Tag Archives: Toys

Modern tower defense games for iOS

iPhone(Credit:
CNET)

The tower defense genre started out with Desktop Tower Defense, a Flash game you could play in your Web browser, but once the iTunes App Store opened, developers quickly realized this type of game was a perfect fit for iOS devices. Soon, tower defense games that are now iOS classics emerged, including GeoDefense, Fieldrunners, and the hugely popular Plants vs. Zombies. The touch-screen interface made iOS devices a natural platform for tower defense gaming, allowing you to place units easily with only a few taps of your finger, and the result was the perfect time-waster requiring both quick thinking and a solid strategy.

Those early games are still fun even now, but the modern entries in the Tower Defense genre add even more to the action with 3D graphics, new types of gameplay, and new ways to take advantage of today’s more powerful iOS devices. Whether you’re a serious tower defense aficionado or new to the genre, you’ll like the direction developers have taken with the tower defense games that are now available.

This week’s collection of iOS apps are all tower defense games. The first is the latest sequel to a popular franchise in which you defend against an alien invasion of the homeworld. The second offers up crisp 3D graphics as you defend a flock of sheep from an onslaught of enemies. The last is a new game that takes a different angle, challenging you to become the invader against well-defended maps, using units and abilities that keep your assault force alive.

Sentinel 3

Place turrets on the path, but also be aware of your Commander (mech) who gives special abilities.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Sentinel 3: Homeworld ($2.99 – Universal) is the latest installment (released late in 2010) of the Sentinel tower defense franchise, offering more units to choose from, new maps, and new abilities that help you stave off wave after wave of alien enemies. The interface is like many in the fixed-path tower defense genre, letting you drag and drop units on the edges of a path to fortify your defenses against each wave of enemies. Sentinel 3 comes with a 20-level, 14-map campaign and an endless mode, and also offers in-app purchases if you want to add even more levels and maps.

Sentinel 3: Homeworld starts you off slow; you only get one type of unit plus a Commander that offers bonuses to nearby units. As the game progresses you’ll be able to unlock more than 20 turrets, orbital ship weapons, and automated drones. The unique Commander unit can be upgraded as well, and you’ll need his higher stats and special abilities to defeat some of the higher-level assaults. Once you’ve unlocked a few units, you can plan for the coming invasion by setting up loadouts of units that will work best against specific types of enemies.

Overall, with new turret types, the addition of the Commander, four skill levels, OpenFeint support, and original music from Specimen A, Sentinel 3: Homeworld makes for an excellent addition to the franchise. Anyone who likes tower defense games will enjoy this well-polished title.

TowerMadness

Create a maze with your turrets to slow down the onslaught of aliens.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

TowerMadness ($2.99 iPhone$7.99 iPad) has been around for a while now, but the unique challenge and several updates over time make it a must-have for tower defense fans. Featuring 3D graphics that look great on the Retina Display, TowerMadness challenges you to defend a flock of sheep from an onslaught of attacking aliens. You can view the action from above or use a reverse-pinch gesture to zoom in on the action. You’ll play on 49 included maps, but you can purchase 28 expansion maps from within the game. A recent update added 5 more maps, and two new weapon upgrades to add to the replay value.

TowerMadness offers both campaign and endless game modes along with an easy tutorial mode in the beginning to get you comfortable with the gameplay. TowerMadness is a bit different from the other games in this collection in that it is an open field rather than a fixed-path tower defense game. This means you’ll need to place your units in such a way that the enemies will need to navigate around them to reach your flock of sheep. You’ll quickly learn that the best strategy is to create a sort of maze with your turrets, forcing enemies to pass by a mix of turrets several times. TowerMadness also includes replays so you can analyze your strategies to see which work the best.

Tower Madness has Game Center support with 29 achievements you can earn. You can also compare your scores with other players’ online, adding additional challenge to an already challenging game.

While we continue to enjoy this title, we think the pricing may be a bit steep for a game that’s been around as long as it has. The game seems to go through cycles of going on sale and recently was free for a time, so maybe you’ll want to wait for the next sale. Still, if you like strategy games and want an incredibly deep tower defense experience, TowerMadness offers plenty to keep you interested.

