Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, and Hulu each offer a massive amount of on-demand content at a relatively low monthly cost. These services are a fantastic way to stream movies and TV shows for the entire family, increasingly becoming part of an affordable 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 streaming service to use while sticking to a frugal entertainment budget, check out our constantly updated breakdown of each of them to find out which one rules in each of a range of categories, and which is best for you.
Amazon offers two main versions of its Prime subscription, either $119 annually or $13 per month (or $59 annually when you sign up with a valid student email address). Both versions net you the same perks, including two-day shipping, discounted prices on select items, cloud storage, and — most importantly for our purposes — on-demand video (and music) streaming. The best part is that 4K Ultra HD content with HDR comes standard at no extra cost. Plus, you can share accounts with friends and family, so everyone can get in on the deals.
Netflix’s various subscription tiers range from $8 to $14 depending on your desired video quality — SD resolution is just $8 per month, but you can only stream on one device at a time. Moving up to HD will cost you $11 per month for two streams, while moving up to 4K Ultra HD will cost you $14 per month for four streams at a time. The prices will also go up should you opt into the DVD rental service. Netflix is also currently experimenting with a beta “Ultra” price tier in some regions, but it isn’t currently available in the United States.
Hulu begins at $8 for the regular service or $12 for the commercial-free option (which we highly recommend). Hulu’s options don’t stop there, though, as it also offers a streaming live-TV package, similar to Sling TV or PlayStation Vue. A $40-per-month subscription includes 50-plus channels on top of the service’s regular on-demand library, and there are also paid add-on features.
For those who want to stream 4K at the lowest possible price, Amazon is the cheapest bet — and Amazon has stated that the company won’t raise prices for 4K streaming. The sheer number of extra features and benefits included in Amazon Prime gives it an advantage over its competitors as well. Throw in Amazon’s student discount and it is an easy win.
When it comes to sheer volume, this is one of the easiest categories to judge. Currently spending as much as $13 billion on content per year, Netflix blows the doors off the competition here. It also boasts a large number of acclaimed international films (though its film collection, in general, has dwindled in recent years). You can find a list of our favorites here.
Apart from volume, another point to consider is how each service handles shows outside of their own original shows and movies that are currently airing. Hulu and Amazon offer current TV episodes from other networks as they air, but Amazon usually charges a fee for each episode or film. Netflix, on the other hand, is always a season behind what’s currently available from other networks, but you get access to many popular shows a year behind their original airdates.
As such, what you want to watch will largely dictate which service or combination of services is best for you. We’re going to give the nod to Netflix here, however; it just has a more diverse and much bigger overall library. It might not be the best for keeping up with the latest TV shows from other networks, but that also isn’t what the service was designed for in the first place, and no matter how hard you try, you’ll never run out of new shows to watch.
All three services are available on a long list of devices — too long to list here, in fact. Instead, it may be better to point out where they aren’t supported.
Netflix is basically everywhere. Many devices even feature the red Netflix logo directly on their remote. Hulu is also just about everywhere, often in its native user interface, too. Hulu is also currently the only streaming service available on the Nintendo Switch.
The only real noteworthy gap comes with Amazon, which is absent from Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra. That is not all that surprising considering these are Google’s devices, and the Google Play Store is in direct competition with Amazon. Still, it’s an annoyance to have such restrictions. Amazon does have its own line of streamers, though, including the new Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K.
Given the near ubiquity of both Netflix and Hulu, it’s close, but Netflix still beats out its rivals here — it’s even on many cable boxes. If you’re not sure, it pays to do some research before committing. The full lists of compatible devices for each service are available here: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime.
INTERFACE AND EASE OF USE
Netflix has great functionality, and it’s relatively easy to find what you want since it curates suggested movies and TV shows through a personalized “top picks” category on the home screen and offers a slick design with intuitive carousels. That said, over the years the company has changed its algorithm, dropping 5-star ratings for thumbs up, and in the process, seems to find a way to push its own content above all others. On the other hand, we love the fact that its interface is universal regardless of device or brand, including HDTVs, gaming consoles, Rokus, and Blu-ray players, so you won’t have to learn to use a new interface.
Hulu has been updating its interface, and it’s actually a lot easier to use these days on most platforms than previously, with categories like Keep Watching, TV, Movies, and Kids that make it pretty easy to navigate. You can also add on premium channels like HBO, and shows and movies from those channels will show up on your main interface — though it can be a bit of a pain to access the apps themselves. For its quick interface and ability to incorporate premium channels, we’re going to designate Hulu (for the first time) as the winner here. Congrats, Hulu.
Amazon comes in third with a more scattered interface, but like its rivals, it is constantly improving. One point in its favor is that you can browse Prime Instant Video directly on the Amazon webpage and its various apps. However, these interfaces tend to differ from one another, and frankly, some aren’t as intuitive as the others.
AUDIO AND VIDEO QUALITY
In addition to offering 1080p streams, both Netflix and Amazon offer 4K Ultra HD resolution and HDR streaming support. Netflix charges extra for the privilege, bumping the monthly subscription fee to $12, while Amazon provides 4K for free. Hulu has gone back and forth, but currently does not support 4K on any devices.
As for audio quality, Netflix offers select titles in Dolby Atmos, in addition to 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound encoding on select content. By comparison, Amazon offers 5.1 encoding on select content (though Apple TV 4K users will be stuck with stereo, for the time being), and Hulu is, unfortunately, limited to stereo sound despite many network television shows and virtually all movies offering 5.1 surround sound. Even though it charges a bit more for 4K, thanks to its support for Dolby Atmos and other surround features, Netflix takes another win.
Winner: Netflix……Read More>>>