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Movies

Plan the best quarantine movie night. A guide to watch new films at home

Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) and James Marsden in the movie “Sonic the Hedgehog.”
Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) and James Marsden in the movie “Sonic the Hedgehog.”
(Paramount Pictures / Sega of America)

During this national crisis, a lot of Americans are stuck at home for an indefinite stretch of time desperate for something to watch. You’ve probably seen articles lately about movies and television shows that are available via video on demand (VOD). But if you’ve never dipped into the digital market, you may not know how to get these programs onto an actual screen in your living room.

So let’s use one film as an example, to help guide you through the process of becoming a VOD consumer. Let’s say you and your kids didn’t get a chance to see “Sonic the Hedgehog” during its run at the multiplex. This week, Paramount makes it available on VOD. How do you get it?

What equipment do I need?

We could go into wonky detail here about the differences among mobile devices, set-top boxes, smart TVs and DVRs. But let’s keep this simple. If you currently subscribe to a service like Netflix or Hulu, whatever device you use to stream them should work just as well in accessing one of the major digital retailers.

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For example, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube and Apple’s iTunes (or Apple TV) are accessible via apps that are easy to find on internet-connected boxes like Roku and TiVo, or on smartphones. Often, those apps are already loaded onto the device’s main menu screens. When you buy through one of these retailers, you can usually then watch whatever you’ve purchased across multiple devices

Times’ critics Justin Chang and Kenneth Turan recommend “The Invisible Man,” “Knives Out,” “Parasite” and more as the best new releases to watch at home.

Which app or website should I use?

If you’re used to the exclusivity of Netflix — where certain movies or TV shows are only available on their service — it may surprise you to learn that VOD’s digital market is more open. “Sonic the Hedgehog,” for example, is currently selling for $19.99 across all the major digital retailers. This is true for most new VOD movies.

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If you’ve never used services like Google Play or Vudu, perhaps the easiest way to find a movie or TV show to rent or buy is to go to the website JustWatch, which allows you to search multiple ways: by the title you want, by the service you think you’d prefer, by what’s new to VOD, or even by what the site’s recommendation engine thinks you’d like. It also allows you to compare prices among sellers.

How do I pay? (And how much?)

You’ll need to create an account with whichever service you choose for your VOD rental or purchase, and you’ll need to provide some form of digital method of payment. A credit card number is the most common way, though some sites will allow you to use a third-party payer like PayPal. Generally speaking, you won’t need to set up a subscription to rent or buy. You pay your money and start watching. Simple.

The prices tend to be the same from retailer to retailer, but do comparison shop. “Sonic the Hedgehog” currently costs $19.99. That’s a pretty standard price to buy a VOD movie. Some movies launch at a lower price point (“The Gentlemen,” for example, is available for $12.99 to $13.99 on various platforms), and sometimes a retailer cuts a special deal with a studio and offers a discount.

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New video releases include “Bad Boys for Life,” “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Succession’s” Brian Cox in “Etruscan Smile” and the Yves St. Laurent doc “Celebration”

Should I rent or buy?

This depends on how urgently you want to see the movie. “Sonic the Hedgehog” is only available to buy right now and won’t be available to rent until April 28. But that’s unusual due to the closing of theaters. Most studio movies that played theatrically become available to rent about two to three weeks after they’re offered for digital purchase. (Physical product, in the form of Blu-rays and DVDs, are often released the same date that digital rentals become available. The “Sonic” disks are scheduled for May 19, the date the movie was originally slated for home entertainment release.)

The price of a rental is lower, usually ranging from around $2.99 to $5.99. But depending on the retailer and the title, you may find you have to watch the movie within 24 to 48 hours. During this time when multiplexes across the country are shuttered, some recent theatrical releases (such as “Emma” and “The Invisible Man”) are being offered at a higher-than-usual price: $19.99 for a 48-hour rental. They’re not yet for sale.

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You may feel better about the cost of buying a VOD if you think in terms of what you’d pay to go to the multiplex. If you took a child (or multiple children) to see “Sonic” at the theater, odds are you’d pay much more than $19.99. And you wouldn’t have the option to watch it again and again, for no extra charge.

You know best what your family’s viewing habits are, and what you can afford. But if you love movies, even if you’re a VOD newbie, now is a good time to explore.

Thursday, we will bring you Part 2 of this explainer and lay out some of the differences between VOD and subscription services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.


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