It has been a few years since we’ve compared heavy-hitting streaming services Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, and with changes in pricing, content, quality, and interface, we thought it was time to revisit the topic.
The three popular streaming services offer a variety of content, both original and otherwise, are available on multiple devices, and are priced slightly differently. So how do you choose which one is right for you? We’re here to help you make that choice.
Netflix ($7.99 – $11.99)
Netflix offers customers three plans. The basic plan costs $7.99 and does not offer simultaneous streaming on multiple devices (except for older users) or HD streaming. The most popular plan costs $9.99, after the company increased the price by $1 in October.
This new price, however, affects only new users, at least until October 2016. Users can also stream simultaneously on two devices, and get HD streaming. Bumping the price up to $11.99 allows user to stream simultaneously on four devices.
Netflix DVD ($4.99 – $19.99):
Netflix sets itself apart from competitors by offering an additional DVD plan. Users can pay anywhere from another $4.99 to $19.99 a month to rent DVDs. The scale differs if you prefer Blu-rays over DVDs, and according to the number of discs you rent at a time – ranging from one to three. A limited $4.99 plan lets you rent two discs per month.
No matter what plan you choose, Netflix offers a 30-day free trial. While you have to enter your credit card information while registering, if you cancel at anytime, by phone or online, during your free trial, you won’t be charged. Netflix also does not offer refunds or partial credits for canceling mid-month.
Amazon Prime ($99/year):
Amazon Prime costs users $99 a year, which works out to just over $8 a month, but the full amount has to be paid upfront. That said, you get other benefits – most significantly free two-day shipping on Amazon purchases. If you happen to live in one of 16 major U.S. cities, you can also benefit from Amazon’s same-day delivery.
Other Prime features include access to Prime Music, the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, and unlimited photo storage with Prime Photos. With Amazon Prime, some titles are also available for offline viewing. Users can download a title to two devices, and can download up to 25 titles at a time.
Amazon Prime also offers a 30-day free trial, after which you’ll be automatically upgraded. You can cancel before your trial expires. On the “Manage Your Prime Membership” page, you’ll find the date your free trial ends.
Hulu ($7.99 – $21):
For $7.99 a month, Hulu users get unlimited access to the Hulu library, with ads. If you prefer an ad-free experience, Hulu recently introduced a $11.99 plan that gets you just that. Another $8.99 gets users access to Showtime content. With Hulu, users can stream on one device at a time.
As far as free trials go, Hulu comes in last place offering just one week gratis. Hulu, however, is the only service to offer users completely free access to some of its content. This includes a selection of episodes from shows like Scandal, South Park, Grey’s Anatomy, and Empire.
Netflix comes out on top in the price category. Its $9.99 plan gives you more options than Hulu’s $7.99 plan, while also offering users a comparable plan for the same price as Hulu. Distilling it down to video streaming alone, it also beats out Amazon by billing monthly rather than annually.
Netflix has a stunning amount of original content across a wide range of genres: TV shows, movies, documentaries, and stand-up comedy.
The Netflix lineup includes popular award-winning shows like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, and stand-up comedy from the likes of Russell Peters, Chris Tucker, Aziz Ansari, and Chelsea Handler. It also lists among its original content Oscar-nominated documentaries The Square and Virunga, and films like the just-released Beasts of No Nation, which has already been labeled an Oscar contender.
In addition to original content, Netflix also provides entire seasons of TV shows, shortly after they’ve stopped airing on TV, so you can binge-watch to your heart’s content. Besides original content, Netflix offers complete seasons on popular shows whose runs have ended, like Friends, Breaking Bad, Dexter, and How I Met Your Mother.
With programs still airing, you can view all but the current season of shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, New Girl, How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal, and more.
Recent movies available on Netflix include Kristen Wiig’s Welcome to Me, Jon Favreau’s Chef, and Jennifer Anniston’s Cake. Netflix owns the largest library of content, with some estimates suggesting it’s as big as 100,000 titles. It adds new content on a daily basis, and at a faster rate than content is removed.
Original content on Hulu now includes The Mindy Project, Difficult People, and the recently released Casual. Hulu’s original content library is very small, and doesn’t really include too many showstoppers. The Mindy Project, while definitely enjoying a cult following, only came to Hulu after it was cancelled by Fox.
Hulu’s real strength lies not in original content but in bringing current seasons of TV shows online, the day after airing. Current seasons of many of the shows available on Netflix are on Hulu. Prime time shows like Scandal, Empire, and How to Get Away with Murder are available, along with The Tonight Show with Trevor Noah, The Last Man on Earth, Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy, South Park, and more.
With some shows, Hulu users can view only the five most recent episodes, so if you want to watch your favorite new shows on Hulu, you don’t have long to do so.
Hulu has also gotten into the business of providing entire seasons of older shows, most significantly, it offers all nine seasons of Seinfeld.
Hulu has also teamed up with Showtime, offering users access to their TV shows and movies to Hulu users, but for an additional $8.99. This means access to shows like Homeland and Ray Donovan.
Amazon also has a very small library of original content, but boasts among those titles the award-winning Transparent. The rest of the line-up, however, has not garnered much attention. Amazon Prime is estimated to have around 40,000 streaming movies and TV shows.
Amazon Prime offers a mixed bag of old and new movies, with current titles on offer including the Back to the Future trilogy, all seasons of The Good Wife (except for the current one), and most significantly, the HBO Collection, including series such as Newsroom, The Sopranos, Sex and the City, True Blood, and Flight of the Concords.
If this was just about to original content, Netflix wins hands down. Taking a look at 2015 Emmy nominations and wins, for example, Amazon had 12, while Netflix had 34. Of Amazon’s 12 nominations, 11 of them actually belonged to one show – Transparent. Hulu didn’t make it into the competition.
