For nearly a decade streaming services have gone head to head to head in a battle of what is best. The problem is, that’s all relative. What you determine to be best may not be best for your neighbor, your roommate, or even your partner. But it doesn’t have to be a be-all and end-all decision.
It used to be cable and satellite providers that were left to duke it out amongst each other. These mega corporations offered various services at prices that made television entertainment seem like a true luxury. Without their offerings you were relegated to six or so primary networks. They knew they held the power and they charged accordingly. That is, until the game changed. The world of streaming services quickly became as competitive as cable and satellite services.
These days everyone is looking for a way to cut the cord on pay-TV and streaming subscriptions are the solution. Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, and Hulu Plus are the big contenders. They each have their own perks and pitfalls that will help you determine which service is right for you.
Let’s find out which one is the best among Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video and Hulu Plus
When It Comes to Original Content: Netflix
In the past few years, streaming services have even started putting out their own content. This original content grants streaming services independent rights to unique material that won’t be shared across streaming platforms.
Amazon Instant Video is stepping up to the plate. Their series Alpha House is currently in its second season and Bosch is showing some promise. They’re also working on a handful of other projects, of which half are scheduled to release this year.
Hulu Plus also creates some of their own content. They offer a quirky selection of reality television, comedies, dramas, and animated features. Their reality series Behind the Mask was nominated for an Emmy and Jim Henson’s Doozers features the lovable characters from the 80s children’s show Fraggle Rock. There are currently 16 series available, undoubtedly with more in the works.
Each service offers interesting content but it’s clearly Netflix that is excelling in the market. Netflix offers the widest selection of original content with 68 current releases including new series, series reboots, and one-off films, documentaries, and standup comedy specials with many more in the works.
House of Cards and Orange is the New Black are not only successful as streaming content, but they are successful in their own rights. Both shows have gained so much attention, that their own popularity has garnered new Netflix subscribers based on word of mouth recommendations. The shows not only offer compelling storylines but they have each achieved award-winning status multiple times over.
These two shows are just the beginning. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has been so successful in under a month that Netflix already has Tina Fey working on the next season. Streaming content offers a new element of success – bing watching.
The future looks bright for Netflix original content. Marvel’s Daredevil is scheduled to release on April 10, 2015 and it is expected to be a major hit. There are also three other Marvel creations in the works, which will definitely appeal to the comic book crowd. A series adaptation of Wet Hot American Summer will release this summer on July 17th and will likely be another binge-watch success.
Netflix is also picking up where networks left off. Fans of shows like Arrested Development and Trailer Park Boys can see their favorites brought back to life after their lives were cut short by their former networks. Netflix could probably break the internet if they found a way to reboot Firefly.
Most Global Access: Netflix
When it comes to global access, Netflix wins hands down. The competitors don’t even hold a candle to the global reach. In fact, Hulu Plus cannot be accessed outside of the United States at all and Amazon Prime Instant Video is only available in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Austria, and Germany.
Netflix, on the other hand provides service to 61.4 million subscribers globally in 50 different countries. This is particularly beneficial for those who travel internationally for business and for military members.
Currently, you can view Netflix anywhere in North and South America but after that it is a little more limited. Europe offers the United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Greenland, Norway, Germany, Finland, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg. Australia and New Zealand also have coverage but their services seem to be more limited. Hit shows like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and Sons of Anarchy won’t be available in the Aussie service.
In fact, each country has different access and availability. Content available in the United States won’t necessarily be available in other countries due to licensing restrictions. This works both ways though – there are movies and series you can access outside of the US as well. Language and subtitle restrictions may apply. For example, in Mexico some series may require you to display Spanish subtitles even if the audio is in English. Some subscribers may not be happy with this, but it’s not an option you can turn off.
Highest Quality: Netflix
If you’re going to pay for a streaming service, you might as well make sure you’re getting good quality. While your internet speeds have an influence on the quality you receive, the providers have to be able to offer the output to get the quality you’d expect with modern technology. Generally, the services use adaptive bitrate streaming to determine the quality of your video based on your internet speed.
Hulu Plus manages to fail competitively in both video and audio quality. Their quality is capped at 720p and stereo sound even though the content is originally aired at higher quality through the networks. Amazon content is largely is largely 1080p and much of their content is released with 5.1 digital surround availability.
Netflix, sets itself apart with next wave content. Netflix snubs Amazon’s 5.1 digital surround availability by offering 7.1 surround sound on select titles. If your device allows, you can view select content in 3D. Even one step further, Netflix is starting to offer some content in “Ultra HD,” meaning 4K/UHD resolution. While Amazon has also recently released some 4K content, Netflix has plans to go even further. They’re currently working on what they call high-dynamic range (HDR) content. This would allow content to stream with surreal-like colors and bold whites and blacks.
