Netflix vs Amazon Prime Instant Video: Which is the best video streaming service? We take a look.
When it comes to streaming, most people think of Netflix. But, in recent years, Amazon has done a great job of challenging the reigning VOD king with its own Prime Instant Video service.
Now, the great original series are spread across both services, with Netflix playing host to such hit shows as House of Cards and Stranger Things, and Amazon providing such fine programming as Transparent and Bosch.
All of which is great, but it does mean you’ll need two subscriptions if you want to keep up with all the new shows, not to mention the array of movies on offer on both platforms.
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And for some, paying for two subs simply isn’t an option, leaving many would-be customers to choose between the two. If that happens to be you, we’ve decided to help you out with a guide to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Here’s how the two services compare:
Netflix vs Amazon Video – Pricing
This gets a tad complicated so we’ve broken down the free trials available for each service, then laid out the various subcriptions options for both:
One point to get out there first of all is that both Netflix and Amazon Video offer free trials. Netflix gives you a free month while Amazon offers a 30-day free trial of its Prime membership.
After you’ve drained the freebies dry, there are several plans available for each service. Amazon tends to big-up its £79/$99-a-year Prime service, which comes some added perks. Signing up to the annual membership also brings access to one-day delivery on millions of items, ad-free music streaming with Prime Music, unlimited photo storage, early access to Lightning Deals, and more. That’s great value if you’re a regular Amazon shopper as well as an Amazon media consumer.
Alternatively, you can sign up to the £7.99-per-month option, which brings all the benefits of Prime, including the one-day delivery and access to music streaming. Over the course of a year that means you’ll pay close to £96, though, so if you’re planning on sticking around for 12 months, you’re better off going for the £79 annual subscription. Make sure you cancel your Prime trial before it ends unless you’re happy to pay out for another year, though. Read that last sentence again – it’s important.
Not fussed about all that extra stuff? It’s also possible to treat Amazon Video as a stand-alone service. You’ll find that there’s a £5.99-a-month video-only subscription available in the Amazon accounts menu. This still doesn’t seem to be available in the US, though.
All subscription options allow you to watch stream up to three titles at the same time using the same Amazon account. However, you can stream the same title to no more than one device at a time.
It can all seem a bit confusing at first, so here’s a breakdown of the Amazon Prime Video subscriptions:
|Video only||Prime||Prime (annual)|
|Unlimited One-Day Delivery||No||Yes||Yes|
|Unlimited movies and TV shows||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Secure unlimited photo storage||No||Yes||Yes|
|Early access to Lightning Deals||No||Yes||Yes|
|Ad-free music streaming.||No||Yes||Yes|
|First month free||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Cancel any time||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Subscription options – Netflix
Netflix splits its subscription options into three options: basic, standard, and premium. The basic service costs £5.99 a month, which only allows for a single standard definition (SD) stream. We wouldn’t recommend it to anyone unless money is very tight.
A far better starting point is the £7.99 standard tier, which enables HD streaming and the use of two screens simultaneously – no 4K, though.
There’s also an £9.99 ‘premium’ tier, which enables four simultaneous streams using the same account, plus access to 4K definition on a steadily-growing range of titles. Of course, you’ll need a compatible 4K TV to use the latter.
Related: What is 4K and UHD?
None of these plans comes with any extra commitment – you can cancel at any time.
Here’s how the subscription options break down for Netflix:
|Monthly price after free month ends||£5.99||£7.99||£9.99|
|Ultra HD available||No||No||Yes|
|Screens you can watch on at the same time||1||2||4|
|Watch on your laptop, TV, phone and tablet||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Unlimited films and TV programmes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Cancel at any time||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|First month free||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Netflix vs Amazon Video – Supported platforms and features
Most current Smart TV platforms support both these services, but if you’re wondering about your own TV, it’s best to check on its app store, if there is one.
Netflix support is significantly better in some areas. For example, Netflix has been available for Chromecast for ages now, but we’re still waiting to get an official Instant Video app. However, you can use the Chromecast’s browser cast function to throw Amazon Prime Video from your laptop or smartphone browser onto your TV.
Related: Chromecast tips and tricks
Up until recently, it was a similar state of affairs with Apple TV. The device shipped with Netflix app support, but not Amazon Instant Video. However, it’s been confirmed that Amazon is set to launch an app for Apple TV some time “later this year”. No precise date has yet been given.
That said, one plus that comes with having the iOS app is that you can stream Amazon content to your Apple TV. Simply start the show you want to watch on your phone or tablet using the app, and tap the Airplay button to cast the show to Apple TV.
There is an Amazon Video streaming app for both Android and iOS, and both now allow you to stream video over a mobile network connection (which the iOS app didn’t used to support). However, you need to download the Android app from the Amazon Appstore, not Google Play, and for some reason need to have the Amazon store app installed too.