Anomaly Warzone Earth

As your units move through the war-torn streets, you’ll need to use repair and other abilities.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Anomaly Warzone Earth ($1.99 iPhone$3.99 iPad) takes a different tack with the tower defense genre by having you play as the invading force, completing missions on a (somewhat) fixed path against a number of deadly turrets. Your heavily armored squad of vehicles and units has guns of their own, but as with every tower defense game, the more turrets you’re up against, the harder it will be to stay healthy and reach your goal.

Fortunately, as you progress through the game, you’ll gain abilities that will repair your vehicles and make it harder for enemies to hit you. You’ll be able to deploy special weapons that are strong against specific enemy types, making it crucial to select your unit loadout wisely. You’ll also have to select your path; Anomaly Warzone Earth has a tactical screen you’ll visit before each quest to design a path through several city blocks of strategically placed turrets. Often the quest will require that you take out specific enemy types, so you’ll need to design your path to maximize damage against them. To keep you well fortified, a drop ship occasionally drops health and other abilities that you’ll need to tap to add to your arsenal.

Overall, Anomaly Warzone Earth is a very well-made and challenging game that turns traditional tower defense on its head. With excellent graphics and a unique take on the game genre, this title will keep you coming back to try new strategies against increasingly difficult enemies.

Do you have a favorite tower defense game we should know about? Let us all know in the comments!

Article source: http://download.cnet.com/8301-2007_4-20094719-12/modern-tower-defense-games-for-ios/?part=rss&tag=feed&subj=Crave

Modern tower defense games for iOS

iPhone(Credit:
CNET)

The tower defense genre started out with Desktop Tower Defense, a Flash game you could play in your Web browser, but once the iTunes App Store opened, developers quickly realized this type of game was a perfect fit for iOS devices. Soon, tower defense games that are now iOS classics emerged, including GeoDefense, Fieldrunners, and the hugely popular Plants vs. Zombies. The touch-screen interface made iOS devices a natural platform for tower defense gaming, allowing you to place units easily with only a few taps of your finger, and the result was the perfect time-waster requiring both quick thinking and a solid strategy.

Those early games are still fun even now, but the modern entries in the Tower Defense genre add even more to the action with 3D graphics, new types of gameplay, and new ways to take advantage of today’s more powerful iOS devices. Whether you’re a serious tower defense aficionado or new to the genre, you’ll like the direction developers have taken with the tower defense games that are now available.

This week’s collection of iOS apps are all tower defense games. The first is the latest sequel to a popular franchise in which you defend against an alien invasion of the homeworld. The second offers up crisp 3D graphics as you defend a flock of sheep from an onslaught of enemies. The last is a new game that takes a different angle, challenging you to become the invader against well-defended maps, using units and abilities that keep your assault force alive.

Sentinel 3

Place turrets on the path, but also be aware of your Commander (mech) who gives special abilities.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Sentinel 3: Homeworld ($2.99 – Universal) is the latest installment (released late in 2010) of the Sentinel tower defense franchise, offering more units to choose from, new maps, and new abilities that help you stave off wave after wave of alien enemies. The interface is like many in the fixed-path tower defense genre, letting you drag and drop units on the edges of a path to fortify your defenses against each wave of enemies. Sentinel 3 comes with a 20-level, 14-map campaign and an endless mode, and also offers in-app purchases if you want to add even more levels and maps.

Sentinel 3: Homeworld starts you off slow; you only get one type of unit plus a Commander that offers bonuses to nearby units. As the game progresses you’ll be able to unlock more than 20 turrets, orbital ship weapons, and automated drones. The unique Commander unit can be upgraded as well, and you’ll need his higher stats and special abilities to defeat some of the higher-level assaults. Once you’ve unlocked a few units, you can plan for the coming invasion by setting up loadouts of units that will work best against specific types of enemies.

Overall, with new turret types, the addition of the Commander, four skill levels, OpenFeint support, and original music from Specimen A, Sentinel 3: Homeworld makes for an excellent addition to the franchise. Anyone who likes tower defense games will enjoy this well-polished title.

TowerMadness

Create a maze with your turrets to slow down the onslaught of aliens.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

TowerMadness ($2.99 iPhone$7.99 iPad) has been around for a while now, but the unique challenge and several updates over time make it a must-have for tower defense fans. Featuring 3D graphics that look great on the Retina Display, TowerMadness challenges you to defend a flock of sheep from an onslaught of attacking aliens. You can view the action from above or use a reverse-pinch gesture to zoom in on the action. You’ll play on 49 included maps, but you can purchase 28 expansion maps from within the game. A recent update added 5 more maps, and two new weapon upgrades to add to the replay value.

