Of the nearly countless on-demand streaming services out there, three stand out: Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and Netflix. Unfortunately, choosing which one is worthy of your credit card information and time isn’t an easy task — and with a combined subscription fee that’s north of $40, subscribing to all three isn’t a viable option for most.
Even if you’re cutting the cord, the trio — merged with a channel-specific service such as CBS All Access or HBO and a live TV platform such as Sling TV — could add up to the same monthly cost as your traditional cable or satellite. So much for those cord-cutting savings, huh? That’s why it’s important to understand what you need from an on-demand streaming service. So, to help you find the best on-demand streamer for you, we’ve put together this comprehensive comparison guide.
Amazon offers two main versions of its Prime subscription, either $119 annually or $13 per month (or $59 annually when you sign up with a valid student email address). Both versions net you the same perks, including two-day shipping — or free one-day shipping in some cases — discounted prices on select items, cloud storage, and, most importantly for our purposes, on-demand video (and music) streaming. The best part is that 4K Ultra HD content with HDR comes standard at no extra cost. Plus, you can share accounts with friends and family, so everyone can get in on the deals.
Netflix’s various subscription tiers currently range from $9 to $18 depending on your desired video quality — SD resolution is just $9 per month, but you can only stream on one device at a time. Moving up to HD will cost you $14 per month for two streams while moving up to 4K Ultra HD will now cost you $18 per month for four streams at a time. The prices will also go up should you add the DVD/Blu-ray rental service.
Hulu currently starts at just $7 for the ad-based service or $13 for the ad-free option (which we still highly recommend, even at nearly double the cost). Hulu’s options don’t stop there as it also offers a streaming live-TV package called Hulu+Live TV for $65 (increasing to $70 per month as of December 21, 2021), which is similar to Sling TV and YouTube TV. The subscription includes more than 75-plus channels on top of the service’s regular on-demand library, and there are also add-on features at an additional fee, including a $6 fee to get rid of most ads altogether. You’ll also get better savings with Hulu if you’re a Disney+ and ESPN+ subscriber, as the illustrious Disney Bundle saves you $6 on the streaming trio.
Especially for those who want to stream 4K at the lowest possible price, Amazon is the cheapest bet and has stated that the company won’t raise prices for 4K streaming. The sheer number of extra features and benefits included in Amazon Prime gives it an advantage over its competitors, as well. Throw in Amazon’s student discount, and this is an easy win.
When it comes to sheer volume, it’s no contest: Amazon has the largest catalog of content by a wide margin. But quantity and quality are two very different things. Netflix blows the doors off the competition here, with the most popular movies and shows outside of HBO. It also boasts a large number of acclaimed international films (though its film collection, in general, has dwindled in recent years). You can find a list of our favorites here.
What you want to watch will largely dictate which service or combination of services is best for you. We’re giving the nod to Netflix here, however; it just has a more diverse and higher quality library. It might not be the best for keeping up with the latest TV shows from other networks, but that also isn’t what the service was designed for in the first place, and no matter how hard you try, you’ll never run out of shows to watch.
We could easily see Hulu or Amazon catch up here, but that largely depends on how much money either company is comfortable throwing at original content. Hulu has a leg-up thanks to its ownership by Disney, who could snap the finger and load it up with original content from all its properties, though the company doesn’t seem keen on cannibalizing its own-branded streaming service anytime soon. Likewise, Amazon also has big money backing it, but with Netflix having carved out a prominent slice among talent vying for its attention, that may not matter.
All three services are available on a long list of devices — too long to list here.
Netflix is basically everywhere. Many devices even feature the Netflix logo directly on their remote. Hulu is also just about everywhere, often in the native user interface, too. And now that Amazon and Google have let bygones be bygones, Amazon Prime Video is virtually everywhere, too — showing up on Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra in July 2019.
Given the ubiquity of Netflix, Hulu, and now Amazon Prime Video, it’s close, but Netflix still beats out its rivals here — it’s even on many cable boxes, and some TV and Blu-Ray player makers will always reserve a button on their remotes for Netflix. If you’re not sure, it pays to do some research before committing. The full lists of compatible devices for each service are available here: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime.
Interface and ease of use
Netflix has great functionality, and it’s relatively easy to find what you want since it curates suggested movies and TV shows through a personalized “top picks” category on the home screen and offers a slick design with intuitive carousels. That said, over the years the company has changed its algorithm, dropping 5-star ratings for a thumbs-up system, and in the process, it seems to find a way to push its content above all others. On the other hand, we love the fact that its interface is universal regardless of device or brand, including HDTVs, gaming consoles, Rokus, and Blu-ray players, so you won’t have to learn to use a new interface.
Hulu has been updating its interface, and it’s a lot easier to use these days on most platforms than previously, with categories like Keep Watching, TV, Movies, and Kids that make it pretty simple to navigate. You can also add on premium channels like HBO, and shows and movies from those channels will show up on your main interface — though it can be a bit of a pain to access the apps themselves. For its quick interface and ability to incorporate premium channels, we’re going to designate Hulu (for the first time) as the winner here. Congrats, Hulu.
Amazon comes in last, with a more scattered interface, but like its rivals, it is constantly improving. One point in its favor is that you can browse Prime Video directly on the Amazon webpage and its various apps, and it also works great with Amazon’s Fire TV streaming devices. For instance, on Fire TV devices and the Echo Show, Alexa can surface your desired film or show by responding to your voice. However, these interfaces tend to differ from one device to another, and frankly, some aren’t as intuitive as others.