7 Best iPad Apps for Watching TV and Movies

September 5, 2011

2:00 pm

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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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.