What are Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video?Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Instant Video are two of the most important - and popular - video streaming services in the UK. There’s a good chance you know the Amazon service at LoveFilm, the name it operated under for years until just recently.
Netflix is the more straightforward of the two – you just pay £5.99 a month and do not have to worry about any other charges.
Amazon Prime Instant Video is a bit different. Its pricing structure offers a few options.
You can pay £5.99 a month for just the video streaming service on its own, or you can get access by paying for Amazon Prime. This used to be just about getting one-day delivery on Amazon.co.uk for no additional charge beyond the £49 annual fee, but now you get Prime video access too, for £79 a year.
There’s another side too Amazon’s Instant video, though. It also includes a separate rental and movie buying service that offers much newer films than those you can stream freely - but you have to pay extra.
Netflix is a lot easier to get your head around.
Where can I watch Netflix and Prime Instant video?As they are both popular and long-standing, there are now many ways to watch Netflix and Prime Instant Video. They have web interfaces, most new TVs support them, and you’ll find both on games consoles.
Once again, though, Netflix has the upper hand in some areas. It offers greater mobile support. Netflix can be watched on the majority of smartphones – iPhones, Androids and Windows phones. Prime Instant only lets you stream video with iPhones and iPads – Android users are out of luck for now.
What about game consoles? The PS3, PS4, Xbox One and Xbox 360 all get Prime Instant access and Netflix. Even the Wii U has both.
Support on the various smart TV systems is a bit patchier. Panasonic TVs still miss out on Prime Instant Video, but other major manufacturers support both platforms in their brand new TVs.
Skip back a few years, though, and it’s a much bleaker outlook. If your TV is a bit older, check whether it has the respective app available before signing up. At present, the Prime Instant Video app may still be called LoveFilm, so check for that too.
There are also lots of ways to get hooked up with video streaming services even if your TV is pretty ancient. Google's Chromecast costs around £40 and will let any HDMI-equipped TV get Netflix. Roku’s little streaming boxes – which start at around £50 – get you both services and more besides.
Last time we looked at the LoveFilm and Netflix services, we checked their libraries against at the IMDb top films list. However, the results were so patchy as to be useless. We’ve been using both services for a few years now, and so can talk fairly confidently about their strengths without such measures.
Which has the better film and TV collection?
If you want the latest and greatest movies, you’ll likely be disappointed with both services' £5-odd a month offering.
Their subscriber streaming libraries are simply not about bringing you films fresh out of the cinema. Large movie studios would not agree to have their flicks doled out as part of a £5 a month all-you-can-eat service. This is where Amazon’s paid-for service comes in - you can pay to rent or buy newer films separately from the standard library.
At the time of writing, the fairly recent Gravity costs £3.49 to rent (£4.49 in HD) or £9.99 to buy (£13.99 in HD). This Sky Movies box office style approach is missing from Netflix - so if you want the latest blockbusters, Amazon is the way to go, although you can get the same content from the same prices from iTunes or Google Play. Amazon also offers a few more weird and obscure movie picks - the US version of Netflix has these aplenty, but in the UK the film selection is fairly limited.
However, we find the Netflix streaming catalogue a bit more satisfying as a whole thanks to its stronger line-up of TV series, especially US TV programmes. Netflix is also at the forefront of the new style of TV commissioning – some of its key shows are green lit for streaming, rather than TV broadcast. These are called Netflix Originals.
Netflix Originals like this include Orange is the New Black, House of Cards (the remake) and Lillyhammer. They’re generally fantastic, sure to be labelled ‘HBO quality’ by some.
Amazon offers some original shows too, but they’re not as celebrated. Current Amazon Originals shows include Alpha House and Betas, neither of which has received anything like the acclaim of House of Cards.
We think Netflix’s streaming library is a bit better, but there is less overlap than you may assume. Those looking to use streaming services for all their movie and TV needs should consider signing up to both. Why not check out the libraries for yourself? You can have a browse on their respective websites.
For years now, Netflix has been quicker at adopting higher image and audio quality standards than either Prime Instant Video/LoveFilm or Sky’s Now TV. It has also been quicker to push out these standards to periphery platforms such as game consoles, mobile phones and tablets.
Which offers better image quality?
Netflix brought on HD in 2010, and 1080p Super HD in January 2013. It look LoveFilm until 2012 to gain HD-quality content. However, Amazon is catching up. It has promised 4K quality for Amazon original TV shows – much like Netflix did last year. When 4K quality will arrive on Prime Instant Video is anyone’s guess, though. Netflix has suggested its 4K content will start being delivered in early to mid 2014, alongside the next wave of 4K TVs.
Which has the better interface?As we saw in other areas of this comparison, the strength of Netflix’s UI is its consistency. Whether you’re browsing through a web page, on a console or on your mobile phone, Netflix uses a ‘lean back’ style interface that’s high on simplicity. Each screen is an array of scrolling rows of movies, split into genres of themes.
It can feel a bit restrictive on a computer, where we’re used to seeing more intensive interfaces, but makes navigation dead simple on tablets and consoles. It learns the sorts of subgenres you’re into based on what you’ve watched previously – and also gives suggestions based directly on movie X you watched. There is a search function, but you’re otherwise highly directed in your choices.
The Amazon Prime Instant Video interface changes a lot more depending on the platform used. With a computer, you can look through the service’s wares using the Amazon website. With an iPhone, it looks very similar to the Netflix interface. On a games console, it’s somewhere in-between.
In terms of ease of use and visual coherence, Netflix’s interface is better than Amazon’s array of interfaces. However, we can imagine that some people will prefer Amazon’s style. It gives you more scope to dig deep into genres to find weird picks and B-movie gems like Nuns with Knives III (not a real film, sadly), where Netflix limits the number of films you can see in any category.
In most respects, Netflix is the stronger service out of the two. It’s easier to understand, easier to use and offers more of the shows people are likely to be talking about. Netflix is hot, Amazon Prime Instant Video is lukewarm. However, for films the case is a bit murkier. They both have many great slightly older films and their collections don’t intersect quite enough for one to decimate the other.
Which is the better service?
Next, read our round-up of the best TV series on Netflix