Whether you are cutting the cable cord permanently or simply looking to augment your service, there has never been a better time for streaming video. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are all great services that offer both third-party streaming content, and more recently, an ever-growing library of original content.
And don’t think the original content produced by these streaming companies is subpar compared to what you might get on broadcast networks or through premium services like HBO or Showtime. Some of the best shows on television can only be streamed.
So if you want to stream movies and TV, which service is right for you?
In the past decade, HBO, Starz, and Showtime have gone all-in on original content. With so many different ways to buy, rent and stream movies, original content has become one of their biggest draws. So it is no surprise that Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu have followed in their footsteps.
While each service has some very good content, Netflix is the definite leader of the pack. Not only do they have the most original content, but they also have some of the best. Netflix’s production of Marvel content with shows like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and the upcoming Defenders highlights a list that also includes the SAG-winning Stranger Things, the indie hit The OA, and the runaway hit 13 Reasons Why. They also have a movie deal with Adam Sandler, although that may be better for Sandler than potential audiences, and Netflix has a growing list of original foreign films.
This is on top of what may be the best overall collection of third-party movies and television available for streaming. As you might expect, Netflix has dialed back its library in recent years as it focuses on original content, but it still offers an expansive library. As Netflix has cut down on the number of titles, they’ve focused on what Netflix users actually stream.
Netflix plans offer both basic and HD streaming on two devices. Netflix also offers a plan for Ultra HD streaming, although, like all three services, the actual library of Ultra HD/4K titles is limited.
They both offer television, movies, and original content, but Netflix and Hulu are actually quite complimentary to each other. While Netflix focuses on streaming a complete series along with a movie collection and original content, Hulu’s strategy is to offer streaming service of what is on television right now rather than what was on last year. In many ways, Hulu is the DVR of the streaming services.
The two drawbacks here are:
- Hulu tends to offer only a select number of episodes from any given series, usually the most recent five episodes
- They don’t offer to stream from every network, and even when they offer episodes from a network, they don’t offer every single series broadcast on the network.
In fact, the biggest limitation of Hulu is the networks themselves, which are mostly stuck in the past holding out on streaming in hopes you’ll buy the DVD. The Big Bang Theory is an excellent example of this mentality. You won’t see it streaming on Hulu. And even though CBS has its own subscription-based streaming service, you still won’t be able to stream all of The Big Bang Theory even if you hand over money for their limited commercial plan or for their no commercials plan, you still won’t have access to CBS’s entire library of shows.
But despite these limitations, Hulu remains a great option for those who like to stay current on television. It costs less than renting an HD DVR from your cable company, and in addition to recent episodes, it has its own original content. And through a deal with EPIX, Hulu also offers a modest selection of movies.
Hulu’s lower subscription rate includes commercial breaks, but you can get rid of commercials by paying more a month.
The biggest things going for Amazon’s Prime service may be everything on the list that isn’t related to streaming video. Amazon Prime offers two-day free shipping on anything bought on Amazon, although “free” is relative when you consider third-party items often have the shipping included in the item’s price. Prime also includes a music service similar to Spotify and Apple Music, cloud storage for photos, and a number of other benefits.
So how does it stack up in streaming? In many ways, it’s a slightly inferior version of Netflix. Amazon has some great original content, including the fantastic The Man in the High Castle and shows like Goliath and Bosch, but it doesn’t have near the selection of original content as Netflix. It also offers a range of movies and television shows, although their new movie selection seems based mostly on a deal with EPIX similar to Hulu’s.
One nice bonus is their deal with HBO, which gives access to older HBO series like True Blood and The Sopranos. You can also subscribe to HBO, Starz, or Showtime through your Amazon Prime subscription, but when you consider each of these offers their own standalone service, the appeal is somewhat limited.
Amazon Prime also has the worst interface of the three. While Netflix and Hulu both have their irritation, the main problem with Amazon Prime is how non-Prime movies and television are often mixed into the subscription shows. You can usually filter these out through the app, but it can be annoying finding a movie through the search feature only to find out it isn’t free.
Amazon Prime subscription can be paid monthly or yearly.
And the Winner Is…?
All three subscription services have their benefits, so many cord-cutters may want to subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. But what if you could only choose one?
- Netflix is the winner for those who want the best movie selection, prefer to binge-watch an entire season or even an entire series in one sitting and those who love the superhero genre. The only thing Netflix is missing is current television episodes, but in terms of selection and original content, it is the easy winner.
- Hulu Plus is a great substitute for the DVR, and it’s basically a cable subscription without the need for a cable subscription. It may not cover every show, but when the cost savings are taken into account, it may be worth it.
- Amazon Prime is the choice for those who often shop on Amazon. The saving on two-day shipping alone could be worth it, and when you throw in the streaming music service in addition to streaming movies and TV shows, it’s the best overall deal of the bunch.
How Do You Stream to Your TV?
Many people now have Smart TVs that include access to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and other popular services like Pandora and Spotify, but what if your HDTV isn’t quite so smart? For Apple users, it can be as simple as using the Digital AV Adapter to connect their iPhone or iPad to a TV. If you have an Android smartphone or tablet, Chromecast is an inexpensive way to ‘cast’ your screen to your television set, although it doesn’t work with Amazon Prime. You can also buy a streaming box like a Roku or Apple TV, which essentially turn your dumb TV into a smart one.