TowerMadness offers both campaign and endless game modes along with an easy tutorial mode in the beginning to get you comfortable with the gameplay. TowerMadness is a bit different from the other games in this collection in that it is an open field rather than a fixed-path tower defense game. This means you’ll need to place your units in such a way that the enemies will need to navigate around them to reach your flock of sheep. You’ll quickly learn that the best strategy is to create a sort of maze with your turrets, forcing enemies to pass by a mix of turrets several times. TowerMadness also includes replays so you can analyze your strategies to see which work the best.

Tower Madness has Game Center support with 29 achievements you can earn. You can also compare your scores with other players’ online, adding additional challenge to an already challenging game.

While we continue to enjoy this title, we think the pricing may be a bit steep for a game that’s been around as long as it has. The game seems to go through cycles of going on sale and recently was free for a time, so maybe you’ll want to wait for the next sale. Still, if you like strategy games and want an incredibly deep tower defense experience, TowerMadness offers plenty to keep you interested.

Anomaly Warzone Earth

As your units move through the war-torn streets, you’ll need to use repair and other abilities.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Anomaly Warzone Earth ($1.99 iPhone$3.99 iPad) takes a different tack with the tower defense genre by having you play as the invading force, completing missions on a (somewhat) fixed path against a number of deadly turrets. Your heavily armored squad of vehicles and units has guns of their own, but as with every tower defense game, the more turrets you’re up against, the harder it will be to stay healthy and reach your goal.

Fortunately, as you progress through the game, you’ll gain abilities that will repair your vehicles and make it harder for enemies to hit you. You’ll be able to deploy special weapons that are strong against specific enemy types, making it crucial to select your unit loadout wisely. You’ll also have to select your path; Anomaly Warzone Earth has a tactical screen you’ll visit before each quest to design a path through several city blocks of strategically placed turrets. Often the quest will require that you take out specific enemy types, so you’ll need to design your path to maximize damage against them. To keep you well fortified, a drop ship occasionally drops health and other abilities that you’ll need to tap to add to your arsenal.

Overall, Anomaly Warzone Earth is a very well-made and challenging game that turns traditional tower defense on its head. With excellent graphics and a unique take on the game genre, this title will keep you coming back to try new strategies against increasingly difficult enemies.

Do you have a favorite tower defense game we should know about? Let us all know in the comments!

Article source: http://download.cnet.com/8301-2007_4-20094719-12/modern-tower-defense-games-for-ios/?part=rss&tag=feed&subj=Crave

Sony tries bringing binoculars into digital age

Sonys DEV-5 digital binoculars will go on sale in November for $2,000.

Sony’s DEV-5 digital binoculars will go on sale in November for $2,000.

(Credit:
Sony Electronics)

The digital revolution has swept film cameras almost completely out of the market, but so far it’s been a very different story with binoculars. Optics have improved, electronically-controlled image stabilization has arrived, and a few models with digital image sensors have appeared, but for the most part, binoculars remain the same basic product they were decades ago: a handheld stereo-vision telescope that relies on your brain to record what you see.

Sony hopes to change that with two new digital binoculars it plans to sell starting in November, the $1,400 DEV-3 and $2,000 DEV-5. Each has a pair of Sony’s capable Exmor R image sensors that capture the image and electronic viewfinders that display the view to the eyes.

That basic design brings the binoculars firmly into the digital future. They also have autofocus, image stabilization, and the ability to record 3D video with AVHCD (aka H.264) encoding. And unusually for binoculars, they feature a close-focus distance of less than a half inch when recording 2D imagery and 32 inches when recording 3D.

The binoculars can zoom, too, so subjects appear between 0.9X to 10X their real-world sizes. The DEV-5 adds a digital zoom option that extends magnification to 20X, though image quality diminishes when recording 2D video in that mode. With 3D video recording, the maximum magnification is 5.3X.

Key to the success of the product will be the quality of the electronic viewfinders. Plenty of people loathe them, though high-end models feature high resolution and can respond quickly when the field of view changes. And there’s no denying that a digital design brings some significant advantages when it comes to remembering what you just saw.

Sonys DEV-5 digital binoculars, with an image sensor and electronic viewfinder, can record 3D video.

