March 11, 2011 at 05:00 AM EST

What’s the best place to catch a flick on your computer? With Amazon now offering a video-streaming subscription service, we figured it was time to do a little comparison shopping.

The e-retailer’s basic video-on-demand system lets you rent a movie for $2.99 – $3.99 or buy it for $9.99 — but there are lots of annoying restrictions. With the newly revamped Amazon Prime, you pay $79 a year for unlimited access to movies. Among the best offerings not already available on Netflix Instant Viewing? The Big Sleep and The Fugitive. That said, the $79 Prime membership covers a much smaller library of only 1,700 films. (For new releases, you still have to pay full price.) So unless you feel like wading through mixed fare like Soylent Green and The Bodyguard, you might be disappointed.
Feels Like: Walking through a Blockbuster video store, circa 2002.

There’s a reason Hulu is known for TV shows: Its movie selection stinks. Among the most ”popular” titles: Windtalkers and The Care Bears Movie. But for $7.99 a month, you can get Hulu Plus, which gives you commercial-free access to over 150 films from the film-geeky Criterion Collection. Though many of these movies are already available on Netflix Instant Viewing, some, like Modern Times, Wings of Desire, and The Seventh Seal, are Hulu Plus exclusives. And the company has promised to make available Criterion’s vaunted bonus features and add enough titles to make a cinephile’s head spin. For now, the pickings are slim.
Feels Like: Staying up all night watching basic cable — and then going to a theater that plays only foreign films.

Unless you have an Apple TV, you can’t stream video on iTunes. So you still have to pay to download individual films from the company’s enormous library. And it’s expensive: $14.99 – $19.99 for a new release, $9.99 for almost everything else. (You can also rent movies for $2.99 – $4.99.) More than 1,700 films are available in spiffy HD for Apple TV users, but even iTunes’ standard-def films look great. The downside? Since the average two-hour movie is about 1.75 gigabytes, you’ll be maxing out your hard drive in no time.
Feels Like: Buying DVDs, though you can’t show them off on a shelf.

A $7.99 monthly fee goes a long way on Netflix. Besides a substantial on-demand library that’s still the only subscription service for streaming hot tickets like The Proposal, Up, and Alice in Wonderland, the pioneering company boasts a handy recommendation system. Compatible with most DVRs, HDTVs, Blu-ray players, every game console, and even Apple TV, Netflix is also incomparably convenient. Our only quibble is that the majority of films from its massive DVD library still aren’t available to stream. But considering Netflix costs the same as Hulu Plus and only $16 more per year than Amazon Prime, this remains the champion… for now.
Feels Like: Hanging out at the cool video store you loved when you were a kid…before Blockbuster put it out of business.

Premium-Cable Streaming

Recently expanded, it offers 222 movies plus HBO’s impressive TV catalog. Plans are afoot to get Go on the iPad and other mobile devices.

Available to about 20 percent of cable subscribers, Epix offers 400-plus movies from Viacom, Lionsgate, and MGM.

Offers more than 650 titles from Starz, Encore, and MoviePlex.

You May Like