Blockbuster may be a fading memory, but renting movies on disc lives on, largely thanks to those Redbox kiosks you see dotted around town. These vending machines can serve up hundreds of discs on-demand, and the Redbox app lets you shop and arrange for a pickup -- or you can stream within the app itself. But how does the experience compare to just renting a stream from Vudu, the Apple iTunes movie store, or another similar service?
The app provides a good browsing experience: Some people will know exactly what they want to get, and the app's search function should find your movie quickly, if it's available. If you just want to browse, you can choose from a variety of filters; you can look at just the rentals and ignore the stuff that can only be purchased; you can specify Blu-ray, DVD, on-demand video, and movies obtained from redeeming digital codes.
And you can choose from a variety of genres and age ratings. You can even select multiple genres to get combinations like animated sci-fi, family comedies, or kids' adventure movies. If a movie isn't out yet, you can add it to your wishlist to get a notification when it's available.
When you tap on a movie, you'll get a synopsis, names of the cast and director, other recommended movies, and the option to view the trailer. The Amazon Video app provides a lot more, such as cast portraits that you can click on to see what else they've been in, and an iMDB rating to help guide you (Amazon purchased iMDB in 1998). Redbox has ratings, but they come from the users and tend to be more forgiving than professional critics. That said, its movie info page should satisfy most users.
Cheap and easy access to Blu-ray discs: At $2 plus tax, Redbox is offering movie rentals at about one-third the cost of a 1080p stream, and you get better image and sound quality, and you don't need an internet connection to watch. With the app, you can pick out your movie from the comfort of your couch and decide which kiosk you want to get it from. The kiosks are usually inside a grocery store or shopping center, so you can run some other errands at the same time. When you're done, you can return the disc to any Redbox kiosk around you, not just the one where you picked up the movie earlier. If the disc is damaged or missing, you can report this within the app and usually get a quick refund.
Lacks 4K options: At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2018, the company announced that it would be adding 4K Blu-ray rentals in certain test markets. But as of April 2018, that testing had yet to start. Its streaming service, launched in December 2017 as a beta, also does not yet offer 4K.
Apple and Vudu, Redbox's main competitors for streaming movie rentals in the US, are well ahead in this regard, with Apple even pushing to make 4K streams cost the same as a regular 1080p stream. Most recent 4K TVs can upscale a 1080p image with respectable results, but you won't get that creamy filling of HDR10, Dolby Vision, or Dolby Atmos that comes with many 4K streams and discs.
iOS does not let you rent or purchase within the Redbox app: Like we experienced with Vudu for iOS, Apple does not allow transactions within the app. If you want to rent or buy something, you have to go to the website in a browser, sign in, hunt down the video you want to watch, go through the rental/purchase process, then either come back to the app to stream your content, or watch in your browser. It's as inconvenient as it sounds. If you're more of a streamer than a disc user, Apple's iTunes Movie Store will probably serve you better.
The Redbox app is great for renting discs, but iOS users who want to rent or buy a stream are better off with the iTunes Movie Store, thanks to Apple's restrictions against third-party in-app transactions, and 4K film buffs won't benefit from it at all.