Sony’s DEV-5 digital binoculars, with an image sensor and electronic viewfinder, can record 3D video.

(Credit:
Sony Electronics)

Article source: http://news.cnet.com/8301-30685_3-20094532-264/sony-tries-bringing-binoculars-into-digital-age/?part=rss&tag=feed&subj=Crave

Review: Audi finds the cutting edge with 2012 A6

2012 Audi A6
(Credit:
Josh Miller/CNET)

When we got the 2012 Audi A6 in for review, we had some idea what to expect from having previously seen the A7. But that did not lessen the wow factor of looking at Google Earth imagery on the navigation screen, nor pushing the voice command button and initiating a Google location search.

Those connected features aside, the A6 also shows off Audi’s excellent performance tech. With a supercharger and direct injection, Audi gives the A6 loads of power while keeping fuel economy in a reasonable range. You don’t see many
cars that can boast over 300 horsepower and bring in mid-20s fuel economy.

And despite not being a sports model (Audi uses its S and RS designations for those), the A6 delivered solid high-speed handling. Its Quattro all-wheel-drive kept the tires gripping pavement as we flogged it through corners, the traction control letting us get away with rubber burning antics.

From drivetrain to electronics to interface, Audi pushes the boundaries. If it can be improved with technology, Audi is on it with the A6.

Read our review of the 2012 Audi A6.

Article source: http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13746_7-20094372-48/review-audi-finds-the-cutting-edge-with-2012-a6/?part=rss&tag=feed&subj=Crave

Software can tell if you’re mean and ugly

faces

The researchers used these images of public figures to test the prediction system. Images are sorted in increasing rank order from left to right, by dominant (top row), threatening (middle row), and attractive (bottom row). To be fair, Angelina is not wearing lipstick.

(Credit:
PLoS One)

If you’re having a bad hair/skin/teeth/nose day, the last thing you probably need is software to tell you you’re unattractive.

Yet that’s precisely what a computational tool detailed today in the journal PLoS One promises to do. Using machine-learning techniques, it also examines images of faces for other social traits, such as competence, trustworthiness, meanness, dominance, and extroversion.

Needless to say, the software can’t scientifically gauge your hotness or how likely you are to pay back a loan. It can only measure how your particular eye shape and grimace might be perceived and interpreted, a reaction that can vary from culture to culture depending on a host of factors.

Facial recognition, of course, is being used for everything from photo tagging to law enforcement and computer logins these days. This software takes the practice a step further in a high-tech continuation of research aimed at connecting facial shape and features to personality and character.

For example, “the perception of dominance has been shown to be an important part of social roles at different stages of life, and to play a role in mate selection,” said Mario Rojas, a researcher from the Autonomous University of Barcelona who worked on the project with a team from Princeton University. If the information on which such evaluations are made could be automatically learned, he said, it could be modeled and used as a tool for designing better interactive computer systems.

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The team trained and tested their algorithm on a set of synthetic facial images from a previous study. Subjects were asked to describe and rate the images, and those results were used to generate digital visages, each associated with a specific trait.

The researchers then used a subset of those images, together with their assigned labels, to “teach” the computer how to read faces, and tested the prediction accuracy using the rest of the images. They found three traits–dominant, threatening, and mean–to be predictable with accuracies between 91 percent and 96 percent.

The study goes into great detail (PDF) about precisely which facial actions correlate with which traits. Somewhat unsurprisingly, they found that the area around the eyes, including alignment, size, and distance, contains more information about attractiveness and judgment, while the area around the mouth, specifically the size of the lips, is more linked to extroversion.

They then challenged their program’s predictive ability on the faces of celebrities, finding their results to be highly consistent with the public perception of these people (if you agree that Cameron Diaz looks less dominant than Data from “Star Trek” but beats Angelina Jolie and Albert Einstein on the hotness scale, that is).

Left, attractiveness is being measured. Right: extroversion. The size and color of the circles is proportional to the number of times a given point is used in a specific feature of the geometric descriptor, with small dark blue circles representing a low correlation.

(Credit:
PLoS One)

Article source: http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-20093829-1/software-can-tell-if-youre-mean-and-ugly/?part=rss&tag=feed&subj=Crave

Netflix vs. Blockbuster: What’s the best service for streaming and DVDs?

