Hire-tech at your fingertips
Choice viewing ... there are many ways to rent your favourite films. Photo: iStock
Rather than drive to the shops and wander the aisles of your local video store in search of a good movie, these days it's easier to flick through a video library on your television and hire a movie with just a few clicks.
It saves you two trips to the shops, because you don't need to worry about returning the DVD the next day to avoid late fees.
Movie-rental services put all the latest blockbusters at your fingertips along with an extensive back catalogue. It's easy to search for films via title or genre, or else just browse the latest releases.
While it's possible to hire movies on your computer or hand-held gadget, these days you'll find online movie-rental services built into a range of home entertainment gear including televisions, Blu-ray players, personal video recorders and games consoles.
You can drive everything from the remote control in your living room and charge the movie straight to your account, credit card or monthly bill.
The hidden cost of online movie rentals is that you need a home broadband internet connection and generous monthly download limit. Standard-definition movies chew through about 1.5GB of data, while high-definition movies push this up to about 4GB.
Check with your internet service provider to see if you have access to ''unmetered'' movie rental services, which don't count towards your monthly limit. Unmetered deals vary, so double-check with your ISP to avoid getting burnt.
Once you choose a movie, you still might need to wait a few minutes before it starts playing, depending on the speed of your broadband connection (the national broadband network will help with this once it rolls down your street).
To ensure the movie plays smoothly, the first few minutes are downloaded before you can press play. You'll need at least a 1 Mbps broadband connection if you don't want to wait more than a few minutes to watch a standard-definition movie, or a 5 Mbps connection for an HD movie.
If you're connected to the internet via your home wireless network but it struggles with the task of streaming movies, consider boosting the signal with a wireless repeater. Alternatively you might run an ethernet cable straight from your broadband modem to the lounge room, or else connect via your power points using a Powerline AV adaptor.
To the untrained eye, online movie rentals look as sharp as DVD or Blu-ray, but if you're fussy about picture quality, you'll notice they don't look quite as good on a big television. There's more to picture quality than just resolution, and you'll find online rentals tend to lose a little detail in the shadows. This might not bother you if you're hiring a movie only for the night, but you still might prefer to buy your favourite films on DVD or Blu-ray. Despite the naysayers, optical discs have got a few years left in them yet.
If your lounge room is blessed with a surround-sound system, you also might prefer to stick with discs for your favourite films.
Standard-definition online rentals usually feature two-channel stereo sound rather than the 5.1-channel surround-sound found on DVDs. HD online rentals sometimes feature 5.1-channel surround sound, although a Blu-ray disc might boost this to 7.1-channel - assuming you've got the extra speakers to support it.
If you're not ready to embrace the world of online movie rentals, there are still alternatives to visiting the video store on a Saturday night.
Quickflix sends out DVDs and Blu-ray rentals in the post with a return envelope, although Telstra's BigPond now focuses solely on online rentals.
Otherwise, you'll find Hoyts Kiosk rental vending machines in many public places such as supermarket foyers. You can book a DVD in advance, pick it up on your way home from work, and then drop it back at any Hoyts Kiosk the next day.
Movies on demand
Apple iTunes Store
Built into the Apple TV set-top box, as well as iGadgets and computers running iTunes. You can also buy movies and transfer them between your various devices. Unmetered with some ISPs such as iiNet.
Built into Telstra's T-Box personal video recorder as well as a range of televisions and Blu-ray players from the likes of Samsung and LG. Movie rentals should be unmetered if BigPond is your home ISP.
A personal video recorder that can access free-to-air, pay TV and movie rentals via the internet. Access to some features depends on your home ISP, a situation which will improve with the NBN. Unmetered with some ISPs such as iiNet, Internode, Netspace and Optus.
Built into some televisions, Blu-ray players and PVRs from Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, Humax, Strong and Kogan. Also works with Apple and Samsung Android gadgets as well as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Along with rentals, the Quickflix WatchNow subscription service offers unlimited access to the back catalogue but not new releases.
Built into Android smartphones and tablets, along with the option to watch movies on your computer in a browser. It also works with a handful of Android set-top boxes such as Strong's SRT AN4 and the Kogan Agora Smart TV dongle.
Sony Video Unlimited
Built into Sony gear including BRAVIA televisions, Blu-ray players, Xperia smartphones, tablets and gaming devices such as the PlayStation 3, PSP and PS Vita. You also have the option to watch movies on your computer.
Microsoft Xbox Video
Built into the Xbox 360 console along with Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets and computers (but not yet Windows Phone 8).