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best instant videoHulu Plus. iTunes. Netflix. Amazon Instant Video.

The lifeblood of online cinema and television. The new wave of home media. The providers of endless entertainment in which pants are not necessarily required. They are the contenders of all that is streaming video.

But alas, which service is the best? Which service can raise its virtual fist high in the air and proudly exclaim, “I am the one!” to be heard across all the land?

This is exactly why we are here today, ladies and gentlemen. We are gathered here to analyze all of these best instant video streaming services and find out which one can hold the title of The Best.

Our criteria will be based on the following:

  • The Selection: Generally speaking, what kind of content is offered? Is it highly sought after?
  • The Price: Are you getting a good deal?
  • The Interface: Is the service easy to use and pretty to look at at?
  • The Devices: What kinds of tech toys can you use these services on?
  • The Quality: What does the content look like?

The Selection

best instant video

Right away, I have to say that Netflix offers a nice mix of both movies and television shows. Better yet, they are also in the market of original content, pumping out top-notch shows like House of Cards and Hemlock Grove. On the other hand, Hulu is definitely more television-focused because of its close ties with all of the major networks. Typically, you can catch shows the day after they appear on television, but their modest selection of films is rather poor. With Netflix, however, you occasionally can only receive some items on DVD. That kind of takes away the convenience of the whole streaming aspect.

Moving right along, Amazon offers a great variety of movies and television series, and it is currently entering the world of original content. Here’s the catch, though: some titles aren’t compatible with Prime Instant Video – lame sauce. I was pretty displeased with the fact that, despite having a Prime account, I was still expected to pay for AMC’s Breaking Bad and Mad Men, both of which required $1.99 per SD episode and $2.99 per HD episode. Alternatively, there’s iTunes, which has a superior library filled to the brim with fresh content, but it does not offer a subscription service that allows you to buy in bulk.

Overall, I have to say that Netflix offers the best selection out of all of these.

Relatively speaking, Amazon and iTunes have great selections as well, but they must be individually purchased. Selection is such a trivial thing to consider, though. With varying taste and opinions, it’s incredibly difficult to provide a solid answer. The only safe option is to base this answer on variety itself.

Even still, I’ve chosen a few in-vogue items and listed which services offer them. As you can tell, Amazon and iTunes do wonderfully in the area of movies, and while Netflix offers the same content, it’s occasionally via DVD only.

  • Game of Thrones: Amazon, iTunes, Netflix (DVD only)
  • Breaking Bad: Amazon, iTunes, Netflix
  • Mad Men: Amazon, iTunes, Netflix
  • The Walking Dead: Amazon, iTunes, Netflix
  • Django Unchained: Amazon, iTunes, Netflix (DVD Only)
  • The Dark Knight Rises: Amazon, iTunes, Netflix (DVD Only)
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Amazon, iTunes, Netflix (DVD Only)
  • Cloud Atlas: Amazon, iTunes, Netflix (DVD Only)

Regardless, you get a solid mix of both movies and televisions with Netflix, and on top of that, the company produces new shows that you can’t see anywhere else.

The Price

instant video sites

In an effort to make life easier, I have nailed down the subscription-based services’ yearly prices. (Of course, iTunes is excluded from this because of its lack of a subscription membership.)

  • Hulu Plus: $96/yr
  • Netflix: $96/yr (add’l $96/yr for DVDs, add’l $24 for Blu-ray)
  • Amazon Prime Membership:  $79/yr

As you can tell, Hulu and Netflix are exactly the same price, while Amazon offers a slightly cheaper Prime membership which allows for unlimited streaming of titles in the Prime Instant Video library. Movies on iTunes generally range from $10 to $20 each to own and around $5 for a “rental” while season passes for television shows can range from nearly $20 to $40 and around $5 per episode.

Obviously, iTunes is not that great of a deal if you are wanting to view a massive amount of content, but if you want to own a movie or series that you can watch at anytime, then it may be worth looking into.

Looking at the service as a whole, Amazon seems to offer the best deal as far as multimedia goes. Their Prime account plan allows for unlimited streaming, the ability to check out books for Kindle, and free shipping for certain items. In the end, if you’re a regular Amazon user, you’re going to get your money’s worth. However, in the context of video entertainment, it’s probably not worth it. Since some television episodes and movies are not even available for Prime users, you will likely end up paying more than $79.

It seems like we have a back-to-back winner for this round: Netflix.