There are more choices than ever for your entertainment dollar, but Netflix and Blockbuster remain the only two that offer both online streaming and disc-by-mail options. Recent changes to both–a controversial Netflix price hike and a change of ownership for Blockbuster–make this a perfect time to re-examine how both of these vendors stack up against one another.

Related links
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? What HBO’s app can teach Netflix (and vice versa)

In the analysis below, we explain how Netflix and Blockbuster stack up against each other on both fronts (discs and streaming), look at the other competitors (including Hulu Plus, Amazon, Vudu, and iTunes), and make an overall recommendation on the best choices for you.

Netflix vs. Blockbuster: Disc by mail

The original Netflix business model–the one that put it on the path to take down one-time video-rental king Blockbuster–was delivering DVDs by mail. Netflix innovated in several ways: ordering was done online, monthly subscriptions were flat-rate (keep one to seven DVDs out at a time for a set fee), and–the big one–there were no late fees. Currently, unlimited plans start at $7.99 (one DVD at a time); if you want the option to choose HD Blu-rays, the plan costs $9.99.

Eventually, Blockbuster began offering its own flat-fee disc-by-mail program, Blockbuster Total Access. Now–following Chapter 11 bankruptcy and a sale to satellite provider Dish Network–a reinvigorated Blockbuster actually has some interesting distinctions from Netflix’s postal option. As part of the $9.99 plan (one disc at a time), consumers can choose between DVDs, Blu-ray movies, or video game discs. Moreover, Blockbuster lets Total Access subscribers exchange discs in a Blockbuster store, if they’d prefer immediate satisfaction to waiting on the mailman.

Other disc-based options:
Redbox is the original kiosk-based disc rental service. It offers DVD, Blu-ray, and game discs from more than 27,000 kiosks nationwide at prices starting at $1 per night (late fees apply). Visit Redbox.com for more info.

Blockbuster Express is a kiosk-based disc-rental service operated by NCR, and has a totally separate membership and fee structure from Blockbuster stores and Blockbuster Total Access. DVD and Blu-ray discs are available for overnight rentals starting at $1 per night, with pricing ranging to $2.99 to $3.99 for new releases (late fees apply). Visit Blockbusterexpress.com for more info.

There are still plenty of local video rental storesincluding Blockbuster Video stores. But most of these still charge by the title, and charge late fees–both of which can add up over time.

Many local libraries allow members to check out DVDs for free (late fees often apply, but loan periods are generally longer than one night).

Netflix vs. Blockbuster: Online streaming

In addition to the disc-by-mail programs, both Netflix and Blockbuster offer online streaming services. But they’re two very different offerings: Netflix is an “all you can eat” plan that offers thousands of movies and TV shows for a flat monthly rate, whereas Blockbuster is a pay-per-view video-on-demand service (you rent or buy each title individually).

The Netflix streaming plan is $7.99 per month. For that single fee, Netflix gives subscribers access to thousands of movies and TV shows via a computer Web browser or nearly every Internet-connected home video product available–Blu-ray players and home theater systems, all three major game consoles (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii), most Internet-enabled TVs, newer TiVo DVRs, cheap set-top boxes (Apple TV and Roku), and many hand-held and portable products (iPad,
iPhone,
iPod Touch, Windows 7 phones, some
Android phones).

You can connect multiple devices to one account, and you can jump from device to device, resuming programs exactly where you left off. Many of the devices support HD video (on selected programs) and some offer surround sound.

Due to studio licensing restrictions, the Netflix streaming library is generally comprised of older movies. The TV show lineup is broader, but the current seasons of shows are generally excluded. That said, Netflix has lined up some good content deals recently: you’ll find a good cross-section of shows from the CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and BBC libraries; many Miramax movies; much of the content available on Starz, including recent Disney movies; and the full run of Mad Men. (Disclaimer: CNET’s parent company is CBS.)

Blockbuster On Demand delivers a totally different take on online video. There’s no subscription plan; instead, it’s pay-per-view on a title-by-title basis. (Similar services include iTunes, Vudu, CinemaNow, and the PlayStation Network and Microsoft Zune/Xbox 360 online stores; see below for more info.) Titles can be rented (for 24 hours) or purchased (available “in the cloud” for streaming access on compatible devices at any time in the future).

