Dear Dominic, Where can I legally download movies online? I mean films that you pay for...
Abayomi, via email, 23 January 2012
Our expert Dominic says...
Hi Abayomi, thanks for your question. Downloading movies legally from the internet is a great way to access a huge number of films, both new and old, but there aren't actually many sites from which you can legally download movies onto your computer.
Indeed, many of the sites you'll come across are illegal and it's important to remember that just because a website asks you to pay, it doesn't necessarily mean the download is legal.
The potential consequences of downloading files illegally are pretty serious. Not only would you be breaking the law, but you also risk opening up your computer to unwanted viruses and hackers. If caught, you could be banned from the internet and face prosecution.
In the guide below, we'll take you through the main sites and service for watching movies legally, as well as looking at the costs and potential safety implications.
What are the best packages for downloading
If you want to stream or download a lot of movies, you'll need broadband that's fast and reliable, as well as a provider that won't penalise you for heavy downloading.
Our top picks include TalkTalk (www.TalkTalk.co.uk), O2 broadband (www.O2.co.uk), Sky Broadband (www.Sky.com), Plusnet (www.plus.net) and Virgin Media (www.virginmedia.com). These providers offer packages tailored to heavy downloaders, with large or unlimited download allowances.
TalkTalk Pro comes with speeds up to 24Mb and "unlimited broadband" downloads, subject to a fair usage policy - perfect if you have a large family with multiple PCs all competing for bandwidth. Furthermore, TalkTalk was voted Best Value for Money in our 2010 Customer Satisfaction Survey amongst providers of bundled services.
You can also compare other broadband packages using our broadband calculator
Unlimited broadband deals
Monthly cost: £3.25
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Monthly cost: £7.50 1st year cost: £92.18
Monthly cost: £16.00
(free for 6 months)1st year cost: £102.95
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How to watch films online
Streaming - This means playing a video clip instantly. You won't have to wait for the content to download before watching, but if your broadband speed isn't fast enough there could be annoying pauses. Streaming uses just as much memory as downloading, so make sure you have a suitable download allowance to avoid incurring extra costs.
Downloading - If you're planning ahead for something to watch later on, some websites allow you to download a film rather than streaming it. This means it is saved on your computer's hard drive, and is useful for anyone whose broadband connection is too slow to seamlessly play movies online. Again, unless you have unlimited broadband, it is important to make sure you don't exceed your download limit.
Which sites offer legal movie downloads?
In the UK, the main sites you can use to stream and download movies legally are as follows:
iTunes - Possibly the world's best-known digital entertainment outlet, Apple's iTunes Store enables you to buy movies or "rent" them - where the downloaded video file expires after a set number of days. Apple's library features thousands of releases from every major studio and films can be purchased in standard or high-definition (SD or HD) to watch on a computer, iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Some movies come with iTunes Extras, such as interviews, trailers and photos, just like the special features on a DVD or Blu-ray. While the iTunes Store is immensely popular, it is rarely the cheapest option for downloads.
LOVEFiLM - Alongside its popular mail order website - where subscribers get film rentals through the post and return the discs after watching to receive another batch - the LOVEFiLM Player has over 5,000 movies and TV shows ready to stream online. Users can either make one-off payments to view individual titles or take out a subscription from £5.99 a month. LOVEFiLM also offers a small selection of films that are free to watch.
Netflix - Since it launched in the US four years ago, internet TV and film subscription service Netflix has expanded into Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America. In January 2012, it was made available in the UK and Ireland. For £5.99 a month, you can watch a wide range of local and international TV programmes and movies via internet-connected devices such as smart TVs, games consoles, Blu-ray players, tablets and smartphones - or simply watch on your computer instead.
Film4oD - It looks and feels a lot like Channel 4's television on-demand website 4oD, but unlike the free catch-up service, Film4oD charges a set fee for each movie you choose to watch. The selection of films is good - though not as broad as with LOVEFiLM - but the site itself is very easy to use and gives you the choice to watch on or offline. Most of the movies cost between £2.99 and £3.99 to watch.
BBC iPlayer - Accessible on a range of mobile and tablet devices, as well as computers and some games consoles, the BBC iPlayer is a simple way to enjoy the last seven days of BBC TV and radio programmes. It also allows you to watch any movies that have been screened in the past week on channels such as BBC One and BBC Two. The best thing about the iPlayer is that all content can be viewed completely free of charge. But remember you will need a TV licence if you plan to watch anything live as it is broadcast.
YouTube - Previously available in the US and Canada only, YouTube launched its film streaming service in the UK this month. Running alongside the Google-owned site's video-sharing function, the movie catalogue includes classics such asCasablanca and Reservoir Dogs, as well as far more recent releases. Most films cost between £2.49 and £3.49 to rent and YouTube gives you 48 hours to watch them once you've paid.
Virgin Media - If you're a Virgin Media broadband customer and receive Virgin's digital television, you may be familiar with its TV on-demand service, the Virgin Media Player. The company's movie rental website has a very similar style and layout but is available to anyone with an internet connection, regardless of whether they're a Virgin Media customer. New releases usually cost £3.99 to rent, but there is no option to download - films can only be streamed online, so you'll need a fast connection and suitable data allowance to avoid running into trouble.
Sky Go - Just like the Virgin Media service, Sky offers its digital satellite customers a place to watch programmes and movies from their TV package online at no extra cost. Sky Go allows Sky customers that subscribe to the Sky Movies pack to access four live Sky Movie channels plus over 500 movies on-demand via their PC or Mac at no extra cost. Even if you're not a Sky TV customer, you can still take out a monthly subscription with no long-term commitment that will give you access to Sky Movies.
blinkbox - For anyone more interested in independent films or world cinema, blinkbox provides a wide selection of alternative titles to rent or buy. It also boasts some of most affordable prices of any website dedicated to watching movies online. Recent releases can cost as little as £1.99 and there are also nearly 1,000 titles that can be viewed for free.
How much does it cost to watch movies legally?
It depends whether you choose to "buy" or "rent" the film.
When you "buy" a film, you can keep it on your hard drive forever and watch it as many times as you like, whenever you like. Prices for a full-length feature film are typically between £5 and £10.
You can, however, "rent" a film from sites like iTunes for as little as £2 or £3. When you rent a movie from iTunes you have 30 days to start watching it. Once you've started watching, you have a set time period - usually 48 hours - to finish it. During this time, you can watch the film as many times as you like.
As well as the cost, it is also important to consider the amount of storage it takes to download a movie. A DVD quality movie can take up 1-4 GB and you are looking at around 8GB for a HD movie.
How safe is it to purchase movies online?
Downloading movies legally will require the use of your credit or debit card. As with making any kind of purchases online, it is important you make sure your internet connection is secure (if you are using a wireless connection you should be using WEP or WPA encryption). If you are downloading from the reputable websites above, your transactions should be secure.