As already mentioned, Hulu Plus is more focused on television while Netflix offers a great package of popular movies, television shows, and original content, offering you more for your money. Granted, this could be debatable due to the DVD and Blu-ray rental fees. Even still, I stand by Netflix since the world is already knee-deep in cloud-based media.

The Interface

Both Hulu and Netflix offer the ability to browse genres using similar interfaces. You can scroll through covers on the main page, and for more specific categories, you can flip through a grid of various content. Personally, I believe Hulu Plus is the better of the two, for Netflix tends to prioritize recommended titles based on every single item you watch instead of standard genres and categories. Hulu puts the most popular content at the forefront while making use of a much more fluid interface.

instant video sites

instant video sites

As for Amazon, it’s just ugly. Period. Selections are presented in the same format as the regular site, so you really have to know what you are looking for in order to find anything. While there are decent recommendations (in the same fashion as regular Amazon purchases), the layout is just not suitable for a streaming service: It requires you to click too much. You can’t endlessly scroll looking through titles, and you also can’t hover over films to read their descriptions.

instant video

iTunes displays a very similar layout like Netflix and Hulu Plus. However, more items appear on the screen, and movies and TV shows are automatically divided into two separate pages. Content is delivered in a sleek, fluid, interactive format, and honestly, it’s a pleasure to use. The right sidebar showcases the most popular bits of entertainment in order for each genre, and content art is clearly viewable on all parts of the site.

instant video

This time around, iTunes takes the cake. Simply put, it’s easier to use and prettier to look at.

The Devices

instant video

Rather than fluff things up, I’ll just let the device compatibility speak for itself.

  • Hulu Plus: Mac, PC, iOS, Android, Xbox 360, PS3, Roku, TiVo, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, Kindle Fire, NOOK, Blu-ray, SmartTV
  • iTunes: Mac, PC, Apple TV, iOS
  • Netflix: Mac, PC, iOS, Windows Phone, Android, Xbox 360, PS3, Boxee, TiVo, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, Kindle Fire, NOOK, Blu-ray, SmartTV
  • Amazon Instant Video: Mac, PC, Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD, iOS, Android, Xbox 360, PS3, Roku, TiVo, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, Blu-ray, SmartTV

As far as devices go, we have a three-way tie. Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Amazon Instant Video all do a marvelous job of supporting their customers regardless of how they are viewing content. As for iTunes, it’s stuck in Apple Land, surrounded by towers of polished aluminum and retina billboards advertising newish products.

The Quality

best instant video

Amazon advertises its streaming content for PC as being “DVD quality” – in short, this means it’s standard definition. So unfortunately, you cannot stream HD content to your computer, but you can stream HD to your Kindle Fire HD, Xbox 360, PS3, Roku, or TiVO. For regular laptop users, this means Amazon is out. No questions asked.

Netflix and Hulu Plus streaming quality are too similar to really see a difference, and users can watch content in both HD and SD. However, Netflix provides the option to throttle your quality as a means to prevent from going over your data cap, and this is a nice consideration for its clientele. But for those of you who enjoy crystal clear viewing, iTunes’ HD content has been compared to Blu-ray. With that said, iTunes is the winner of this round.

Bear in mind that the quality is also based on your connection. You could live in Podunk, Nowhere, with the worst ISP in the world, and iTunes would look pretty horrible.

The Champ

Our champ was based on selection, price, interface, device compatibility, and quality. With that said, we had to base this determination on the most well-rounded service available – a service that offers a wide range of content for a good price, is easy to use and browse, and provides excellent quality on a variety of devices.

As you can tell, it appears that Netflix is the best best instant video streaming service out there. It’s incredibly well-rounded, providing a good variety of content for a vast set of devices at a fair price.

This doesn’t mean that the other services are poor, by any means. Hulu Plus is perfect for those of you who are addicted to television shows. Amazon Instant Video comes with the total package, including books, music, and shipping via Amazon Prime. iTunes is great for hanging onto your entertainment.

What do you think? Did I pick the best service? I want to know what your opinions, so leave your thoughts and feedback in the comments.

Image Credit: tncountryfanAmarand Agasi???chutamdieselbug2007

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  1. Michael Roane
    January 18, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    "Amazon advertises its streaming content for PC as being “DVD quality” – in short, this means it’s standard definition. So unfortunately, you cannot stream HD content to your computer, but you can stream HD to your Kindle Fire HD, Xbox 360, PS3, Roku, or TiVO. For regular laptop users, this means Amazon is out. No questions asked."

