Amazon Prime vs. Netflix vs. Hulu Plus: What Is The Best Online Streaming Deal?

on December 05 2011 10:43 AM

Consumers are faced with a growing number of technological conundrums: Mac vs. Pc, Kindle Fire vs. iPad 2 and Samsung Galaxy Nexus vs. Droid Razr, just to name a few. One of the recurring dilemmas in the new tech-age is how to best watch movies and television shows. As standard cable packages become obsolete, users have turned to online streaming to access everything from classic films to last-night's episode of Gossip Girl. If you're in the market for a new online streaming package, what is the best deal for you?

We take a look at Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu Plus and Vudu to check out the best online streaming deal based on selection, price and user friendliness.

Amazon Prime ($79 per year)

Amazon Prime offers access to over 10,000 instant videos, including NBC and CBS television shows. The service is $79 for one year of access. Amazon's Instant Video services also allow users to rent individual films or episodes of television shows, which extends users' access to over 90,000 films.

Selection: Amazon Prime offers over 10,000 instant videos, including popular TV shows such as Lost, Arrested Development, 24, the Tudors and Grey's Anatomy and hot movies, like Ip Man, Notting Hill, The Shawshank Redemption, among others.

Price: The service costs $79 per year. If you use Amazon to purchase gifts and books, the service will be especially useful because a Prime subscription comes with unlimited free two-day shipping with no minimum size order and, for Kindle users, a Kindle book to borrow free each month from the Kindle Owner's Lending Library. While Amazon Prime only offers a year-long subscription, for comparison's sake, a month of Prime would cost users approximately $6.59, which is the cheapest of all the packages we have reviewed.

User Friendly: The Amazon store has a lot to offer, but Prime's selection of television shows and film is difficult to navigate. It is easy to confuse which films are eligible with a Prime membership and which films will require you to pay extra to rent or buy them.

Our Verdict: While Amazon Prime is one of the cheaper options available, compared to Hulu+ and Netflix the selection leaves much to be desired. You might be better off spending a little more for a wider selection of videos.

Netflix ($8 per month)

Netflix is one of the few services that offers both an online video collection set for streaming and a wider collection of films and TV shows that can be ordered by DVD. While Netflix has been widely popular since it first debuted, price increases over the summer lead many consumers to switch companies. For the instant video option, Netflix costs $8 a month and gives access to an enormous selection of TV and film options.

Selection: Netflix has a large and promising selection of television shows and movies for users to watch instantly. Popular television shows, like How I Met Your Mother, Futurama, Mad Men and Gossip Girl can be streamed within seconds on your computer, Television, Kindle Fire or tablet computer. The service also gives access to thousands of popular films, like Iron Man, Shutter Island, The Fighter, Elizabeth and Breakfast at Tiffany's. For an additional fee, you can subscribe to have one DVD at a time sent to your home, which will allow you to gain even further access to Netflix's enormous selection of films, television shows and documentaries.

Price: Netflix has different packages depending on your interests. For $7.99 per month, users can access unlimited movies and television shows instantly on your computer or television. There are no commercials and you can watch any film or episode as many times as you would like. Netflix offers a one-month free trial so you can get a taste of what films, television shows and other offerings an instant subscription will give you. For $15.98 per month, users can access unlimited material streaming online and get one DVD shipped to their home at a time.

User Friendly: Netflix's store is incredibly easy and accessible. After signing onto the site, Netflix distinguishes clearly between videos you can watch instantly and those you will need to order on DVD. You can rate videos for future recommendations and the store will also offer you suggestions based on your past viewing patterns. You can keep track of the videos you have already seen and also keep track of videos you would like to see in the future.

Our Verdict: Netflix is accessible, easy to use and offers one of the largest selections of instant online streaming. While a subscription might be pricier than other alternatives, you will find yourself impressed by Netflix's growing online collection.

Hulu Plus  ($7.99 per month)

Hulu Plus costs the same as a Netflix instant subscription, but offers both classic movies and television shows as well as the most recent episodes and seasons of your favorite shows.

Selection: Hulu offers a number of shows for free, but the Plus service offers a much wider selection with over 43,000 TV episodes from more than 1,650 current and classic television shows. Hulu Plus also offers over 2,500 films including exclusives from the Criterion Collection. Hulu Plus' television selection includes: The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, Nikita, America's Next Top Model, 90210, Ringer, Hart of Dixie, Family Guy, Saturday Night Live, The Office, Parks & Recreations, South Park, New Girl, Modern Family, The Daily Show, Desperate Housewives, Glee, Bones, and many more.

Price: Hulu Plus costs $7.99 per month, which is approximately $96 per year. The service offers a one-week free trial.

User Friendly: Hulu Plus is streamlined and very easy for users to navigate. Unlike Netflix, however, Hulu Plus is ad-supported to keep the cost of a subscription down and users might find the commercial interruptions bothersome.

Our Verdict: If you're a die-hard television fan, Hulu Plus is the best option for you. The service offers access to the most popular shows with new episodes uploaded the day after the show airs on television.

Vudu ($1 to $5.99 per video)

Vudu.com is a new video-streaming service offered by Wal-Mart Stores. Unlike Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu Plus, Vudu is pay-per-view and does not offer a subscription package. Users can stream films directly to their PlayStation 2, Blu-ray Player, HDTV, Computer or tablet.  

Selection: Vudu offers a wide range of popular films and television shows. While TV options are not as good as Hulu Plus, the movie selection is impressive. The company claims to offer new releases the same day they come out on DVD, which is significant as Netflix sometimes takes weeks before offering a DVD and months before offering an instant option for a new film.

Price: Some might find Vudu's pay-per-view option relaxing, while heavy movie goers will find that costs quickly add up. While users can watch unlimited material on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus, five or six videos will quickly add up to $20, more than any of the other packages cost per month.

User Friendly: Vudu is not as clean looking as its older alternatives, Netflix and Hulu Plus, but it is more streamlined than Amazon Prime. Users can easily navigate between collections of films and TV shows. Vudu also clearly indicates new releases and popular films. Each video is rated with stars, so users can quickly see whether a show or film has been popularly received.

Our Verdict: For those looking to watch under five movies a month, Vudu is for you. The on-demand option will be more cost-efficient than a subscription and you will have wider access to movies and TV shows.

Round-Up

Penny Pinchers: Amazon Prime is the cheapest subscription though it offers a smaller selection of films and TV shows. The added bonuses of free two-day shipping and a free book from the Kindle lender's library makes Amazon Prime the cheapest option.

TV Fanatics: Hulu Plus offers the widest selection of current television shows and offers full seasons of current and classic shows. For those looking to keep up and catch up with current and classic episodes, Hulu Plus will be your best best.

DVD Desired: For those looking for the widest selection of films and TV shows, but don't mind paying a bit more, Netflix's package including unlimited online streaming and one DVD will give you everything you want and more.

Occasionally Viewers: Vudu is the best deal for those looking to occasionally stream a movie or TV show, but who do not want the cost and commitment of a subscription. Vudu allows you to pay for what you want and the selection will not disappoint you on a Friday night.

Correction: A previous version of this article listed old numbers for how many TV shows and films Hulu Plus subscribers have access to. The numbers were newly updated by Hulu Plus on Nov. 15, 2011 and we have added the new numbers to the story as well. The error is regretted.

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