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7 Best iPad Apps for Watching TV and Movies

TV/movie iPad apps

Two months after the iPad 2 debuted in March, around 40% of users surveyed said their iPad was their primary computer, up from around 30% last December, Business Insider reported. As that number climbs, users will need better and better apps to watch TV shows and movies.

Leading video apps have been enhancing user experience with higher resolution, social integration, and – for our fickle attention spans – the ability to browse titles while watching something else. They are also negotiating with content providers to expand their offerings, but they often have to pay a high price. Here’s a comparison of 7 popular apps that will help you satisfy your video craving.

Who Made the Cut?

This analysis focuses on general apps, not channel-specific apps like the ABC Player and HBO Go; apps that play videos on your TV, like EyeTV and SlingPlayer; or content-specific apps like MLB.com At Bat 11. Some popular social video apps are also excluded – such as Showyou and Boxee, which highlight videos shared by friends on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube, including TED talks.

The remaining contenders are the preloaded iTunes app, as well as the streaming video apps Clicker, Crackle, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Snagfilms, and Xfinity TV.

What You Need to Know

Hulu Plus and Netflix have been battling for eyeballs, and it shows in the data. They cost the same (although Netflix, to noisy backlash, recently changed its rates to separate DVDs and streaming into two plans). Both apps add movies 28 days after release and commission original content. Hulu’s strength is TV – Netflix has very few current TV episodes but a larger movie selection.

Crackle, by Sony, has been criticized for its older content, ads, and bugs, but its claim to fame is offering Seinfeld.

Xfinity TV, the most expensive app listed, is only worth it if you already subscribe to Comcast. Besides viewing videos on your iPad, you can use it as a remote control for some cable boxes: just pick a show from the app’s TV listings and it will change the channel on your TV. You can also set recordings on your DVR.

Founded by former AOL executive Ted Leonsis and attracting AOL cofounder Steve Case as an investor, Snagfilms streams 80+ biography, movie, and history documentaries. Although the selection is small – check their website for more content – documentary buffs will love this free app and can choose to donate to the causes behind the films.

Clicker is slightly different from the other apps because it is actually an aggregator. If you find a Netflix title you like, Clicker will open up the Netflix app – assuming you have it – to stream the movie. It also integrates with Hulu Plus, Adult Swim, VEVO (music videos), and Crunchyroll (anime and drama).

The Winner: Netflix (Kind Of)

As long as you aren’t looking for current TV shows, many of which are available on network websites, Netflix boasts the best selection besides the cost-prohibitive iTunes. It also has the highest resolution and, unlike close competitor Hulu Plus, no ads.

Many analysts agree, and not just the raters on the App Store. According to social media research firm Mashwork, Netflix beats Hulu Plus with 29% preference to Hulu’s 20% – but many users are still undecided.

Netflix kind of wins because downloading Clicker should be a no-brainer. Although it’s ideal to get all your videos in one place, Clicker can search all Netflix content and pull up videos from other apps. Adult Swim, VEVO, and Crunchyroll are free apps, so using Clicker could only expand your streaming options.

Video of the Future

A competitor to watch, not listed here because it’s not available on the iPad, is Amazon Instant Video. Amazon is in the running to acquire Hulu, which would create a massive video library – though Amazon may not be willing to build a non-Flash iPad app.

It’s clear that the perfect TV and movie app hasn’t arrived yet, so there is room for a big player to gain market share. Stay tuned.

iPad TV & Movie Apps Comparison Chart

iPad TV & Movie Apps Comparison Chart

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About the Author

Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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50 Responses to “7 Best iPad Apps for Watching TV and Movies”

  1. @ijoomla

    Netflix would have been the winner if there was anything worth watching there. All I can find are old and B movies. Hulu has a great selection of TV, but paying and still getting commercials is a real bummer. They should allow us to pay more to get rid of commercials. Hulu is also very buggy. Bottom line: I never use Netflix because I can't find anything to watch, and I use Hulu despite the commercials and the bugs.

    Reply
  2. Terri

    Great summation of the field as it stands and I have to agree with your final statement that the perfect app still needs to be built. With increasing adoption rates, I am certain it shouldn't be too far off.

    Reply
  3. Mark Upshaw

    I have Netflix and use it maybe 4 times a month, but I am not a fan. Some of the apps I am not familiar with. I usually only watch youtube vids on my cel. I like you am look forward to someone's new great software that changes the game.

    Reply
  4. geohot

    All these apps kinda suck! Who wants to pay money per movie or pay a monthly fee and still get ads. I have jailbroken iPad and I found a great movie app on Cydia called bigU Movies. You can search bigU Movies app on Cydia and install it. No monthly fees and no ads.

    Reply
  5. bitsinmotion

    "Amazon is in the running to acquire Hulu, which would create a massive video library – though Amazon may not be willing to build a non-Flash iPad app."

    Which of course they would not have to do if they acquired Hulu, because they already have one.

    Reply
  6. Nosgoth1979

    That’s a pretty good list but I’m wondering why you didn’t include DISH Network’s TV everywhere app? It has the same caveat of the Xfinity app you mentioned; you do have to be a subscriber to DISH. But it’s easy to set up, just plug in a Sling Adapter to your receiver, and download the app. As an employee of DISH, I’m happy to say the Sling Adapters are inexpensive and there’s specials going on to get it for free too. It blows all these other apps out of the water by allowing you to stream all of your programming (both live and anything recorded on my DVR) anywhere you go. So it has more programming, the quality is excellent, and there are no additional monthly fees, I just don’t see the benefit of choosing one of these other services.

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    • Kris

      We watch Amazon Videos on our iPad and ipad2 with the Photon app. It has built in flash.

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  13. Nicole

    I would go for apps that are user friendly. As much as possible, I would like an application that is not too complicated but got the features I need.

    Reply
  14. Felicia Corrine

    Oh, yes. I have signed up with Xfinity and I can watch more than 100 digital channels. It is best if you want to watch movies in good picture quality. I love Xfinity and it is really cool. And thank you Kira for providing this wonderful list.

    Reply
  15. Catherine

    Hulu Plus and Netflix are really great applications. I have been using them and they are simply amazing. And Xfinity TV is again a wonderful service. I signed up for XFINITY bundle which gave me Internet, TV and phone service. And with this application it is easy to have control over what you are watching in TV. You can record your favorite programs, also pause and replay live TV!

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    I think having an iPad with the appropriate Apps is wonderful. The list of Apps that you have given are attractive. But can't we get free Apps? I think Netflix is a great tool to watch movies.

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