    I watch Amazon from my Panasonic Viera TV (accessed using Viera Tools) through Comcast cable and the quality appears to be high def, so don't rule out Amazon completely.

  2. Corie Rodriguez
    January 12, 2017 at 2:46 pm

    Netflix for me is the best Is very easy my laptop my tablet is always perfect is easy to see your account very honest ,for me the best the others I have to cancel they always something is wrong so Netflix the best

  3. Daniel Contreras
    January 3, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    It all good whatever your taste it out there.

  4. Bill Dwyer
    October 13, 2016 at 1:35 am

    The price is not the total cost. The streaming makes the cost prohibitive, for some people. You can do it if you make a lot of money. People on fixed incomes have to go with something else.

  5. Ryan
    August 26, 2013 at 4:37 am

    Amazon Instant does NOT offer app service for Android (this is incorrect in the article). This is the primary reason I have yet to get on board with Amazon's service. See the link below for verification.

  6. Jaime
    July 6, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    Um, actually you are mistaken. Amazon Prime streams in HD on a PC from the web browser. I'm watching right now at 10,000 kbits/sec...

    • Arundeep
      December 2, 2015 at 7:14 am

      It solely depends on the kind of graphics your computer emits... I have a Toshiba Windows 8 i3... its decent enough to the point where i can see the pores on peoples faces yet on clear and lit enough... in which Netflix on a tv with substantial internet can bring out serious lifelike touch and crisp light on the object... I have watched Daredevil on my laptop and my tv ... my computer is HD on the basis of color texture as my tv (with the uber fast wifi) has a more crisp lighting texture to it that makes the people lifelike and to the point of 3D depth perception

  7. Mark
    June 29, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    Netflix focusses on TV shows and OLD MOVIES. Try finding a new movie on Netflix and you are SOL. Simple test take Amazon New Releases and see if they are on Netflix. I have never found one.

    Netflix:- would be better if you could set a filter to only select Movies and another for release date.

    Also you can watch Amazon on your PC.

  8. Chris
    June 17, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    How did Netflix WIN the price category with the highest subscription rate, and with the most additional-fee add-on products?

    Thanks for the effort you put into this article, but I suspect you're pushing affiliate links or something based on the slant of this article.

  9. Keith
    June 3, 2013 at 3:42 am

    The review does not distinguish between being able to watch past seasons of a series, and being able to watch current episodes. For example, you say that Netflix has Mad Men and Walking Dead. That's true ... as long as you're okay with waiting 6+ months after a season to be able to stream it.

    I also think you're understating iTunes' availability. For other services, you break out Android, Kindle, Nook as separate items. They are all really Android. For iTunes, you simply list "iOS", which includes phones, some iPods, and iPads. It is true that iTunes is available on fewer devices, but I think the presentation here makes the difference appear larger than it really is. The true difference is in Xbox, PS3 and Roku.

  10. Hman
    May 31, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    Great comparison, perhaps because I have come to the same conclusions.

    Netflix is by far the best experience - NO COMMERCIALS and deep catalog.

    Amazon Prime makes sense for the free shipping of things you buy, and consider the video thrown in - it is a bit of a bait and switch- you cannot really watch recent seasons only the first episode and then rest you have to pay for.

    Hulu and Hulu Plus disappoint and I have been trying to like them since the beginning when they came out. Not at all worth the same price as Netflix.

    iTunes is just too expensive period. I have no desire to re-watch the same content multiple times so there is no need to own it. There are too many new things to see every day to watch stuff you have seen.

    The only service I would add is ABC has a good player for their own content and it works equally well on my Macs and my IOS devices.

  11. Keith S
    May 26, 2013 at 7:20 am

    This is an AWESOME article for those of us who use Netflix! Thank-You!!

    • Chris
      June 17, 2013 at 8:44 pm

      If you use Netflix, why do you need this article?

  12. Dickamm
    May 22, 2013 at 1:25 am

    There is an error in this post: Amazon Prime does NOT support Android devices. I signed up for the trial membership, and when I wasn't able to stream to my
    Android tablet I called customer service. They told me they only support iPad and Kindle tablets! After seeing this article today, I called them again, and they confirmed this.

  13. preferred user
    May 3, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    I have Amazon Prime and Netflix if I were to chose one over the other netflix would be the choice. neflix is the most used here as well on PC to TV and PS3 to TV

  14. Mark Turner
    May 1, 2013 at 5:34 am

    I agree completely that Netflix is the way to go and would only disagree with how easy each company is to navigate. Between Hulu and Netflix I find Netflix much easier to navigate especially when online.

