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Netflix vs. Hulu Plus vs. Amazon Prime Comparison

By Jacqueline Curtis

watching streaming mediaRemember back in the Dark Ages when people actually had to leave their homes to rent a movie? Before we were able to stream films and TV shows online, video rental outlets were extremely common – but so were late fees. Digital streaming media services have eliminated the risk of such fees, and have exploded in popularity. Many available services are inexpensive, simple, and extremely convenient.

Of course, though they share many common benefits and characteristics, you may still wonder what the differences are between each service. Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime all advertise a huge selection of streaming movies and shows – but which gives you the best bang for your buck?

Comparing On-Demand Streaming Media Providers

On-demand streaming media equals convenience and affordable entertainment. Choosing which to subscribe to, however, is not always clear-cut. The best service for you is the one that fits best with your lifestyle and your devices, as well as your budget.

hulu netflix amazon

1. Price

Price makes a big difference when it comes to choosing a streaming media service. Fortunately, all of the services are priced quite reasonably.

  • Netflix costs approximately $8 monthly for a streaming membership, but you must pay an additional $8 per month to access the full digital library, as well as to have DVDs delivered to your door.
  • Hulu Plus also costs about $8 per month; however, Hulu offers a free version with a limited selection and fewer episodes of shows.
  • Amazon Prime charges $99 per year for a membership, which equals slightly less than $7 per month, making it the cheapest paid option. You also get additional benefits including free two-day shipping for purchases made on Amazon.com.

2. Plans and Trials

Instead of immediately committing to one choice, you can take each service for a “test drive” to see which one you prefer.

  • Netflix offers a 30-day free trial membership. However, you still need to provide a credit card number, and if you decide you do not like the service, you must cancel your account either by phone or online – otherwise you will incur charges. Netflix offers three types of plans. The most basic plan offers unlimited streaming for $7.99 per month. You can also add DVD delivery – one disc at a time – for an additional $7.99 per month; if you want to check out two DVDs at a time, it costs $11.99 per month. It’s important to remember that the streaming library and DVD library are completely different, as many new releases are only available on DVD. Netflix is the only company that offers DVD rentals, and those who do not wish to receive streaming services can sign up for a DVD-only plan.
  • Hulu Plus only offers a  one-week trial period, and if you dislike the service, you must cancel before the week is up – otherwise you’ll automatically be charged for a full month of service. However, keep an eye out for promotions, as in the past, Hulu Plus has offered three months free with a coupon code, and may again offer a similar promotion.
  • Amazon Prime offers a 30-day trial period. While you need to provide a credit card number to start the trial, you can automatically select “do not upgrade” from your Amazon Prime account. Your trial will end after the 30-day period, and you will not be charged for a membership. Amazon Prime only offers one tier of pricing and service.

3. Selection

When you commit to a membership fee month after month, you want to be sure that you’re getting the best possible selection for the money.

  • Netflix has the most extensive selection, with literally thousands of titles to choose from. Netflix has licensing deals with CBS, ABC, Fox, NBC, Starz, BBC, Sony, and DreamWorks, all of which contribute titles to the library.
  • Hulu Plus has its own licensing deals to provide content from Fox, NBC, Disney, MTV, and a bevy of cable channels. Hulu Plus also updates its library more frequently than its competitors, which means you get to see the latest episodes of your favorite shows faster than you would if you were using Netflix. This makes Hulu Plus a great alternative to cable.
  • Amazon Prime has plenty of the same titles as Netflix and Hulu Plus, but since it’s still pretty new, the library isn’t yet as extensive. Still, it shows many movies released within the past year, similar to Netflix.

Industry estimates set the Netflix selection at about 25,000 titles, the Hulu Plus selection at around 10,000, and the Amazon Prime selection at about 5,000 titles.

movie night

4. Extra Features

Each service has unique features that make its subscriptions more attractive to different people.

  • Netflix offers a commercial-free platform, with the ability to rate certain titles and receive personalized recommendations for films and shows based on your past ratings.
  • Hulu Plus plays limited commercials during the shows and movies, and features a newer selection of movies and TV show episodes than its competitors.
  • Amazon Prime provides commercial-free TV and movies. Furthermore, free shipping and exclusive discounts and sales at Amazon.com are included with the membership.

