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Owning stuff is so 20th Century: these days, the smart money gets spent on streaming.
Why pay for shiny and expensive discs when you can stream almost everything ever made to every device you and your family own for a small monthly fee?
Netflix vs Amazon Prime Instant Video: price
The standard Netflix UK service is £5.99 per month or £6.99 if you want high definition streaming (where available); if you’ve already signed up as a customer that £1 price increase has been delayed until 2016.
If you want Ultra HD/4K streaming you’ll need to pay a bit more: that’s £8.99 per month.
If you’re a member of Amazon’s Prime free-delivery club the Instant Video service is free – although the annual price of Prime has been hiked from £39 to £79 and gives you video whether you want it or not.
If you want Amazon Prime Instant Video but don’t want the other benefits of a Prime membership, the price is a flat £5.99 per month.
On the Xbox, users of Netflix or Amazon had to pay extra to use the apps as they were only available to paid-up Xbox Live Gold members. Microsoft has now dropped that requirement.
Netflix vs Amazon Prime Instant Video: devices
In addition, Amazon Prime Instant Video is available on LG, Sony and Samsung Smart TVs, Sony’s Network Media Player and Home Cinema System, and Blu-Ray players from LG, Samsung and Sony.
The previous lack of an Android phone app has been addressed, although it doesn’t support Chromecast, and there’s no Windows Phone app. As you’d expect, it works with Amazon’s own Fire TV.
Netflix is available on Android (including Chromecast) and Windows Phone, compatible LG, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung and Sony Blu-Ray players and Smart TVs, Apple TV and set-top boxes from Philips, Roku, WD and Virgin Media, as well as LG home theatre equipment. It’s also coming to YouView boxes.
Netflix vs Amazon Prime Instant Video: kids
Both services have extensive libraries of kids’ TV shows and movies including Disney and Pixar hits. Amazon also has an impressive collection of cartoons.
Both services have parental controls that can prevent the little ‘uns from streaming horror movies, and Netflix also enables you to create separate profiles for each user and make the kids’ ones child-friendly.
Those profiles aren’t password-protected, however, so there’s nothing to stop the little ones logging in as you and watching The Human Centipede 2.
Netflix vs Amazon Prime Instant Video: TV
Netflix has long had the edge over Amazon when it comes to TV: it snapped up the rights to stream Breaking Bad and it’s commissioned critically acclaimed shows such as Orange Is The New Black and House of Cards.
Amazon is getting into the commissioning game too – its drama Transparent has attracted rave reviews – but its TV catalogue isn’t as impressive as Netflix’s. Netflix often has more recent series than Amazon, so for example Netflix has 8 seasons of the US Office while Amazon’s streaming ends with season 5.
That brings us to one of the things we really hate about Amazon’s offering: Prime Instant Video sits alongside the non-Prime Instant Video service, which is video on demand and isn’t included in your membership. It’s very frustrating to see programmes in the listings without the blue Prime logo.
The aforementioned US Office is a good example: if you want to see series after season 5, you’ll need to pay £1.89 an episode for SD or £2.49 for HD.
On balance, we think Netflix has the better selection of TV programmes – but that might be because we’re more Breaking Bad than Vikings. We’d recommend searching both services for your favourites.
It’s important to know that both services regularly prune their catalogues, usually because the deals with the content owners have expired. Don’t assume that a title that’s there today will still be there in a few months’ time.
Movies, video quality and verdict
Netflix vs Amazon Prime Instant Video: movies
If you want the very latest blockbusters, neither service is for you: both Netflix and Amazon operate in the post-DVD window, which means they don’t get the big movies until they’ve been sold in every possible market from in-flight movies to DVDs.
While things are improving in that respect you’ll usually have to wait much longer for movies to appear on streaming services than on video on demand, and Amazon demonstrates that perfectly: many of the films we’d like to see are available on Amazon’s pay-per-download Instant Video for around £4.49 for an HD rental, but they aren’t available on Prime Instant Video. If you’d like to make sense of what’s available where, Findable.TV is a big help.
Kids’ movies aside (where Netflix and Amazon are largely neck and neck) Amazon is generally better for mainstream movies than its rival. Netflix is very good for stand-up comedy, indie movies and documentaries.
Netflix vs Amazon Prime Instant Video: quality
Both services promise up to 1080p HD streaming in their standard services, and they use adaptive streaming to adjust the bitrate according to network conditions and congestion.
However, the quality you get depends on what particular device you’re using. We mentioned the list of supported Netflix devices earlier, and it details the quality of the streaming – so for example Xbox 360 owners get 720p HD while Xbox One, PS3 and PS4 users get 1080p.
Amazon’s streaming has improved considerably, probably due to the launch of the Fire TV: its service offers up to 1080p unless your device isn’t HD compatible. However, there’s a big difference between devices being capable of full HD and devices actually getting it.
We’ve previously found streaming on iOS to be seriously sub-par and that’s still the case, with some content almost unwatchable, and if Amazon was really streaming episodes of Luther to our PS4 at 1080p it was doing a bloody awful job of it.
We’d definitely recommend taking advantage of the free trial to see if Amazon’s up to snuff on your device before signing up to Prime.
Netflix vs Amazon Prime Instant Video: verdict
As a streaming service, Netflix is the clear winner here. The interface is great, device support is exceptional, streaming is good quality and rock-solid and it’s a joy to use whether you’re on a computer, a set-top box, an iPad or a games console. If it were a shop, it’d be John Lewis.
Amazon is… Amazon. It isn’t as desirable as its rival, it doesn’t do things as elegantly and while there’s plenty of good stuff you have to go looking for it. The lack of clear differentiation between Prime and non-Prime content is infuriating, and the automatic bundling of the video service into every Prime membership alongside a 60% price hike was hardly customer-friendly. If you already subscribe to Netflix but you’re a member of Amazon Prime, you’re paying for Amazon Prime Instant Video whether you want it or not.
Ultimately, though, it comes down to whether the service has the things you want to watch on the devices you want to use. We’re still not sold on Amazon on the iPad, but on other devices Amazon Prime Instant Video generally works well enough and it’s generally better at getting (relatively) recent movies than Netflix is.
Netflix is much better for TV, though, and we think it also has the edge when it comes to documentaries and stand-up comedy. That’s where our tastes lie, so for us the Netflix catalogue is the stronger one. That, combined with the better service, means Netflix remains the streaming service to beat.