    My biggest feat with companies like these is what will happen when studios begin to play into it. I'm afraid the same thing that happened with pay cable stations where studios suddenly limited themselves to one service then spread out to have exclusive pay stations. What we got was a glut of stations offering little so you had to subscribe to several to view few movies.

  15. Richard Cundy
    May 1, 2013 at 2:55 am

    Unless I missed it, the ROKU supports Netflix...and is one of the best media interfaces I've found....

    • Joshua Lockhart
      May 1, 2013 at 6:19 am

      You didn't miss it, Richard. I did. Yep. Netflix is on Roku.

  16. Abhisshack
    May 1, 2013 at 2:46 am

    None of Them . The Pirate Bay is The BEST ;-) :P

    • Joshua Lockhart
      May 6, 2013 at 10:15 pm

      When people stop paying for a product, there isn't much of a reason for that product to exist. Can't say I'm a fan of the Pirate Bay.

  17. Matt Cruz
    April 30, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    As a recent 'cable cutter' I've been trying out Hulu Plus, Amazon and Vudu. Amazon's selection is really good, but a little dated (meaning no 'next day' episodes). Hulu Plus is good for some 'next day' episodes, but a lot of weird stuff to make it look like it has a ton of content. Vudu is a nice interface, but only use it for movies once in a while. I'm on the fence about trying Netflix as it looks relatively the same, but with the onset of original programming from them, I may change my mind. (read: Arrested Development). No matter which way you slice it, don't miss Cable. I'll never go back.

    • Denimbear
      May 6, 2013 at 6:23 pm

      You Should Try Netflix. I've had the service now for almost two years. Im a cable cutter too. You dont have nothing to loose as the First month is free. Tell them to cancel b4 the first month is up and your CC wont ever be billed. That is one of the BEST things I've ever done for myself , and the 120.00 a Month Savings are SOOO well worth it. And With Netflix it is UNLIMITED veiwing for one Low price across all your devices. So that way you can take it with you where ever you go !!! I LOVE LOVE LOVE my Netlix.

      And they Do have a Family , And Adult , and And Kids only sections too. A Large selection , of Disney movies , cartoons for the kids, Sitcoms and Family shows for the family, and Stuff for the Adults . And a LOT of different Generes too.
      I hope this helps

  18. get your facts striaght
    April 30, 2013 at 5:41 pm


    ?Game of Thrones: VUDU
    ?Breaking Bad: VUDU
    ?Mad Men: VUDU
    ?The Walking Dead: VUDU
    ?Django Unchained: VUDU
    ?The Dark Knight Rises: VUDU
    ?The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: VUDU
    ?Cloud Atlas: VUDU

  19. Get your facts straight
    April 30, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    Also VUDU is available on: Xbox 360, PS3, HDTVs; Blu-Ray Players, iPads, iPhones, Android Tablets, Nook, PC, Mac.

    VUDU also allows for linking with your Ultra-Violet account, an easy one stop show for Ultra-Violet code redemption, and the ability to convert your physical discs to digital by using the beta at home disc to digital app, or by visitng a local Wal-Mart photo department.

    • smoggy66
      June 27, 2013 at 4:58 am

      Vudu is available on ROKU also.

  20. Get your facts straight
    April 30, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    Get your facts straight, You left VUDU off the list which holds a neck and neck market share to Amazon. VUDU offers the highest bit rate for streaming in true 1080p HDX format supporting Dolby 7.1 and 3d.

    • ravenclawwit
      May 1, 2013 at 12:06 am

      I've used Vudu on occasion, but it's way more expensive than Amazon or Netflix, since there's no free content. In fact, some stuff that's free on Amazon Prime or Netflix you have to pay for on Vudu, like seasons 1 and 2 of The Walking Dead. It's ok for renting movies occasionally, but they charge really crazy prices if you want to rent in HD. $6.99-$7.99 compared to like $3.99 on Amazon.

    • Joshua Lockhart
      May 1, 2013 at 3:00 am

      We simply didn't write about VUDU in this article, so I'd say my facts are straight as far as the other services go. Perhaps a follow-up post specifically about VUDU would be in order.

      However, I believe that I might have missed that Netflix is on the Roku. My mistake.

    • Joshua Lockhart
      May 1, 2013 at 6:19 am

      Thanks for the recommendation, by the way. I will have to look into it.

  21. lavender
    April 30, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    Don't buy the cow when you can get the milk for free.

