Streaming video is a bigger market than it was a few years ago – but it’s also a more competitive one. Netflix is no longer alone in the business space, and thanks to the growing importance of original series, the OTT market is colliding with the premium channel market that HBO has long dominated. And into this fray has stepped one of the biggest web companies on the planet: Amazon. Their Amazon Video service, which is now available as a monthly subscription separate from (but, confusingly, still co-branded with) the full annual Amazon Prime, is aiming to beat Netflix at their own game. How does it stack up? Here’s our full review.
In its various apps, Amazon presents its content similarly to how Netflix does. It shows its titles in rows, sorted into categories based on things like genres and suggestion algorithms. Navigation is simple and clicking on a title brings up more details, including a description, cast list, and user rating.
One cool thing that Amazon Video does is feature facts and trivia about some content when you tap your screen on the mobile apps. It’s not a huge feature, but it’s a fun little detail.
The most unique thing about Amazon Video is the way in which its integrated with Amazon’s larger pay-per-view and purchase library. You can change a setting to view only included streaming video, but in some places (like on Fire TV and on certain pages of Amazon.com), the default settings mix the Prime/Amazon Video content in with movies and TV shows that you can buy or rent. Included videos are set apart by a “Prime” label in the upper-right corner, but I still clicked on a few paid videos by mistake. It was disappointing to choose content and then realize that it wasn’t included.
Changing a simple setting solves this problem, but it’s illustrative of the general way in which Amazon Video is integrated into Amazon’s offerings. Nowhere is this more true than on Fire TV, which puts suggestions from Amazon Video and Amazon’s rental and purchase options all over the operating system’s main tabs, rather than housing them within an app. But it’s true to an extent on other platforms, too – you’ll see ads for add-on subscriptions presented in their own row between the rows of content you already have access to, and you’ll sometimes see ads for Amazon’s original series before your chosen content begins.
It’s worth talking in a bit more detail about the Prime experience on Fire TV, because it’s definitely different. Fire TV integrates Amazon Prime’s offerings – including Amazon Video, Amazon Music (a streaming music service) and Amazon Photos (a photo storage app) into the operating system’s main menu. As a result, there’s no need for a standalone app. It’s a pleasant experience, but obviously a very Amazon-centric one. And it’s important to note that Amazon’s monthly Amazon Video subscription does not include Amazon Photos or Amazon Music, as the annually priced Amazon Prime does.
Content-wise, Amazon is strong and growing stronger. It has a ton of TV and movie options, including properties from HBO, PBS, Nickelodeon, and more. There are some fairly recent feature film hits in the mix, including (at the time of this writing) Interstellar and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I, among others.
Streaming content from TV and movie studios is important, but the OTT business has increasingly been about the original series arms race. Amazon’s original content lags behind Netflix’s and HBO (original content is what HBO is all about, after all). But it’s gaining fast thanks to strong efforts like Transparent and The Man in the High Castle.
For now, in our opinion, Amazon Video’s library can’t measure up to Netflix’s. But it’s a fitting rival for HBO and Hulu, and its content complements Netflix’s library, so users who are willing to pay for more than one streaming service at once should definitely have Amazon Prime on their shortlist.
Additional content can be added to Amazon Video or Amazon Prime by paying for add-on subscriptions. Options include Starz and Showtime.
Amazon Video streamed well on all the devices we tried it on. On Wi-Fi, it sometimes dips back into standard definition, but it very rarely gets choppy or has to reload. Overall, the quality was very comparable to Netflix’s.
There didn’t seem to be a huge difference in streaming quality across the different platforms. It was a little better on devices with wired connections than it was on Wi-Fi, but we’ve come to expect that with all services.
Amazon Video is available through the Amazon Video app on a wide variety of platforms. We tried it out on Amazon Fire TV, Roku 4, Roku Streaming Stick, iOS, Android, Chromecast (casting from iOS and Android), and via the web app. There weren’t any huge differences in streaming quality or user experience between these platforms, except for the Fire TV user experience, which was slightly different.
As you might expect, Amazon Prime is most seamlessly integrated into the Amazon Fire TV interface. We touched on this in our Amazon Fire TV review, and it’s in keeping with Amazon’s general strategy – all of its offerings are interconnected. Of course, Amazon Prime and Amazon Video are still very useable even if you don’t have a Fire TV (just as Fire TV is still a good product even if you don’t have Prime or an Amazon video library), but it’s worth noting that the integration is there.
Price – Amazon Prime vs. Amazon Video
Amazon Prime – which includes Amazon Video, Amazon Music, free two-day shipping, and more – costs $99 a year (equivalent to $8.25 per month). Amazon Video alone (without those extra perks) is available as a monthly subscription price at $8.99 a month. That’s slightly cheaper than Netflix’s most popular package ($9.99/month) which is the most comparable to Amazon Video, as it allows streaming on multiple devices and includes HD video.
No streaming service has gotten good faster than Amazon Video, but that doesn’t mean its quite ready to take on Netflix. Amazon Video’s base content library is, in our view, not as good as Netflix’s. If you only subscribe to one service, we’d stop short of recommending Amazon Video. The only reason to pick it in a head-to-head over Netflix would be the full Prime membership version, which includes perks like free two-day shipping.
However, if you’re looking to add another streaming subscription on top of Netflix, Amazon is a strong contender. Its catalog is quite strong and compares well to Hulu’s and to HBO’s (as we mentioned, Amazon Video includes a lot of HBO programs). Amazon Video streams well, is easy to use, has a ton of platform support, and comes at a great price point. It complements Netflix quite well, since their two catalogs don’t overlap much. For users who want multiple subscriptions, Amazon Video is an excellent choice.
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