Whether you’re streaming TV shows and movies to supplement your existing cable/satellite subscription or because you have or want to get rid of cable altogether, it can be a challenge figuring out which services are the best for accessing the videos you want to watch.
The three most well-known streaming services that provide a large selection of on-demand movies and TV shows are Netflix, Amazon Video, and Hulu. This post compares the cost, content offerings, and supported devices for these three services.
Note: Before I get into specifics, I just want to emphasize that the home-entertainment environment is a huge and complex mess of contracts negotiated between companies that create the content, distribute the content, and manufacture the devices that you watch the content on. So after reading this post, you may very well link, “THAT doesn’t make sense,” but it might make sense from the perspective of any individual company or the industry as a whole.
- Cost: Netflix offers monthly subscriptions for unlimited watching of their entire catalog of titles. They have three subscription tiers:
- $7.99/month to watch standard definition videos only on a single screen at a time
- $9.99/month to watch standard or HD videos on up to two screens simultaneously
- $11.99/month to watch standard, HD, or Ultra HD (4K) videos on up to four screens at a time
Note that the number of screens include computers and mobile devices as well as TVs.
- Available content: Netflix has a huge library of movies and TV series but they’re generally not the most current seasons of network TV or the most recent blockbuster movies. Some of the New Releases currently listed are New Girl, Gotham, and The Big Short. And, of course, they now have their own quickly growing binge-worthy library of original programming including House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, Jessica Jones, Stranger Things, Daredevil, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and so on. Unfortunately, you can’t browse their library until you sign up, but they do have a 30-day free trial period so you can check out the catalog to see if membership is worth the cost to you.
- Supported devices: You can watch Netflix on all of the Big Four of streaming media players—Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, and Google Chromecast—as well as various Smart TVs, game consoles, Blu-ray players, set-top boxes, PCs and mobile devices.
- Other info: Because there’s no Netflix-specific device, the app interface across devices is fairly consistent. However, when they release a new version it generally rolls out to different devices over time.
- Cost: Amazon doesn’t have monthly subscriptions. Instead, you pay per title watched and you can either rent or buy videos. If you rent it you have to watch it within a certain time window; if you buy it, it’s yours, like buying a DVD. Costs vary per title but, for example, you can rent the 2016 Ghostbusters for $3.99/4.99 (SD/HD) or buy it for $13.99/17.99 (SD/HD). Some popular new releases are only available for purchase and they often have sales on older titles that you can rent for as low as 99 cents.
With TV shows, you can get a discount for buying an entire season, even for current seasons with unaired episodes; you just buy the season up front and they’ll alert you when the next episode is available to watch.
In addition to the paid video library, Amazon makes a subset of titles available for Amazon Prime members to rent for free. There are two Prime subscription options available: one includes all Prime benefits for $99/year or $10.99/month and the other is exclusively for Prime Videos and costs $8.99/month.
- Available content: As mentioned above, Amazon generally has more current popular titles shows than Netflix, including Star Trek: Beyond, Finding Dory, and Mr. Robot. And their Prime library includes plenty of big-name TV series (the Prime movies are generally older ones): Veep, The Americans, Downton Abbey… Like Netflix, Amazon has also gotten into the original programming game with the Emmy-winning Transparent, Mozart in the Jungle, Catastrophe, The Grand Tour and more.
- Supported devices: Obviously, you can stream Amazon content on all their own devices: Kindle Fire tablets, Fire TV box and stick, and Fire Phone. It’s also available on the Roku, but not on Apple TV or Google Chromecast streaming players, although you can get iOS and Android apps for your mobile devices or open videos in your web browser and then possibly mirror them to your TV.
- Other info: You’re allowed to stream up to two videos at the same time using the same Amazon account, but any individual video can only be watched on one device at a time. Also, the interface for the apps on Amazon’s own devices is quite different than on non-Amazon ones, offering more features in some cases like voice search and on-screen info about the content (e.g. actor names) while you’re watching it.
If you have a Prime membership, you can also subscribe to dozens of other third-party video providers, called Channels, like SHOWTIME, STARZ, and ACORN TV. In most cases they’re not cheaper than subscribing to them individually (although you can add on SHOWTIME for $2 less than standalone), but it means you don’t have to set up a bunch of separate accounts. Plus, those videos can then be integrated with your Amazon watchlist.
- Cost: Hulu has two subscription options: $7.99/month for limited commercials and $11.99 for no commercials. Although you can set up Hulu on multiple devices, you can only stream one video at a time. A 7-day free trial period is available. (NOTE: In 2016, Hulu’s formerly free option, which had a subset of titles that were limited to non-HD streaming on computers and mobile devices, moved to Yahoo View.)
- Available content: While they do offer movies, Hulu is best known for its TV offerings. It’s especially popular with people who don’t have cable or satellite service because the service provides access to current seasons of hit shows—Empire, Law and Order SVU, How to Get Away with Murder, This Is Us, Spongebob Squarepants are just a few examples—all included in the monthly fee. Episodes are generally available the day after they air. They also offer a good selection of non-primetime and syndicated programming like news broadcasts, soap operas, and talk shows. Their library has a lot of Classics as well: Seinfeld, I Love Lucy, Cheers, The Saint… They’re also growing their original offerings, which include The Mindy Project, Casual, and 11.22.63.
- Supported devices: Like the other two services, Hulu is available on a long list of devices including the Big Four streaming media players.
- Other info: You can add on SHOWTIME’s streaming service for the same $8.99/month discounted price as Amazon has.
Other Third-Party Providers
While Netflix, Amazon Video, and Hulu dominate the streaming landscape, there are other providers you can check out. Apple iTunes and Google Play Movies & TV both offer lots of videos and can be especially good choices for people who use those companies’ devices. You can also check out providers like FANDANGO NOW, Crackle, VUDU, and Popcornflix for multi-genre options as well as niche services like ACORN TV (British series) and Timeless Television (classic TV) for programming that may not be available on the Big Three, you can’t access on the devices you own, or offer better deals.
Do you have a favorite third-party streaming content provider not listed above? Share it in the comments section!
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