Original content aside, the types of content offered by each service differ. Netflix offers the greatest variety and some of the best quality shows. Amazon edges in with its HBO offerings, albeit for the older shows, but you could gain access to all things HBO, including the latest titles, with HBO GO for $15 a month. Hulu on the other hand has established itself as the king of primetime content, offering the latest shows days after they’ve aired.
So if you prefer the newest shows, Hulu is for you. If you want access to a larger library – go for Netflix. If you’re looking for specific shows and movies before you sign up, you can always search all three services at once to see who has what.
Netflix and Amazon are both completely ad free, for no additional cost. Hulu has only just recently introduced a pricier plan, where you can get ad-free viewing for $3 more than the standard plan. Reading the fine-print reveals, however, that a small number of shows are still not ad-free after all:
“For a small number of shows, however, we have not obtained the rights to stream commercial free and they are not included in our No Commercials plan. You can still easily access these shows with a short commercial before and after each episode with no interruptions during the episode. Specific shows that still have commercials accessible through the No Commercials plan will be noted throughout the signup, switching and playback experience. While the list of shows may change, they are currently: Grey’s Anatomy, Once Upon a Time, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Scandal, Grimm, New Girl and How To Get Away With Murder.”
Hulu also occasionally offers regular users the option to watch one longer ad at the beginning of a show, to view the rest of it ad-free.
Both Netflix and Amazon come out on top compared to Hulu, by virtue of being ad-free.
All three streaming services are available on major devices: Apple TV, Roku, iOS, Android, and smart TVs. They can also be accessed from desktop browsers.
The list of Netflix-compatible devices includes all major smart TVs, with Netflix shipping with a lot of new TVs. It’s also available on the latest Wii U, PlayStation 4, and XBox One games consoles. The list of Hulu-compatible devices and Amazon Prime-compatible devices are similar to Netflix, but Amazon includes an extensive list of smart TVs that lets you access its service.
Amazon Prime and Hulu are available through the Chromecast by casting a tab from your Chrome browser. You can continue to use your computer while casting in full screen. Netflix, on the other hand, has the built-in ability to cast content to your TV, which improves the quality.
Netflix barely edges out its two competitors here, simply by virtue of making it far easier to access content on multiple devices such as smart TVs and the Google Chromecast.
Amazon content is available on various devices in Standard Definition (SD), High Definition (HD), Ultra High Definition (UHD) or 4K picture resolution, and High Dynamic Range (HDR). Depending on your Internet connection, you can stream HD at 720p or better, going all the way up to 1080p.
Netflix content is available in SD, HD, and UHD. Netflix recommends 3 Megabits per second for SD, 5Mbps for HD, and 25Mbps for UHD. Both Amazon and Netflix adjust the service to offer you the best resolution based on your connection and devices.
Amazon is the first to offer HDR which “features significantly increased color range and enhanced contrast between highlights and shadows.” It also recommends UHD, which offers a resolution four times greater than HD, at a lower recommended speed than Netflix — 15 Megabits per second — making it more accessible.
While user interfaces can differ across devices, for consistency’s sake, this comparison is based on accessing the streaming services via a desktop browser.
Hulu places a banner of popular shows at the top of the page, followed by the shows you watch, the latest TV shows, the most popular TV shows, popular movies, new seasons on Hulu, and popular episodes. Hulu’s interface is very organized, easy to navigate, and search couldn’t be easier. You can also delete shows and movies from your viewing list so that it no longer affects your recommended shows.
Netflix displays promoted shows, popular content, trending content, followed by shows you’ve already watched, recently added content, new releases, followed by shows you are currently watching, after which you’ll find recommendations based on your viewing history, and various genres.
You cannot remove shows from your lineup. If you want to access specific categories, you have to go through the menu, hidden behind the “Browse” button.
Amazon Prime video places promoted content at the top of the page, followed by titles related to your viewing history. Next comes Best of Prime, Recommended TV, and Recommended Movies. After that you can see Amazon originals.
With all three, you can search by title or celebrity.
Hulu appears far more organized and easy-to-navigate compared to Netflix and Amazon. Allowing users to delete shows they have watched in order to ensure a recommendation list that is spot-on is another added advantage. Netflix is a close second, but burying its genres in a menu doesn’t do it any favors.
By comparison, Amazon seems a little messy, and the search function is tied in to the entire Amazon website, so you have to make an effort to filter it down just to Prime Video. And even then, the search results still include rentals and purchases.
Amazon Prime Instant Video is available in the U.S., plus several countries in Europe and Asia, while Hulu is available only in the U.S. and certain U.S. overseas military installations. Netflix, on the other hand, is available virtually worldwide in 83 locations, as pictured in the map above. (Netflix is coming soon to countries shaded in yellow).
It goes without saying, Netflix has the global market cornered. For those willing to go that route, there are ways to bypass geographical restrictions. When it comes to offline viewing, Amazon Prime is the only one of the three that allows users to download videos to watch on the go.
Choosing the right service for you depends on multiple factors. Netflix has the best original content, and has a huge library, giving cable companies a real run for their money. Hulu tops lists for the latest TV shows, but suffers on advertising. Amazon has some gems interspersed in its library, but the service is only worth your while if you’re going to take advantage of the other features that come with Amazon Prime – particularly free shipping.
At the end of the day, content is king. Netflix has the most in the way of sheer volume to choose from. And quantity is nothing unless it’s also quality, and Netflix delivers on this front as well. So, all things considered, we declare Netflix the winner of this showdown.
Do you agree? Do you disagree? If so, why? If you had to choose just one of these three services, which would you pick? Have you switched from one service to another recently? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Image Credits: Parker Knight via Flickr