The advantage is that you get access to newer titles–including many (but not all) movies the same day as they hit DVD and Blu-ray. The disadvantage is that the per-title rentals add up quickly; in many cases, the rentals cost $3.99. So, for the price of Netflix’s month-long unlimited viewing window (which, admittedly, is older content), you can watch only two movies on Blockbuster. The other content problem with Blockbuster On Demand is that there is little-to-no TV content–Amazon, iTunes, Hulu Plus, and Netflix are all better options if you want to catch up on TV shows.

The other big caveat with Blockbuster On Demand is that it’s supported on far fewer devices than Netflix. In addition to streaming to Mac and Windows PC Web browsers, Blockbuster Online is also available on many TiVo DVRs, some Blu-ray players and home theater systems (Samsung, Sharp, Philips, and Toshiba, to name the best-known brands), some connected TVs, and WD TV set-top boxes. Blockbuster streaming is also available on some Android mobile phones and tablets–but, notably, not on the iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.

Other streaming options:
As we said above, because Netflix offers a flat-fee, all-you-can-watch plan, it doesn’t directly compare with most of the other online video providers. The two closest are:

Hulu Plus: For the same rate as Netflix streaming ($7.99/month), Hulu Plus offers unlimited viewing of many (but not all) current and past episodes of TV shows found on ABC, NBC, and Fox (the co-owners of the service), as well as some other channels, and “hundreds” of movies, including those of the Criterion Collection. According to Hulu, the Hulu Plus service offers over “1,000 seasons of current and classic shows (comprising more than 33,000 episodes, 16,000 of which are available on all supported devices).”

Unfortunately, there are several caveats. Even though it’s a pay service, there are ads on the TV episodes and some movies (though fewer than you’d see on TV). And, confusingly, the shows you have access to aren’t the same as what you’ll find on the free, browser-based Hulu.com site.

On the positive side, Hulu Plus has excellent device support. In addition to being available on Flash-enabled browsers on Windows PCs and Macs, Hulu Plus is available on the PS3 and Xbox 360 game consoles; most recent Internet-enabled TVs and Blu-ray players from LG, Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, and Haier; TiVo Premiere DVRs; set-top boxes from Roku and Western Digital; and many handheld and portable products (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, and some Android phones).

Sign up for a one-week Hulu Plus trial

Amazon/Amazon Prime: Amazon is alone in straddling the line between pay-per-view video-on-demand and Netflix-style flat-fee viewing. The online uber-retailer offers a comprehensive array of movies and TV shows a la carte–meaning you can rent or purchase digital versions of movies and TV shows, including individual episodes and full seasons in standard or high-definition.

In addition, you can also sign up for Amazon Prime for $79/year (which works out to about $6.58 per month–slightly more affordable than Netflix streaming). In addition to providing free 2-day delivery for the vast majority of physical items that Amazon sells, Prime members are now eligible for a growing list of unlimited video offerings. (Currently, many of the Amazon Prime offerings are also available on Netflix streaming.)

In addition to streaming to Mac and Windows PC Web browsers, Amazon online video is available on many recent-model connected TVs and Blu-ray players from LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio, TiVo DVRs, as well as sub-$100 set-top box units from Logitech (Google TV), Roku, and Sony. See the complete list of devices compatible with Amazon Instant.

Sign up for a one-month Amazon Prime trial (unlimited videos plus 2-day shipping)

Beyond Amazon’s unique offering, there is a wide and growing variety of online video providers that offer pay-per-view online video movies and/or TV shows:

Apple iTunes: The iTunes Store is Apple’s catch-all online storefront for music, games, movies, and TV shows. Apple’s leading hardware position gives it some of the most extensive content deals out there, so you can find a strong list of current TV shows and movies to choose from. Rentals and purchases are supported, and Apple seems to be on a path to transition purchases to its iCloud service (coming fall 2011). You can currently access previously purchased TV shows for on-demand streaming, and movies may soon follow; in the meantime, you’re offered streaming rentals and/or purchase downloads. For better or worse, however, viewing options are limited to the Appleverse of products: iTunes software on Windows PCs and Macs; the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch; and the Apple TV box, which can be connected only to HDTVs.

Download iTunes: Windows | Mac

CinemaNow: CinemaNow is the Best Buy-owned streaming video service. It’s also got a wide selection of movies and TV shows for purchase and rental. Device support is currently limited, however: you’ll find CinemaNow support on recent Internet-enabled LG, Samsung, Insignia, and Panasonic TVs, Blu-ray players, and Blu-ray home theater systems.