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Given that you pay for Instant Video, needing to have the whole Amazon app suite on your phone seems pretty rich.
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Things are definitely improving for Amazon Video users in terms of compatibility. A case in point is the popular Roku family of media players, which added Amazon support last year.
Of course, while Amazon’s platform support is improving, Netflix is already pretty much flawless. There’s no problem at all getting your Master of None or House of Cards fix, regardless of your chosen media streamer.
Netflix can be streamed freely using Wi-Fi or a mobile internet connection with Android phones and iPhones alike, just like with Amazon. There are simply fewer hoops to jump through than with Amazon.
Both services also allow you to download certain films and TV shows onto your mobile device for watching offline. While not all titles are available, there’s a good amount of content which you can download on both Netflix and Amazon Video.
Netflix vs Amazon Video – Which has the best films?
As of the time of writing, the UK version of Netflix has 4318 available films and TV series according to the New on Netflix UK website. Amazon Video UK has 22971 available films and TV series, as per the equivalent Amazon site.
These numbers vary slightly according to the third-party source you consult, so we only use this as an approximate guide, but Netflix appears to have an edge in terms of pure numbers here in the UK.
For both services, our American cousins have a much richer library of content to pick from – though we couldn’t get exact figures.
There is often surprisingly little overlap in these services’ film libraries, presumably because each works to get a certain degree of exclusivity, especially with titles it thinks might act as a draw for new subscribers.
Want to check the movie list out for yourself? Amazon offers its own library browser as part of the Amazon website, but Netflix doesn’t. As standard you can only check out the Netflix library if you login.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to check out the library. There are numerous sites that let you do so, several of which we’ve mentioned above. FlixSearch is another good universal one to check out.
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One area where Amazon differs from Netflix is with movie and TV show rentals. Amazon Video isn’t just a pure all-you-can-eat video streaming service. There are also options to rent and buy titles, featuring some films and TV series that are a little bit newer than the core selection. Netflix, conversely, is a pure subscription service, with no extra charges to pay even if you wanted to.
While discovering more movies and TV episodes at your fingertips sounds like a good thing, more often than not we hear complaints from Prime Instant Video customers saying they searched for something and found it, only to discover it’s not included in their subscription.
It’s a strange matter of perception – Amazon actually gives you more choice than Netflix, but by mixing in standard rentals with ‘free’ content, it can feel like you’re being fleeced in comparison to Netflix’s more limited service.
Netflix vs Amazon Video – Which has the best TV shows?
The roll call of TV shows runs like the movie line-up. Once again, the US versions have a much better line-up than the UK side.
However, Amazon Video seems to have a wider array of UK curiosities than Netflix. Shows like Downton Abbey can be found on Amazon’s service but not on Netflix.
This disparity used to be a lot more marked, though. For example, Doctor Who used to feature on Instant Video but not Netflix. Now it’s on both, but strangely you’ll have to pay to rent anything other than season 7 on Amazon. And those UK curiosities are generally found towards the bottom of the “most popular’ lists, suggesting not all that many people are bothered.
As these streaming services develop, the biggest part of their appeal is becoming about shows bankrolled by the services themselves, rather than what golden oldies they have on their books.
Netflix started very boldly in this area, with exclusive shows that are “HBO-quality”. That means high-quality dramas with serious-ish themes, if you’re not familiar with the network.
Shows such as the House of Cards remake, Bloodline and, more recently, Narcos and Stranger Things can stand up to any show produced by one of the major TV networks, while Daredevil and Jessica Jones are building a gritty shared comicbook universe that’s way beyond anything made by The CW. On the less serious side, Netflix is also behind the animated comedy show BoJack Horseman, as well as achingly hip Aziz Ansari comedy Master of None, and the Judd Apatow-produced Love.
Amazon started off its original programming with a much lighter touch, but also made less of an impact, with comedy shows like Betas and Alpha House. However, it has stepped up its game considerably, and has taken a little more of a Netflix-like approach.
This arguably started with the high-quality comedy-drama Transparent, which previously won a Golden Globe award for best TV series (comedy/musical). More recently we’ve seen the acclaimed dystopia of The Man in the High Castle, and the perfectly-pitched ’80s nostalgia of comedy-drama Red Oaks.
Amazon takes a slightly less focused, more blunt-force approach to obtaining original content than Netflix. This can pay off spectacularly, such as with Amazon UK winning the right to show one of the hottest US dramas of the past year in Mr. Robot.
Amazon’s scattershot approach also sees it running a yearly pilot season, with viewers voting for the shows they want to see more of. It’s TV production by way of crowdsourcing, which sounds very modern indeed.
In terms of output it lacks a little finesse, as you might expect from such a ‘throw it at the wall and see what sticks’ method. It hasn’t produced as many Netflix-level classics as Amazon would have hoped for, but it does at least allow for some intriguing experimentation.
