Remember 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.
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 $8.25 per month), making it very similar to the above options in terms of price. 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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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?