    You all know what I mean. Rob H. *especially* knows what I mean.

    • Rob H
      April 30, 2013 at 7:03 pm

      Not exactly - I'd have been happy to pay for Nanook but it just wasn't available, it is now - on YouTube.

      I did end up buying "trapper" on DVD as the service I was using (LoveFilm in UK) didn't have it.

      Apart from Nanook my experience with "free" from the web is "don't". Those sites all want you to use THEIR downloader or viewer software that at least will stuff your PC with unwanted toolbars etc, at worst a triojan/virus. They want your email address too so get ready for more spam...

      My current challenge is finding "kabloonak" a 1994 documentary about the making of Nanook. Best (?) so far is Amazon UK offer a copy on VHS for GBP15.

      • ravenclawwit
        May 1, 2013 at 12:01 am

        Well uTorrent doesn't come with any spyware and you can watch pretty much any video you download with it with VLC, another spyware/virus free program. I'm not necessarily advocating this but just pointing out that it is quite possible and even easy to download and watch movies and tv for "free" without scumming up your machine.

    • Joshua Lockhart
      May 1, 2013 at 3:03 am

      The milk disappears when everybody stops buying cows...

  22. Rob H
    April 30, 2013 at 11:11 am

    A couple of things you've overlooked: "The Selection: Generally speaking, what kind of content is offered? Is it highly sought after?"

    I want a service where I can get some of the more obscure material. An example of something I wanted to see is "Nanook of the North" (1922 documentary) - not a very good example as it can now be found free on the web but when I first looked a few years ago it. Another I struggled with "The last trapper" (2004)
    (As you can tell I'm interested in life in the Arctic).

    Secondly do these services provide "family friendly" access options i.e. the ability to hide from view films which might include sex, violence etc.

    • Joshua Lockhart
      May 1, 2013 at 3:05 am

      I see what you're saying Rob, and I know about "Nanook of the North." I suppose that it is a matter of taste.

      As far as family friendly options go, I didn't look into that - my apologies. I know that Netflix for Xbox does allow you to have a child-friendly browsing mode, but I'm not sure about the others.

    • Mark Turner
      May 1, 2013 at 5:37 am

      Here's another online option for documentaries including NANOOK.

  23. Hugo
    April 30, 2013 at 9:41 am

    Netflix have Arrested Development, end of discussion.

    • Joshua Lockhart
      May 6, 2013 at 10:17 pm

      May 26th can't come soon enough.

  24. ravenclawwit
    April 30, 2013 at 5:42 am

    Netflix is also available on the Roku. I have a Roku 2 XS 1080p and I subscribe to both Netflix and Amazon Prime. I'm actually considering subscribing to Hulu as well (and maybe some kind of antenna for local channels like the Mohu Leaf) and then just canceling my cable subscription (we already have it set to the very cheapest tier) and keeping the internet for the streaming. Not too sure how AT&T will feel about that though since we have a bundle deal with internet, phone and cable with AT&T Uverse. I'm kind of afraid that they either won't let us get rid of the cable entirely or will jack up the price on the internet and phone so high that it'd eat up our savings anyways.

    Amazon may not have as much subscription content as Netflix, but it seems to fill in the gaps pretty well for what Netflix doesn't have, or for renting movies and such. Plus I shop there a lot so the free 2 day shipping comes in really handy.

    • Mike
      April 30, 2013 at 11:28 pm

      Uverse selection of movies should not be dismissed. Often coupons are available for movies at $2.00

      • ravenclawwit
        April 30, 2013 at 11:57 pm

        Not really. I've had the service for 3 years and I've gotten a grand total of like 2 coupons. And the Uverse On Demand selection is not that great. And the movies are really expensive. $6.99 to rent a movie in HD? No thanks.

    • Karl Couvillon
      May 1, 2013 at 1:00 am

      I have the same set of Netflix and Amazon for the same reasons. And we cancelled our ATT Uverse over a year ago. They make you jump through hoops to return the cable box, but they didn't gripe (I didn't tell them what I would do in place of cable, just said I had medical bills and couldn't afford cable, which was true). I've never regretted the decision. Cut my bill in half, and they haven't tried anything fishy so far.

  25. Randall Green
    April 30, 2013 at 3:15 am

    Hulu Plus is worth it for the Criterion Collection alone. And what about Vudu? Vudu's interface and selection is as good or better than any of the others, and its streaming quality seems best to me. Granted, it's a la carte, but so is iTunes.