Netflix vs Amazon Prime Instant Video: which is best for you?
14th Mar 2014 | 10:09
Best movie streaming services compared feature-by-feature
Netflix vs Amazon Prime Instant Video
The battle of the big American movie streaming services is getting serious: the Amazon-owned LoveFilm is no more, replaced by the new and heavily-promoted Amazon Prime Instant Video.
Is Amazon UK finally taking streaming seriously? Can Netflix hold on to its crown as our favourite streaming service? Let's find out.
Netflix vs Amazon Prime: price
Both services cost £5.99 per month, but you can also get Prime Instant Video as part of an Amazon Prime membership, which is a paid service that gives you free delivery on lots of Amazon items.
The video part of Prime is free, but the price of a Prime subscription has just gone up: instead of £49 per year, it's now £79 per year. If you're already a Prime subscriber, the price hike won't take effect until your next renewal.
Remember that if you use an Xbox to watch your video, you'll also have to pay extra to Microsoft: both Netflix and Amazon require (or rather, have been ordered by Microsoft to require) a Gold Xbox Live subscription.
Netflix vs Amazon Prime Instant Video: devices
Both services are available for PC and Mac, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, PS3 and PS4, Nintendo Wii and Nintendo Wii U, iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad and the Kindle Fire family.
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. However, it isn't available on Android or Windows Phone.
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.
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
When it comes to television, Netflix is hard to beat. It has an excellent selection of big-name programmes, and it has moved into the commissioning business with shows such as the Kevin Spacey-starring House of Cards and the critically-acclaimed Orange Is The New Black.
You won't find any series from HBO - it keeps its programmes on its own streaming service, HBO Go - but you'll find hits such as Breaking Bad, Modern Family, Dexter and The Bridge.
Amazon is commissioning TV programmes, too, but where Netflix goes ahead and films entire series, Amazon is more cautious: in February, it made pilots for several shows and asked its users to vote for their favourites.
We're not sure that's the best way to do it: slow burners such as Bosch, a detective series based on the Michael Connelly books, need more than one episode to get going.
Amazon's big exclusive hits currently include Vikings, Crossing Lines and Copper, and there's a good selection of UK TV as well as transatlantic hits such as Parks and Recreation and The Walking Dead, albeit fairly old ones: for example, The Walking Dead has reached season 4 on broadcast TV but Amazon has only the second series.
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.
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.
Amazon does have a solution to that, though: its Instant Video - which is separate from Prime Instant Video - offers video on demand, with a selection that's largely identical to your local DVD retailer.
Those videos aren't included in the Prime package, and you'll pay around £4.49 to rent a new release in HD.
When movies do make their way to the streaming services, Amazon usually has the edge: at the time of writing, it has One Direction: This Is Us, The Hangover Part II, the recent Evil Dead remake, Beneath The Planet of the Apes and many more fairly recent films that Netflix doesn't have in its catalogue.
It sometimes works the other way, though: for example, Netflix has the critically-acclaimed Robot and Frank among lots of indie titles that Amazon doesn't offer. It also has a good selection of stand-up comedy and lots of documentaries.
Amazon has the numbers - its movie catalogue is bigger and fresher than Netflix's - but, as with TV, this one largely comes down to personal taste: if your taste in movies is fairly mainstream, you'll be best served by Amazon, and if you're more of an indie cinema fan you might find Netflix's selection more appealing.
Netflix vs Amazon Prime Instant Video: quality
Both services promise up to 1080p HD streaming, and they use adaptive streaming that automatically adjusts the stream to cope with network congestion and other problems. So they should both be brilliant on everything, right? Not quite. What you get depends very much on what you're using to watch the service.
There's a useful list of Netflix-compatible devices at Wikipedia, and - as you'll see - you will generally get 1080p ("Super HD", as Netflix calls it) on PCs, Macs and recent devices (PS3/4, Xbox One, iOS, Chromecast), 720p on older devices (Xbox 360, the last-but-one Apple TV) and standard definition on really old stuff (Wii, Nintendo 2DS).
Prime is capable of streaming up to 1080p video to PCs, Macs, some smart TVs and Blu-Ray players and to Kindle Fire HDs - but most other devices get 720p. Our iPad didn't even get that - as LoveFilm, Prime didn't have the rights to stream HD on iPads and that doesn't seem to have changed.
Quality on our iPad was often poor, and worse when we AirPlayed video to our current-gen Apple TV.
It's worth noting that Amazon's iOS app is Wi-Fi only: it won't stream on a 3G or 4G mobile connection.
Netflix vs Amazon Prime Instant Video: verdict
There are two things to think about here. The first is content, and the second is device support: the service that has the things you want to watch might not support the devices you want to use.
In many cases, it's your device that will make the decision; so, for example, if you want to watch anything on an Android tablet or a smartphone that isn't near a Wi-Fi network then Amazon isn't for you. We wouldn't recommend it for iPad and Apple TV users either.
If the rival services were retailers, Netflix would be John Lewis and Amazon would be, well, Amazon: while both services do much the same thing, Netflix does it in a much more elegant way.
Whether it's on the web, on Windows 8 or on iOS the Netflix experience is much nicer, even if it doesn't always have what you want. Netflix is the better service, especially for TV programmes, but for film fans Amazon has the better selection.