provides a list of sites from which consumers can legally download movies. Most of the above sites require multimedia software, such as Real Media Player, Windows Media Player or QuickTime in order to successfully watch movies.

Peer-to-Peer Web Sites

Some Internet users download movies from torrent Web sites, also called peer-to-peer (P2P) sites. Torrent Web sites do not formally host any files. PC Magazine
explains that torrent sites break large files, which are sometimes pirated movies, into chunks that they distribute among several participating users. When one user downloads a chunk, he or she automatically uploads the chunk to another user.

Users need special operating-system software to open and download torrent files. They should also be aware that there is no way to preview movie quality, know whether a download is legal, or be sure that they are downloading what they requested and not a virus. Torrent users must be vigilant about running virus scans and keeping their software updated.

Watch Movies Online

In addition to the many Web sites that allow users to download movies online, many other sites allow users to simply watch the movies online. These movies are called streaming movies. One such site is Hulu, which gives users free access to several hundred full-length movies along with hundreds of movie clips and television episodes. Other popular sites such as YouTube feature movie clips. The site is often patrolled to ensure the legality of each user-uploaded video on the site.

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