Fun At Home: Tips and tricks for movie-streaming newbies

It’s a distressing time for movie lovers who adore going to the theater, since cinemas have shuttered all over the country due to the coronavirus.

The silver lining: It’s a perfect time to dive headfirst into the world of streaming video-on-demand digitally. For one thing, it’s the only place you’ll find new films in the near future. “Trolls World Tour” will be available April 10 – when it was supposed to be on the big screen, but can instead be viewed on your preferred device. Other theatrical titles getting early releases for streaming between now and next week include “Onward,” “The Invisible Man,” “The Hunt,” “Birds of Prey” and “The Way Back.”

Old-school viewers who prefer the theater or physical media might be hesitant to wade into VOD waters. Here are some starter tips and tricks if you’re a streaming newbie.

A Movies Anywhere account is your new best friend.

If you don’t have one, sign up. Most of the major studios (including Disney, Warner Bros. and Universal) use it as the main digital conduit for their online catalogs. If you’ve purchased a movie that’s compatible from one of the main platforms – Walmart’s Vudu, Fandango Now, Google Play, Amazon Prime Video and Apple iTunes – you’ll be able to watch it across all their respective apps as well as on Movies Anywhere and YouTube. (Films from other studios can be purchased individually through your preferred platform.)

You might already have a digital collection (and not know it).

Collectors of Blu-rays and DVDs might want to check their cases: A lot of movies sold in the last few years come with codes for digital copies, so unused slips may be the digital equivalent of buried treasure. Older codes might have expiration dates that have passed, but before you start sulking, Vudu has a menu to redeem digital codes. Search for your movie, enter the code and there’s a good chance it might still be valid.

Deals are always on the table – though it doesn’t hurt to wait.

So you’ve made the plunge and are ready to start building your library but want to watch your money. High-profile new releases such as “Onward” and “Birds of Prey” are usually priced at $19.99, while some smaller movies and independent flicks cost $9.99 to $14.99. (Also, if the HD and ultra HD/4K versions cost the same, always choose the latter.) If you’re dying to have something on the first day, cool beans.

But if you’re willing to wait a few weeks, newer options often come down five to 10 bucks depending on popularity. (Rentals for new films are frequently around six bucks, though there’s the occasional 99-cent special.) iTunes discounts films regularly, Vudu offers monthly and weekly sales, and Movies Anywhere has a section that rounds up daily deals across all digital platforms. Fandango Now is currently offering a code for 20% off purchases for a month when you sign up and buy or rent a movie.

While downloads are always possible, default to wi-fi streaming.

It’s natural, especially if you’re used to reading e-books that don’t take up too much device space, to want to park a movie on your tablet, smartphone or laptop and then watch it whenever. That’s fine if you’re on the move, but throwing a bunch of films on your device can quickly eat up valuable storage: A download of the two-hour “Joker” alone takes up 5.6 GB, which is quite a bit if you only have, say, 32 or 64 GB on your machine. Whenever you can, stream via wi-fi or cell service if you have an unlimited data plan.

If you want a quasi-theatrical experience, think smart – as in a smart TV.

Just the thought of watching a movie on your phone at home is a big turnoff for some. Many new HD TVs can connect to the Internet and run various streaming apps like Vudu and Amazon. Another possibility is to use Google Chromecast or other way to mirror your laptop or device screen on your TV. Or invest in a media player, such as Roku or Apple TV, to stream videos – those are best if you want to make the most of your 4K ultra-HD TV.

But make sure you’re ready before throwing out all your discs.

While Blu-rays and the like might get in the way if you have them stacked up all over your house, it can be hard for some devotees to give up physical media. Having a DVD around of your favorite movie is helpful when, for example, your Internet’s on the fritz. Once you start getting in a more 2020 mindset, however, Vudu’s disc-to-digital program allows you to convert your DVDs (for $5 a pop) and Blu-rays ($2) to HD digital flicks.

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