When it comes to on-demand streaming video services, there is none bigger than Netflix. It’s far and away the most popular service of its kind both in the U.S. and internationally. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only streaming video choice. As the market for these services matures, more competitors are emerging all the time. One of the most compelling for a lot of people is Amazon Prime Video, simply because so many people already have a relationship with Amazon.
And yet, as much as these two services both compete for our entertainment dollars, they’re radically different from each other in several areas including price, content selection, and extra features. So, if forced to choose just one, which one do you choose? It’s not necessarily an easy decision, so we’ve assembled a cheat sheet that lets you compare the two on some of the most important criteria. So get your scorecard and your wallet ready … and let’s get ready to rumble.
We’ll kick it off with one of the biggest differences: How much you’ll have to pay if you want to watch. Netflix’s pricing model is very easy to understand: There are three tiers of service, called Basic ($9 per month), Standard ($13 per month), and Premium ($16 per month). All three give you access to Netflix’s entire catalog of ad-free movies, TV shows, and specials. The only things that change as you pay more are the quality of the video and the number of devices that can be used to stream simultaneously. Basic, as the name implies, gives you a single stream and limits you to standard definition (480p). Standard gives you a second simultaneous stream, and both are available in HD (up to 1080p). Premium lets four devices watch at the same time, and content can be streamed in up to 4K Ultra HD with HDR, as well as Dolby Atmos (when the show or movie in question is available in these formats).
Amazon Prime Video is even more straightforward. A $99 annual Amazon Prime membership gives you ad-free access to the full Amazon Prime Video catalog, plus several shopping-related benefits that Amazon throws in for that price (and even Amazon’s music service). This annual membership lets you stream in the highest quality that your TV, streaming device, and internet connection can support, including 4K Ultra HD with HDR, as well as Dolby Atmos. As with Netflix, this will vary by movie or TV show. All Prime Video memberships let you stream up to three titles at the same time, but you can only stream the same title on two devices at a time.
Even Netflix’s most affordable price plan is more expensive per year than Amazon Prime Video, which means that on a purely financial basis, Amazon Prime Video wins this round.
Winner: Amazon Prime Video
Having a streaming membership doesn’t make much sense if it isn’t compatible with the devices you own. Amazon Prime Video is compatible with a wide variety of devices and platforms, including web browsers on a PC or Mac, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon’s own Fire TV and Fire devices, iOS, Android, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 & 4, Nintendo Wii U, various models of connected Blu-ray players, and smart TVs. The one holdout is Chromecast, but even this device will soon get Prime Video support now that Amazon and Google have buried that particular hatchet.
Netflix, as the progenitor of the streaming media space, has the most device compatibility of any service. With support for all of the same devices as Amazon, as well as several others including Nintendo 3DS and Windows Phone, we’ll hand this one to Netflix. But at this point, it’s pretty close.
Netflix has thousands of licensed Hollywood movies, TV shows, documentaries, and specials. But over the years, its Netflix’s original productions, like House of Cards, Stranger Things, and The Umbrella Academy, that have been stealing the spotlight and increasing Netflix’s desirability. The only content creator that consistently beats Netflix in quality is HBO — fans of shows like Game of Thrones, Veep, and Barry know exactly what we mean.
In fact, over the years, Netflix has been steadily reducing its catalog of movies as it increases its TV show arsenal, and its originals are a big part of that growth. Unfortunately, with the imminent launch of the Disney Plus streaming service, Netflix is slowly being stripped of some of its most popular movies. In the coming months, it’s expected that all new Marvel, Disney, and Star Wars franchise installments will become Disney Plus (and/or Hulu) exclusives, and it’s unknown how long Disney will let Netflix continue to license existing titles, like the massively popular Avengers and Star Wars movies.
If you’re purely looking at Netflix as an alternative to renting Blu-rays or going to the theater, this might not sound like a good development, but even stripped of these titles, it’s hard to beat Netflix’s offerings if you value high-quality entertainment from virtually every genre.
Amazon has a much larger total library of movies and TV shows, according to a recent report from Reelgood — more than 12,000 movies in fact — dwarfing both Netflix and Hulu. But size isn’t everything. Amazon’s most recognizable Hollywood films tend to be older, like Iron Man 2, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, and Top Gun, and among the good, there plenty of mediocre titles (or worse). Amazon has also been making investments in its own original content, like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Patriot, Jack Ryan and The Man in the High Castle. In the long term, this is probably the right strategy, but so far, Amazon just can’t compete on that platform.
