'Tis the season for weather changes, shopping sales and cheesy new holiday movies. More than that, though, it's the time of year to visit family and friends.
But you have to get there first, and for some, the trip can be hundreds or even thousands of miles. So it's probably a good idea to bring a few movies or TV shows to watch along the way, right?
But don't stream those movies while you're out and about. For one, that's a surefire way to chew through your wireless data plan in no time - and that's if you're fortunate enough to even have stable coverage along the way. Got Wi-Fi access away from home? That's great, but it's a good rule of thumb to avoid public Wi-Fi whenever possible. That could open you up to a whole host of troubles.
So that means planning ahead, and using your subscription service(s) to download what you want to watch onto your smartphone or tablet before you leave (while keeping an eye on your home internet data cap, too). But with so many options to choose from, it can be a chore trying to figure out which services even offer the ability to watch content offline. That's why we're here to make sense of it all.
The perks of offline viewing
Being able to download movies and TV shows for later viewing is a great feature. After all, the offline option means you can watch practically whatever you want (if made available) no matter where you are - as long as you've got storage space on your device and a battery with a healthy charge. Adding to that, more and more services are jumping onto the offline wagon, giving subscribers much more freedom. We'll get into service provider specifics further down.
But there are a few things to keep in mind. For starters, it's a good idea to get the details about what you're downloading before going all-in. The quality (SD vs. HD, etc.) will definitely impact file size, which could negatively affect your monthly data limit at home, as well as the storage available on the device you're using.
And just because it's downloaded doesn't mean it's yours forever. If you purchased the movie, you're good to go. Keep it in the cloud, or download/delete as often as you want - your choice. But if you download from a streaming service provider like Netflix, the movie or show could expire in a number of days. And it will absolutely disappear from your device the moment you cancel or have a lapse in said service.
Now that that's out of the way, let's take a look at the who's who of streaming services and which ones have the most advantages for travelers.
Netflix and its evolving options
Netflix began offering customers the ability to download content via is app for offline viewing back in 2016. What does some mean? Anything that's a Netflix Original, you should be OK to download. Everything else (movies and TV shows) depends on licensing and other types of agreements Netflix has with the content source. If you see a downward arrow on the description page of a movie or show, you're in business. Click here for more information on downloading content from Netflix.
Licensing will again play a factor after a download is complete. Some titles will expire within 48 hours after you tap play. For others that don't expire as quickly, Netflix will display the amount of time left when it drops below the seven-day mark. This and additional info can be found on the Downloads page of the app (see images).
And you should run out of things to watch. Netflix allows a maximum of 100 titles to be stored on a single device at any given time!
New this year, Netflix unveiled its "Smart Downloads" feature for Android smartphones and tablets. The feature, made available in July, manages your downloaded TV shows. When you finish watching a downloaded episode, it will automatically delete that one and download the next episode. But exercise caution using this feature while traveling. "Smart Downloads" is not yet available on iOS devices.
Some popular downloads right now are seasonal, such as "A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding," "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," and "Love Actually."
Amazon Prime Video
If you're an Amazon Prime subscriber, then you have access to everything Prime Video has to offer. Similar to Netflix, Prime Video a fairly wide variety of movies and TV shows, along with its own original programming.
Another similarity is that not everything is available to download. It's still all about rights and licensing agreements. When you find a title you'd like to watch offline, open the video details in the app and look for the down arrow icon, just like Netflix.
Great download ideas for Prime Original shows would be the final season of "House of Cards," "Stranger Things" or "Bosch."
Hulu is another major streaming service, but different from Netflix and Prime Video. Instead of focusing on movies, you're more likely to use Hulu for watching your favorite network shows - unless those shows air on CBS or the CW. It's also rolling out its own original content, like "The Handmaid's Tale."
Hulu has never offered offline viewing, but it seems that's about to change. It's just a question of when.
Back in May, the company issued a press release that addressed its own "downloadable content experience." The release said that experience would launch during the 2018-19 upfront season, but there hasn't really been an update since.
What's different about its upcoming offline viewing is that it will vary depending on your subscription. Once offline viewing launches through Hulu, their downloadable content will contain ads if you subscribe to their lowest-cost plan. Pay a higher monthly rate and you'll have no ads for streaming or offline.
We're not sure when offline viewing will become an option through Hulu, but it's looking like it won't be this holiday season.
CBS All Access
All CBS, all the time. That fairly well sums up this service, which contains the network's entire library dating back decades. That amounts to roughly 10,000 episodes of various shows. And it's the only network that has its own dedicated service.
To help bring in subscribers, they resurrected "Star Trek," a franchise that hadn't been on television in more than a decade. With the success they've seen with "Star Trek: Discovery," the streaming service is planning a number of other "Star Trek" spin-offs. They also have a few other CBS All Access Original Series, such as the "The Good Fight" and "Strange Angel," with more shows planned.
And there's a considerable number of shows that can be viewed offline. Since September, customers have been able to download episodes of the CBS All Access original shows, like those mentioned above, as well as some of its more popular prime-time shows. That covers dramas like "Hawaii Five-O," reality shows like "Survivor" and news magazines such as "60 Minutes." Also included are some classic sitcoms like "Cheers."
The feature allows commercial-free subscribers (not available to the lower cost subscription) to store up to 25 episodes or movies for offline playback. To manage your content, tap on the upper left menu and then on Downloads.
iTunes and Google Play
Both services are similar in that you can rent or purchase movies - and the content can be made available for offline viewing either way. The only difference for rentals, which will have additional limitations such as time available or number of devices it can be stored on.
Just look for Download symbol for any content you're looking to watch during your trip.
Think of Movies Anywhere as a digital locker that keeps all your movie purchases together on one place, no matter which service you used to buy them. Just link your accounts, and it'll keep all your movies organized from Amazon, Vudu, iTunes, Google Play Microsoft Movies & TV and FandangoNow.
And yes, these videos can also be saved to view offline! You can also manage the content saved and other preferences through the More option.
You can't go wrong with any of the options above while traveling, with the exception of Hulu (for now). But it ultimately comes down to your viewing preferences.
If you tend to rent or purchase movies more often, then you should be happy with Movies Anywhere, Vudu or Amazon Prime Video as a source to watch offline content while traveling. But if you prefer the flexibility and number of options available, make Netflix your go-to, if nothing else, for the number of movies and shows you're allowed to download to your device.
NEW WI-FI IS COMING, HERE'S WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU
Wi-Fi is everywhere: our homes, at work and even the places we shop. And now it's going to be growing even more.