5. Compatible Devices

You may not be satisfied to only view films and shows on your television screen. If this is the case, consider the range of video devices on which each service can be accessed.

  • Netflix has the most compatibility: You can watch via your PC,  Xbox 360, PS3, Nintendo Wii, Internet-ready TV, Roku, Android, Blu-ray player, Nook or other e-reader tablet, and iOS devices.
  • Hulu Plus comes in at a close second, offering compatibility and support for many of the same devices that Netflix does. Unfortunately, Hulu currently lacks compatibility for many Internet-ready TVs and Blu-ray players. Still, it can show movies through gaming devices, Android, iOS devices, Roku, and various tablet computers.
  • Amazon Prime doesn’t yet feature the extensive compatibility of the other two services, but it is slowly building its network. Presently, you can watch shows via your Internet-ready TV, Blu-ray player, Roku, Kindle Fire tablet, and iOS or Android phone. However, it cannot yet be streamed via any gaming devices.

6. Speed

The speed of each service completely depends upon the speed of your Internet connection. If yours is lagging, the picture quality might be poor, and you may also experience some buffering. However, streaming videos is much faster than downloading videos to watch, so no matter which service you choose, you can watch your favorite movies and shows quickly.

Final Word

The overall pros and cons of each service can be easily summed up as follows:

  • Netflix offers a huge selection, but is the most expensive of the three options, especially if you settle on a membership that includes DVD delivery.
  • Hulu Plus updates TV episodes faster, but you must sit through commercials during your viewing. Hulu Plus does not offer a title selection as extensive as  Netflix.
  • Amazon Prime is the “baby” of the group, but it’s growing rapidly and is the cheapest service available – as long as you’re comfortable agreeing to a year-long commitment. While it doesn’t feature a selection as extensive as the other two services, it offers membership perks that the others do not.

Once you have sufficient knowledge as to what each media service provides, choosing a service is simple. Weigh your options, give each one a trial spin if necessary, and select the one that best fits your budget, your devices, and your viewing habits.

What movie service do you prefer? Have you tried others?

(photo credit: Bigstock)

Jacqueline Curtis
Jacqueline Curtis is an experienced style expert, and she focuses on getting high fashion on a tight budget. She writes for several online publications, including her own fashion blog, How Not to Dress Like a Mom, and specializes in fashion, finance, health and fitness, and parenting. Jae grew up in Toronto, Canada, but now resides in Utah with her husband, two kids, and prized shoe collection.

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  • http://freemoneymentor.com/ Moneymentor

    Make sure your internet is connected directly to your modem and/or television. Wireless internet can make a 90 minute movie last about 200 minutes if you are continuously buffering b/c of low internet signal. It will drive you nuts. Many companies can come out to your house and install another cable line for you for less than $50 however it’s pretty simple to do if you’re already hooked up for basic cable and want to save some money.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/JJOEXZNR5H4XNGUNPJ7WIAQXZA Robyn

      I wouldn’t say that about all internet. I have wireless internet and I run Netflix and HuluPlus without a pause through my wii, 2 laptops and Nook. Sometimes on 2 devices at a time.

      • Fred

        Same here … that dudes internet service or wireless router must really be of poor quality.

  • kindle1223

    I have had Netflix for several years. I switched to Amazon prime this year. I have a Kindle and Blackberry Playbook. The videos play excellent through my Playbook and my Prime membership allows me to download thousands of books for free to read (not public domain books but books that are for sale on Amazon). To top it off, I get free two-day delivery on other purchases. In my opinion, Amazon is a power-house and will eventually catch up to the competition with the updated videos (still a lot more TV shows that you have to pay for which are free on Netflix). But with the added perks, its heads and shoulders over Netflix. If you have a Kindle reader, you would be crazy to have any other service.

    • Carol

      I have a Kindle but have Netflix because my daughter likes it. I’m tempted to get both. Have you gotten any of the special deals with Amazon Prime that the article mentions (besides the shipping and free book per month)? That might make it worth it for me to have both.

  • Mail

    Just an FYI, Amazon streaming is available on the ps3 which is a gaming device

  • http://TipsNifty.com/ Nifty Tips

    hi nice post.Yes Netflix offers a huge selection of offers, it is most expensive of the especially if you settle on a membership which includes DVD delivery.Thank you for your nice entry

  • Stephanie N.