Amazon’s deep pocketed approach also saw it win the rights to produce a new car show from the former Top Gear presenters, which hit the service in the form of The Grand Tour in 2016.
Original programming is definitely where the battle between the two services is becoming more interesting. The Amazon approach is quite interesting and seemingly-experimental, but the Netflix Original name has become a more reliable seal of quality.
Netflix vs Amazon Video – Which has the best apps?
Netflix tries hard to make sure its apps are fairly consistent across all platforms. It looks fairly similar on a PS4, a Sony TV or an Android phone.
All of Netflix’s apps take a “lean-back” approach, designed to be idly thumbed through in a pretty carefree fashion. You scroll up and down to flick through themes or genres – horror films or those based on a book, perhaps – and left/right to check out movies or TV series within that sub-set.
One of Netflix’s cleverest elements is that these little subgenres will depend on your preferences. While the basics stick around, other categories are determined by the films you’ve picked previously.
Netflix has made its apps far more image-led and seamless than before, with information panels developing on the same page rather than switching to whole new one, and in some cases, with videos effectively starting automatically in the background.
We like the Netflix style. It’s simple and elegant. However, many people say it takes quite a while to find anything, especially when using the relatively content-poor UK version.
Amazon has evidently taken notes from the Netflix school of media streaming interface design. The Amazon Video apps of today are far heavier on the curation side of things than they used to be.
Amazon seems to be gradually bringing its various apps closer together in terms of look and functionality, but they’re still not as uniform or as strongly defined as Netflix. You can tell you’re in Netflix as soon as you glimpse one of its apps, but Amazon’s various offerings often seem to lack a clear identity.
However, what used to be a big problem for the service, i.e. the confusing mixture of content belonging to different payment structures, is no longer an issue in Amazon’s latest apps. What you see is what you can watch for free.
Where there is a mixture of content, such as in the PS4 app, the different strands of content are cleanly walled off, and Prime content has a clear sticker over the corner.
Amazon’s apps still aren’t as clean and intuitive as Netflix. But its mobile apps in particular borrow heavily from its great rival, and there’s no longer a massive usability gulf between the two services.
Neither service has come up with a perfect way to relay thousands of bits of content, both services are generally strong. Netflix wins for the clarity and consistency of its UI, but Amazon has improved massively in this regard (largely by aping Netflix’s style, admittedly).
Netflix vs Amazon Video – Image quality
Netflix has been something of a pioneer in increasing sound and video quality in mainstream streaming. It now offers an awful lot of 1080p content with surround sound, while there are also 3D films for compatible devices and, if you sign up for the more expensive package, 4K video.
It started trialling 4K content as early as 2013, and now offers the most practical way to get 4K content on a TV. Not every single 4K TV’s Netflix app will support this higher resolution, though, so be sure to check this before getting too excited.
There are a number of 4K titles available on Netflix, including Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Marco Polo, House of Cards. On top of providing UHD films and TV shows, Netflix has also begun streaming content in HDR. Short for High Dynamic Range, HDR is set to be the big TV tech of the year. Head over to our ‘What is HDR?‘ guide for a full explanation of how the new technology works. In short, HDR refers to TVs that can produce a much wider array of colours, much brighter whites, and much deeper blacks than traditional screens. The result is a much more realistic and detailed image, providing you have an HDR-compatible TV.
In December 2014, Amazon announced it was adding a few 4K shows to its books. The selection is still relatively limited, but key shows are available at the higher quality, including Transparent, Bosch, Red Oaks, and Alpha House. It also offers a selection of movies in 4K.
What’s good about Amazon’s approach to 4K when compared to Netflix is that you don’t have to pay extra for the privilege. What’s more, Amazon was ahead of Netflix when it came to HDR content, releasing the first season of its original series Mozart in the Jungle in HDR. You also don’t have to pay extra for HDR with Amazon Prime Instant Video.
Related: Netflix 4K Ultra HD review
Netflix vs Amazon Video
Has Amazon Video caught up with Netflix after years of trailing behind a bit? In most of the ways that count, yes it has.
Netflix no longer steamrolls the Amazon rival in terms of its library, though we’d argue it still has the edge on the consistency and stunning highs of its original content. Amazon has improved considerably in this regard over the past 12 months or so, and there’s every sign that it’s going to continue to do so.
Amazon has also improved its platform and app support in recent times, but it’s still not as cohesive or ubiquitous a service as Netflix, which has one of the most identifiable and user-friendly interfaces around.
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Netflix’s edge has never been as slight as it is now, but it still gets our nod in a straight-up fight. Of course, at present there’s no reason why you can’t skip between the two. Each has TV series worth getting hooked on, so why not play the field?
Got a favourite when it comes to the streaming giants? Let us know in the comments.