After being a loyal Netflix user for a few years, I'm wondering about the comparison potential of its competitors. I've binge-watched The Mindy Project on Hulu during my one-week free trial (and also free-loaded off a friend's account when I couldn't finish it... no shame), and I've dabbled in Amazon Prime Instant Video during my free Amazon Prime trial. But I want to get down to the nitty gritty and see which one is actually best for me.
I'm analyzing five key indicators: price, interface and usability, content selection, video quality, and supported devices. These are the things I consider when I deal with any sort of media online, so it's multiplied by ten-fold when I'm handling video streaming services. Let's get started!
This is probably the most important factor because you want to get the best value for the smallest price, as with all things in life.
Amazon Prime is a bit unique compared to the other services in that with this subscription, in addition to Amazon Prime Instant Video (ad-free), you also get free two-day shipping on your Amazon orders, unlimited music streaming, unlimited photo storage, early access to Amazon Lightning Deals and MyHabit.com events, and access to over 800,000 free ebooks.
You can try Amazon Prime for free for one month, and after that, you will be charged $99 for the year, so you will have to pay upfront. However, you have the option to cancel anytime. Also, if you're a student, you can join Amazon Student for a 6-month free trial, and after that, your membership can continue for half the price at just $49.
I'm already a bit turned off by Hulu because of the commercials versus no commercials thing and the short, one-week free trial. It's hard to get time to sit down and browse what Hulu has to offer in one week, so minus one point (although there is no point system...). However, Hulu is the only service to offer users completely gratis access to some content, including Grey's Anatomy, South Park, and Scandal.
The no-commercials option sounds great with no interruptions, but they do have to comply with streaming rights, so Grey’s Anatomy, Once Upon A Time, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Scandal, New Girl, Grimm and How To Get Away With Murder will play short commercials before and after each episode.
Basically the only differences between the three plans are high definition viewing and the amount of screens you can watch on simultaneously. If you're not in need of one or both, it's easy to get the basic plan to cut your costs. Even better, there are no commercials!
Netflix also offers a one-month free trial, and you have no obligation to continue so you can cancel anytime.
Amazon Prime Instant Video does not offer a convenient mobile app to watch on the go. However, it is ad-free. They organize based on promoted content first, then you'll see titles related to what you've previously viewed. Next comes most popular, then recommended TV and movies. Finally, you'll see Amazon originals.
First things first, if you aren't into commercials and are not willing to pay $12 a month, skip Hulu. Complaints about their seemingly incessant stream of ads that have only grown throughout the years is one of Hulu's biggest setbacks. If you're into binge watching, expect to see the same commercials over and over again. There is a mobile app, and they have created a kids lock feature so parents can monitor what their kids see. Unfortunately, you can only stream on one device at a time.
Hulu organizes popular shows at the top, followed by "Shows You Watch," and then a variation of latest and most popular TV shows. You have the option to delete titles from your viewing list so that it does not affect your recommended shows. I also appreciate that you can sort by cable network.
Netflix has a concise interface with its carousel search and recommendations, along with parental controls, a mobile app, and easy access to streaming devices. Moreover, it is ad-free and includes options for subtitles and dubbing (language translation).
Netflix organizes by promoted shows, then popular content, followed by trending content. They also have a "Because you watched ____..." section, new content, shows you are currently streaming, then recommendations based on your viewing history. You do not have the option to remove shows, so your recommended content will always look familiar. You can browse specific categories, though.
With a selection of around 40,000 movies and TV shows, this service allows you to watch Amazon original movies and shows and popular titles for everyone in the family. You can buy the latest episodes of your favorite shows for a hefty premium ($2 for standard definition, $3 for high defintion). Amazon Video airs award-winning Transparent and provides HBO, if that's what you like.
Add-ons: SHOWTIME and STARS. You can sign up for 7-day free trial for each and pay an additional $8.99 per month per subscription subsequently.
Hulu has a small content library, but its greatest perk is that they offer current-season episodes the day after they air on television, making it a great option for avid TV watchers. If your interests extend into other realms of media, Hulu also shows video game and movie trailers. For anyone who is a fan of Seinfeld and or The Walking Dead, Seinfeld is a Hulu exclusive after the company purchased the series for $180 million, and they also signed for exclusive licensing for future seasons of The Walking Dead from AMC.
Add-ons: SHOWTIME Live TV, which lets you watch what's airing live on SHOWTIME, for $8.99 per month.
According to Digital Trends, "Analysts estimate that Netflix’s content library is roughly double to triple the size of Amazon’s library... Netflix’s vault is also larger than Hulu’s." Clearly, Netflix has the largest content library. With its Emmy-award-winning original series House of Cards and popular shows such as Orange is the New Black and Fuller House, Netflix is hosting titles for a large audience. However, one downside of this service is that they do not add previous seasons until a new season of a show begins, which could mean 3 months to one year of waiting time.
Amazon is the only service that offers 4K UHD in its basic package, but you'll need a compatible 4K UHD TV and/or streaming device. It is also the first and only service that offers HDR content as of now. 5.1 surround sound encoding is available for select content.
Unfortunately, Hulu is limited to stereo sound, even though the original broadcasts of many network TV shows and Blu-ray discs offer 5.1 surround sound.
Netflix charges extra for 4K UHD resolution streaming, which is one of the main differences between the $7.99 Basic plan and the $11.99 Premium plan. This service offers Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 surround sound encoding on the majority of their content, as well as 7.1 encoding on select content.
Amazon Video can be streamed on mobile devices, game consoles, televisions, DVRs, AV receivers, streaming media players, and Blu-Ray players. Click here for the list of devices compatible with Amazon Video.
You can use Hulu on computers, televisions, Blu-Ray players, media players, game consoles, and mobile devices. Click here for the list of devices compatible with Hulu.
Netflix can be streamed on smart TVs, streaming media players, game consoles, set-top boxes, Blu-Ray players, smartphones, tablets, PCs, and laptops. Click here for the list of devices compatible with Netflix.
A large factor in deciding which streaming service to choose is which one gives you the best value for your money. If you're into watching the latest TV episodes soon after they air, Hulu might be your best bet. If you're after a large variety of content, including fantastic original content, Netflix might be the one for you. If you want all the perks of Amazon Prime and only ever-so-often look into streaming a movie or TV show, I'd say stick with Amazon. Regardless, I hope this helped!
When you've finally decided on which service is best for you, head over to DealsPlus to find ways to save!