User experience, audio, and video
Amazon’s interface can be a bit unwieldy. It varies in style and usability from one device to another, with the best experience (no surprise) on its own Fire TV media streamers, while the execution on some smart TVs is less intuitive. The web interface for Prime Video is presented as a section within Amazon’s online store, rather than its own, stand-alone experience. This can be a bit jarring, especially when you’re trying to figure out how to search for a movie. The big search bar at the top of the screen is the right place, but it sure does look like you’re about to search Amazon.com, not Amazon Prime Video. Amazon does not offer multiple user profiles for Prime Video, and its video recommendation engine isn’t especially sophisticated. Complaints that it can be hard to find something decent to watch are not uncommon.
Video quality is generally very good on Amazon Prime Video, and it’s remarkable that the service doesn’t charge more money for titles that are available to be streamed in up to 4K with HDR and Dolby Atmos. Wherever the content allows, soundtracks are offered in Dolby 5.1 surround. Still, some people have observed that Prime Video’s quality can vary, even with very fast internet connections, so your experience may vary.
Netflix, meanwhile, has one of the most consistent interfaces, with only slight changes from one device to another that are usually designed to embrace the strengths of a certain platform, like its mobile-optimized apps for Android and iOS. You can have multiple user profiles, each with its own unique recommendations, a kids-only profile to keep things perfectly PG-rated, and if you get tired of browsing the wide range of categorized content, an excellent search function is never far away.
As good as it is, Netflix’s interface has one glaring drawback: The company insists on automatically showing you previews every time you shift focus to a new movie or show thumbnail. They’re distracting at best and thoroughly annoying at worst, and there’s no way to disable them. Not every title has a preview, but if you’re hopping between recent releases (or any Netflix original), you’ll only have a one-second window to move on before the preview starts. Keep that mute button handy.
Video and audio quality on Netflix is superb. The company has mastered the art of adjusting its level of video compression to match your internet connection speed, so unless you intentionally set the video quality to a lower level to conserve data, you should get crystal-clear picture and sound — especially if you’re on the Premium plan. As with Amazon Prime, 5.1 Dolby surround is available for most movies and shows, unless Dolby Atmos is offered as a higher level (assuming your A/V gear supports it).
With top-quality audio and video, as well as a user interface that we love (despite the annoying previews), Netflix grabs this one too.
Live TV and extras
One of the appealing parts of Netflix is that it’s an all-in proposition: One monthly price gives you access to everything. But if you’re a cord cutter, you may want something more as you try to fill the gap left by your now-canceled cable subscription.
It’s worth noting that Amazon Prime Video gives you access to two types of premium content not included in the $99 annual Prime membership. There’s a rent or buy section that provides a good selection of both newer movies andclassics, at prices as low as $4. There’s also Amazon Channels, which is a way of subscribing to third-party cable networks like HBO, Starz, and CBS All Access. These channels often offer the option of watching shows live, as they would normally air over cable or satellite, plus you can access all of the content on-demand after the initial air date. The prices vary, but the à la carte arrangement can be attractive for those who simply want HBO in their lives and don’t want to create a new subscription in a separate app to do so.
Amazon Prime can also hook you up with some free content too, thanks to Amazon’s recent acquisition of IMDB and its ad-supported Freedive streaming service. Of course, anyone living in the U.S. can access Freedive, but again, having it available in the same interface as the rest of the Prime Video viewing experience is very handy.
Finally, even though it has nothing to do with watching video, you shouldn’t overlook the fact that a Prime membership does come with some other nice perks, like free two-day shipping on many Amazon products, Prime Music, which is a decent if not stellar music-streaming service, and unlimited photo storage, just to name a few.
Given that Netflix has no extras to speak of, this one’s easy.
Winner: Amazon Prime Video
There’s a reason Netflix has more subscribers than any other streaming video service — and by a very wide margin. It’s a fantastic way to watch ad-free movies and TV shows, and the company’s investments in both licensed and original content mean there’s always something worth watching. If having access to the best selection of video content, delivered via a well-thought-out and consistent interface, matters to you, we think it’s the best choice.
However, even Netflix Standard can still put a dent in your budget, so if you’ve already got an Amazon Prime membership for its various other benefits, it makes a lot of sense to see if Prime Video can quench your entertainment thirst. After all, you’re already paying for it.
If you’re not sure which to choose, we’d say both. These days, having a few streaming services (at the least) is pretty standard, allowing you to dabble in all manner of movies and TV shows for a great entertainment experience right from your living room.