Check out CinemaNow

Vudu: Vudu is Wal-Mart’s answer to iTunes and CinemaNow–and it’s pretty good. Vudu offers a strong slate of recent movies and a growing number of TV shows to rent or own. Vudu’s big differentiator is its “HDX” video quality–a step-up from HD that delivers enhanced resolution (if you’ve got the bandwidth, and are willing to pay a premium). Vudu offers a 99-cent movie of the day, and runs $2 for two nights promos on hundreds of titles at a time (albeit only in standard definition). It’s also one of the only online streaming vendors to offer 3D content.

Originally, Vudu support was limited to the company’s own proprietary box. However, the company has since been rapidly expanding its availability, and it can now be found on a very wide range of Internet-enabled products. In addition to the PlayStation 3, Vudu is on many TVs (LG, Mitsubishi, Philips, Samsung, Sanyo, Sharp, Toshiba, Vizio); Blu-ray players and home theater systems (the aforementioned brands, plus some Panasonic and Sony models); and the Boxee Box. Vudu is also available through Flash-enabled Web browsers and–with the exception of Disney content–Vudu can also be viewed on the iPad via the company’s new Web app.

Try Vudu for free (one free movie available for first-time users on selected devices).

Additionally, Microsoft and Sony offer pay-per-view movies and TV shows on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, respectively, (in addition to Netflix and Hulu Plus).

Nearly all cable and satellite TV providers offer some movies and TV episodes on-demand at no additional charge (if you’re a subscriber), and newer movies on a pay-per-view basis. Furthermore, there is a growing list of “TV Everywhere” iPad and phone apps (HBO Go, DirecTV, Dish Online, TWCable TV, Comcast’s Xfinity, and so forth) that provide streaming access to live channels and on-demand content. However, all of these require existing TV service, so they’re add-ons, not true viewing alternatives.

What’s the best option?

When Netflix had a single $9.99 monthly plan that encompassed unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs by mail, it was far and away the best deal out there. As of September 1, 2011, however, that deal ends. Netflix customers will need to choose between separate $7.99 per month streaming plans, and disc-by-mail plans that start at $7.99 per month–making the total stream-plus-mail package a minimum of $15.98. That price creeps up if you want to add Blu-ray access or more than one disc out at a time.

As we’ve outlined above, even with the price hike, Netflix is still a pretty great deal, giving you a best-of-both-worlds scenario (streaming access to thousands of TV shows and older movies, plus DVDs by mail of more recent movies and TV programs). However, it’s not the slam-dunk that it was before the price hike.

If you’re looking to maximize your entertainment dollar, here’s our suggestion:

Best subscription-based streaming option: Netflix
We still find enough TV shows and older movies to make the Netflix $7.99 streaming plan worth the money each month. Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime are both worthwhile alternatives to consider, depending on your viewing habits.

Start a one-month free Netflix trial

Best disc-by-mail service: Blockbuster or Netflix (tie)
If you’re a gamer–or if you live near a participating Blockbuster store and like the idea of the occasional in-store swap–the $9.99 Blockbuster Total Access plan has a slight edge here. If you’re content with DVD only, stick with the Netflix $7.99/month plan.

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Best online VOD services: Mix and match
For better or worse, most of the a la carte video services offer a similar movie lineup at nearly identical prices (because the studios and TV networks, not the services themselves, set the prices) and viewing windows. We’ve had good experiences with Amazon, Vudu, and Apple iTunes. Your choices will vary depending on which service is supported by your viewing hardware, but the good news here (with rentals) is that you can mix and match–for instance, watch movies on Vudu on your Samsung TV, some TV shows on iTunes on your Apple TV, and other TV shows via Amazon on your Panasonic Blu-ray player or Roku. At this point, we’d shy away from buying videos on these services (unless you can find them on “sale” for the same price as a rental, as Amazon sometimes does), because hardware support and usage rights are still in flux.

That said, if you develop a preferred VOD service, make sure that it’s supported on new devices (phones, gaming consoles, TVs, disc players) when you’re shopping for new gear.

Got a preference on Netflix versus Blockbuster? Or do you prefer Amazon Prime, iTunes, Vudu, or some other video service? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Article source: http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-20093587-1/netflix-vs-blockbuster-whats-the-best-service-for-streaming-and-dvds/?part=rss&tag=feed&subj=Crave