Even though streaming media has conquered home entertainment, the differences between providers can still seem unclear or even baffling. However, with popular services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, there are some distinct differences – as well as clear preference-dependent benefits and downsides – which make deciding on a streaming service simpler than it seems.
The Best Services for Streaming Movies
Netflix – among the most dominant of modern streaming services – rose sharply from its modest beginnings as a movie-by-mail service. Netflix may have kept their movie-centric name, but the iconic streaming service still leaves something to be desired when it comes to popular newer films and well-known classics.
Netflix is now known more for their television content, there is no subscription streaming service that stands out when it comes to popular, new release movies. Just like the old days, these are more easily found as rentals. Unlike the old days, those rentals are available instantly from iTunes, Amazon or YouTube, with no round trips to the video store required.
For film buffs, Hulu’s streaming service offers the entire Criterion Collection – more than 900 titles at this point – on their Hulu Plus service. However, film buffs may not be so thrilled about Hulu’s policy of occasionally including advertising breaks with their content. Amazon Prime may not have the Criterion Collection in their streaming library , but for consumers with the right equipment Amazon does offer streaming in 4K, as does Netflix. The Amazon Prime selection of movie titles is currently larger than Netflix’s.
Other services like Playstation Vue and Vudu, have a decently impressive selection of movies, but the selection of movies on all major streaming services does tend to change without notice, with titles being dropped and added without much notice.
The Best Services for Streaming Television
While the movie selection leaves something to be desired on many streaming services, the choice of television programming is where the industry shines. Streaming services have revolutionized TV consumption, and there a few key differences but the largest services in this regard.
Netflix is famous for having full seasons of classic, modern and outright obscure series available. While the titles rotate as always, Netflix is always host to an array of popular television series from the recent and distant past, as well as a few popular original series. However, fans of any non-Netflix original series – the bulk of television – will have to wait months or longer to watch episodes on Netflix.
Hulu has long been the destination to catch new episodes of network series, along with old seasons of iconic properties like “Seinfeld.” While Netflix is like a vast video library, Hulu is more like a live television replacement for those ready to cut the cable TV cord. Just like traditional TV providers, Hulu also offers premium content from HBO, Showtime and Cinemax for a slightly higher monthly fee, with the option for all the above plus live television and DVR at its highest price point. Hulu’s live TV option blurs the line between streaming service and cable provider. Those premium channels such as HBO do have their own streaming services with more limited content
Like Netflix, Amazon Prime has produced a few original series, but it lacks the depth of Netflix’s TV collection. However, Amazon does offer the option of purchasing TV episodes and movies not in their streaming catalog, along with the other benefits of Amazon Prime membership like access to the Kindle Lending Library.
The Best Streaming Services for Your Equipment
For many households, streaming has at least partially replaced traditional television service, with Roku boxes, video game consoles and smart TVs granting users the ability to stream content directly from the internet to their television screen. The good news is that smart TVs are generally compatible with all major streaming services, as are laptops, smartphones and tablets.
However, the gear you have for watching content may have some bearing on which streaming service to choose. PlayStation Vue works on Roku devices, but by most accounts the service works better with a PlayStation console. For watching on a laptop iTunes and its streaming content are optimized for MacBook computers, even though iTunes is technically compatible with Windows machines. Of course, if you choose Netflix or Amazon for their 4K video options, it is best to enjoy that phenomenal definition on a television or monitor that can display it properly.
There is clearly a lot to consider, but out of the “big three” streaming services, Hulu remains ideal for television fans who want to keep current on their favorite series in real time. Netflix still boasts a superlative library of content at a reasonable price. Amazon Prime has a decent selection, and is great for fans of Amazon original series, or fans of Amazon Prime in general.
Robert Gillings is an award winning writer, producer, actor architectural designer, philosopher and financial consultant