    Thank you for that great comparisons. I’ve been a member of Netflix since 2005. It’s so easy to subscribe and cancel hulu plus. Done that twice already. As for Amazon, I’ve never tried it. I do like the yearly subscription, as to monthly. I wish the others did that. Netflix does have the most to choose from, Hulu has the most recent tv episodes, and Amazon doesn’t have commercial. For me, both Netflix and Hulu Plus, I Love them both. I think Amazon needs to catch up to be a contender.

  • Gary

    “Jacqueline Curtis is an experienced style expert, and she focuses on getting high” is where that line cut off. I laughed.

    • Mmsedm

      LOL!

      • Jacqueline C.

        Definitely an awesome focus for a writer! lol!

  • mjoinsd

    Should note that NOT ALL TITLES are available at no cost with Prime. Many have a $2 to $5 rental fee associated with them, or a higher purchase cost, making them only slightly more competitive than cable on-demand. The costs can also vary from time to time, for example I was able to watch all of the original Star Trek episodes at no additional cost, then once I removed them from my list, the charge was $2 per episode as purchase.

  • Tim

    This article needs a bit of updating. Amazon Prime now offers monthly $7.99 subscriptions, just like the other two.

    • Geeky

      Some more updating:

      Netflix does not support Linux OS….

      Unlike Hulu Plus which does.

      • http://twitter.com/WeaponsofID Weapons of ID

        Even more updating…

        * I run Netflix on Ubuntu 10.04

        * Correction to the article, Amazon Prime does stream via PS3 at least

  • cro

    I have a dsl connection that can vary quite a bit…I’m paying for 4Mbps, but frequently d/l @ 1.5 to 3.5. Sometimes I go even lower. Still, I was surprised how little buffering occurred. I was expecting a bad experience, but am really pleased with my new Netflix hookup through AppleTV and a wireless router. I’ll keep you posted after a month and my free subscription runs out. I’m just trying to ditch my satellite $80/month service and try something new.

  • mdhoyt

    Netflix has ton to choose from, but 90% of there content is very old and B movie rated. Great documentaries with Netflix also. Amazon has very little, but the rental or purchase of new movies is a perk the others don’t offer. Hulu is the step sister of Netflix.

  • George

    How bout you put the date you wrote your article? Google used to be the baby of the search engines. The lack of date is lame

  • http://www.facebook.com/ilovemymarine17 Sara Ankerson

    I have all 3… Lol i need help

  • Missy

    I am switching back to Netflix DVD even after reading this. We started the streaming about six months ago and all they have are dated, lame movies. My first choice was Donton Abbey and was surprised they offered something current! Another positive I can say for Netflix is they allow you to put it on hold. When we finally get decent weather in the Pacific NW, I am not indoors watching movies! This is the best feature.

  • Missy

    My husband just checked with X-finity from Comcast. We did not realize we were subscribed to triple play and now we get X-finity streaming. Don’t need two streaming services!

  • someguy

    Two adjustments.
    1. Hulu Plus compatible is a bit misleading since yes it works on those devices, but they don’t have all the rights to stream everything in their library to those devices. Thus it is all available on the computer but only some of it is available for streaming elsewhere.
    2. Netflix final word, mentioning the dvd delivery as a down side should not be mentioned or used to judge the differences at all since you are comparing the streaming memberships, not additional memberships.

  • Kathy

    I just signed up for the Amazon Prime free trial, but am cancelling at the end of it due to lack of compatibility with devices other than Kindle and Apple. This article says that it is available on your Android phone…unfortunately, it is not, no matter how many ways I’ve tried.

  • Heather Scott-Penselin

    I have no idea when this article was written but according to amazon’s website it is compatible with several gaming devices, including wii and wii u.

  • Mandee Anaemena-Griffin

    I have both Hulu and Netflix and there is some overlap in the shows but not so much in the movies. I tend to use Netflix for movies and like older shows like H2O just add water which I was surprised that they had on Netflix and I use Hulu for Anime and current TV shows like Mindy Project and New Girl (Also on Netflix but not as updated)

  • Yong Bone

    Check your math 8X12 is $96 so Amazon prime is actually most expensive of the three

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