Access to Recent Releases: Hulu Plus
When it comes to new releases of syndicated content, Netflix and Amazon are both dead in the water. Hulu Plus aims to set itself apart from the competition by offering mostly current television series. Their content partnerships are agreed upon for the current season of a series, which means you can view yesterday’s episode today but you may have difficulty using Hulu Plus to catch up on previous seasons. Not every series has the current season available, with some only showcasing the last few episodes for streaming. It’s great if you’re looking to catch last night’s episode that you missed, but it’s not so great if you want to binge watch an entire season.
Best Variety: Netflix
Variety is probably the single most important factor when it comes to choosing a streaming provider. Recent releases are great, but if you’re limited to what is currently streaming, you may find yourself running out of material. Hulu Plus is certainly slacking in this department. While they offer a unique selection of content, their older content and movie selection is dismal.
Amazon is certainly trying. They’ve managed to pick up some contracts that Netflix previously held, allowing them access to some fan favorites like Downton Abbey, Six Feet Under, Oz, True Blood, and The Sopranos. They even picked up the contract for movies that air on the Starz channel. But try as they might, it’s not quite enough.
When it comes to options, Netflix is the clear winner. Experts estimate that Netflix offers twice, if not three times as much content as the competitors. Netflix has over a petabyte of content – that’s one million gigabytes with of television and movies for your streaming pleasure.
With all of that content, it may be difficult to make a selection but Netflix has you covered. They offer a taste profile, allowing you to give movies and television a one to five star rating. Their algorithm works too. The more you rate, the better your recommendations will be. You really liked Weeds? Well you may also like these other “TV Dramadies.” The day you think there’s nothing to watch on Netflix is the day you need to go outside.
Best Value: Amazon Prime Instant Video
It shouldn’t go without mention that even though you pay a subscription cost to access Hulu Plus content, you’re still subjected to ads. While they’re certainly not as lengthy as television network advertisements, they still seem intrusive. Hulu says the “modest ad load” is necessary to keep costs down, though that most likely just means to keep subscription prices competitive to Amazon and Netflix.
Netflix has inherent value considering all of the content that is available. They even have the option to access your subscription on up to four devices. That means you and your roommates can split the cost and save your preferences to your own account. Even with the extra content and perks, it’s still nothing compared to Amazon.
Amazon Prime Instant Video doesn’t stand on its own. Instead, it comes as part of a package deal as an added benefit for Prime members who typically sign up for free 2-day shipping. You’ll also have access to a plethora of books in the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, which allows you to “check out” a book at a time to be used on your Kindle device or app. If that’s not enough, you also get unlimited photo storage (RAW files included) and 5gb of file storage in Amazon Cloud Drive.
Netflix: Starting at $7.99/mth or $95.88/yr for basic service on one television or up to $11.99/mth or $143.88/yr for premium service in HD and Ultra HD on up to four televisions.
Amazon Prime Instant Video (Start your 30-days free trial): $99/yr but includes free 2-day shipping on select Amazon purchases, Cloud storage, and the Lending Library
Hulu Plus: $7.99/mth or $95.88/yr
The prices are comparable overall, but with the extra benefits, Amazon is clearly a step above the rest.
Best App: Amazon Instant Video
Part of the beauty of streaming service is the portability. Sometimes you just don’t have a television and an internet connection to enjoy your favorite series and films, but the apps allow you to enjoy them anywhere with 3G, 4G, or wifi.
Netflix’s app looks and functions similarly to the desktop access while Hulu Plus utilizes a different but very clean design. What sets them apart from Amazon’s app are the features. Netflix and Hulu Plus both allow users to pick up where they left off. Whether you were gearing up for the next episode or halfway through, you’ll have the ability to continue without missing a beat. You can even pair your phone with compatible devices to utilize your phone as a high powered remote. It certainly makes searching for specific shows much easier on a smart TV.
Amazon’s interface is just as straightforward and simple to use but offers something the others do not – reviews. Similarly to the Amazon Store, you can view user reviews on a show or film before you bite the bullet. If you’re already elbow deep in a show, this function may not be as useful but it may help you take the plunge.
All of the apps are available on iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire but Windows 8 phone and Nook tablet users should note that they won’t have access to Amazon’s Instant Video app.
The Winner: Netflix
Each service offers their own perks and pitfalls. Where one fails, another succeeds. However, when you weight the options there is one clear-cut winner, and it is clearly Netflix. The service offers the most syndicated and original content, the best quality, and the most global availability. So Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Prime Video, take note – you clearly have some catching up to do.
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What The Future Holds
While Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime Instant Video are the biggest contenders in the market, other networks are looking to jump onto the streaming content bandwagon. HBO just announced their service HBO Now, which will initially be available on Apple devices for $14.99 per month. The service is separate from their current service HBO GO, which is intended for current pay-TV subscribers. CBS recently released CBS All Access to provide subscribers next day, live stream, and previous season releases of their content for $4.99 per month. Showtime and NBC are said to be releasing their own versions soon.While it’s clear these exclusive access services won’t be able to contend with the variety of the major contenders, they’ll certainly have their own place in the market.