Updated on 2-25-2015 by Joe Donovan: Added new content, app compatibility, price updates, and more.
Services like Netflix Instant, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video offer a massive amount of content to watch at a low monthly cost. It’s a fantastic way to provide extensive entertainment options to an entire family. Trying to figure out which subscription service to use while sticking to a frugal entertainment budget? Check out our updated 2015 breakdown of the three most popular streaming video services.
Price: Amazon Instant Video
Amazon Prime is an institution for one reason: it’s a great value. The Prime membership bundles streaming services with free, two-day shipping, which is a near-vital necessity in today’s online shopping paradigm. Hulu Plus and Netflix both offer annual subscriptions for $96 and $108, respectively, but neither compete with the range of services offered through Amazon at roughly the same price point. That being the case, Amazon represents the best overall value, especially for students, considering they receive a discounted annual subscription fee of $50.
Also, for those who want to stream 4K at the lowest possible price, Amazon is the cheapest bet. At this point, Amazon has stated that they won’t raise prices for 4K streaming.
Finally, signing up for Amazon’s service can also get you deals on current seasons of shows you can’t find on other sites like The Walking Dead, which isn’t a part of the Hulu Plus universe.
Supported Devices: Amazon Instant Video
All three services are offered on just about every streaming device. Netflix is often the easiest to access on Blu-ray players, DVRs, and TVs. Many even feature the red Netflix logo directly on their remote.
However prevalent Netflix buttons may be, Amazon Instant Video is optimized for streaming devices and it shows. Amazon’s Fire TV Stick provides a slew of features that enhance any instant streaming service, especially Amazon’s. For example, Amazon Fire can search the Amazon and Hulu Plus library with voice commands. It’s a nifty feature and works well across Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video. At this point, Netflix doesn’t work with voice search.
Interface and Ease of Use: Netflix Instant
Netflix has a terrific search functionality, more personalized “top picks,”and a slick design with an intuitive carousel. Their interface is universal throughout HDTVs, gaming consoles, Rokus, and Blu-ray players, and has since made its way to other devices including most laptops and desktop computers.
Hulu Plus has recently redesigned their interface which makes searching and finding the “Shows You Watch” even easier. Amazon comes in third with its more scattered interface. Again, we’ll add a caveat here to say that searching for Amazon content is optimized on the Fire TV with voice command prompts, but that applies to a limited populous at this point.
Mobile Applications: Netflix Instant and Hulu Plus
Each mobile application has pros and cons when streaming over LTE or 3G. The Netflix and Hulu Plus applications stand out when it comes to content discovery, quality of video playback over Wi-Fi, software stability, and the continuity of the layout design between smartphone, tablet, computer and home theater device platforms.
All three services are compatible with iOS, Android, as well as Amazon’s Kindle Fire devices. Netflix and Hulu Plus applications can also be found on Windows 8 mobile devices and Nook tablets, while Amazon Instant is still absent.
Audio and Video Quality: Netflix Instant
Netflix made history when they offered“Super HD” 1080p streams and 3D streams for subscribers with 3D capable televisions. Recently, Amazon announced that they too will offers “free” HD streaming for a handful of titles. But the popular HD movies and TV shows will require paying extra on Amazon.
Hulu Plus is limited to a maximum of 720p for streaming content. However, availability of Netflix 1080p and Amazon HD streaming is dependent on the speed of your Internet connection and can also be affected by the provider itself.
In addition to 1080p, Netflix has rolled out a 4K/UHD resolution stream with a monthly subscription at $12. At this point, 4K streams are still pretty new and Netflix’s selection of 4K streaming is limited to a handful of movies and TV titles. You’ll need compatible 4K/UHD TV and streaming device.
As for audio quality, Netflix offers Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 surround sound encoding on the majority of content in addition to 7.1 encoding on select content. By comparison, Amazon offers 5.1 encoding on select content, and Hulu Plus is limited to stereo sound, despite many network television shows offering 5.1 surround sound during the original broadcast and the Blu-ray disc release.
Amount of Content: Netflix Instant
Netflix Instant offers the largest content library of the three services; aggressively building out the library of television shows in addition to popular films from the past thirty years.
Analysts estimate that Netflix’s content library is roughly double to triple the size of Amazon’s library, though Amazon is making a push to catch up. Netflix’s vault is also larger than Hulu’s library, but the type of content that’s available on Hulu is far more TV-centric than what’s available on Netflix.