Services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, and the newly-simplified Hulu offer a massive amount of on-demand content at a low monthly cost. Each service makes for a fantastic way to provide extensive entertainment options to an entire family, and they’re increasingly becoming an alternative to the bloated pricing of cable and satellite subscriptions.
For some cord-cutters, a mix of two, or all three of these services is the best solution. But if you’re 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 to find out which one rules in various categories, and which one is best for you.
Price: Amazon Instant Video
While Netflix always takes the headlines, Amazon Prime is quietly clawing its way into the upper ranks. And price — or more to the point, value — is one category where the other services really can’t compete. Prime membership bundles video streaming with free, two-day shipping, which is a near-vital necessity in today’s online shopping paradigm. In addition, your $99/year Prime account gets you access to Amazon’s streaming music service, and you can share accounts with friends and family. Netflix costs individuals from $8-9 (depending on whether or not you’re a new subscriber) and Hulu costs $8 for the regular service, and a whopping $12 for the new commercial free option.
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 the company won’t raise prices for 4K streaming. Throw in Amazon’s student discount, and it’s an easy win.Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial
Supported Devices: Netflix
All three services are offered on the majority of streaming devices, but 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. Amazon is a runner-up, especially since it comes on most smart TVs, and it’s one of the most readily available services for voice-operated search on many devices. However, these days, just about every service and major device has gotten into the voice-search game, including the new Apple TV with Siri and the new Chromecast — neither of which carry Amazon Prime. And since Netflix is part and parcel with virtually every streaming device on the planet, it takes the medal here.
Interface and Ease of Use: Netflix
While there are some detractors when it comes to searching through its crowded vault of content, Netflix has terrific search functionality, more personalized “top picks,” and a slick design with an intuitive carousel. Perhaps more importantly, its interface is also universal throughout HDTVs, gaming consoles, Rokus, and Blu-ray players, and other devices.
Along with its more simplified name, Hulu has recently redesigned its interface which makes searching and finding the “Shows You Watch” even easier for a second place finish, while Amazon comes in third with a slightly more scattered interface, though, like its rivals, it’s constantly improving. We’ll also 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 and Hulu
Each mobile application has pros and cons when streaming over LTE or 3G, but the Netflix and Hulu 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 devices.
All three services are compatible with iOS, Android, as well as Amazon’s Kindle Fire devices. Netflix and Hulu applications can also be found on Windows 8 mobile devices and Nook tablets, as well as the new Apple TV, while Amazon Instant is still absent.
Audio and Video Quality: Amazon
In addition to offering 1080p streams, both Netflix and Amazon have launched 4K UHD resolution streaming, though Netflix charges extra for the privilege, bumping the monthly subscription fee to $12. At this point, 4K streams are still pretty new and offerings from both services are limited to a handful of movies and TV titles. You’ll also need compatible 4K UHD TV and streaming devices for each.
However, apart from charging less, Amazon has beaten Netflix to the punch with its rollout of the first HDR (High Dynamic Range) content, still unavailable from any other streamer on the block. Designed to enhance 4K video through better contrast, and richer color shading, HDR is even more limited than 4K UHD content on its own. But pairing that with a lower price for UHD streaming gives Amazon the win for video.
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 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. Its close here between Netflix and Amazon, but Bezos’ baby just edges out Big Red.
Amount of Content: Netflix
Netflix offers the largest content library of the three services, aggressively building out its catalog 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, but the type of content that’s available on Hulu is far more TV-centric than what’s available on Netflix. Hulu’s also been making aggressive plays, nabbing exclusive licensing for future seasons of The Walking Dead from AMC, and the service also paid a reported $180 million for the Seinfeld catalog. Meanwhile, Amazon has its own exclusives, and the service has also made some waves with its original content, including the critically acclaimed dramedy Transparent.
Still, with a hefty spending limit of around $5 billion a year — more than many traditional television networks — nobody beats the ‘Flix.