When you subscribe to one of the leading video-streaming services—Amazon Prime Instant Video and Netflix—you’re buying something of a pig in a poke. Both services display their movies andtelevision shows on a cluttered buffet table of screens, making it difficult to get a good overview of their selections. And both keep the actual number of films available a closely guarded secret, making it even more difficult to judge which service has the greatest choice. But we did some digging to get the information you need to decide which service is best for you.
—Jeff Blyskal (@JeffBlyskal on Twitter)
Behind the numbers
This review is based on an evaluation by the Consumer Reports Money team, using a 1-to-5 scale, where 1 is the lowest possible score and 5 is the highest. Individual scores are averaged within category, and the category scores are averaged to produce the overall score. The scores here are not Ratings.
It’s so difficult to browse for movies on Amazon and Netflix that we turned to InstantWatcher.com
, a site plugged into the databases of both providers. We found that Amazon Prime offered more than 17,000 standard- and high-definition movies and TV series, significantly more than Netflix, which had more than 9,000 when we counted.
But Netflix pulled ahead overall by offering more than 7,000 HD videos vs. just over 1,000 for Amazon Prime. Amazon claims that it has “tens of thousands” of titles, but it counts every TV show episode as a separate title; InstantWatcher.com counts all episodes in a TV series as one title, which we think is more accurate and honest.
Netflix provides some popular original series, including “Marco Polo,” “House of Cards,” and “Orange Is the New Black.” Amazon Prime offers some original shows, too, along with editor recommendations.
But because it’s part of a massive retailing operation, Amazon throws in free two-day shipping
on Amazon purchases, as well as free music streaming
of more than 1 million songs and free, unlimited photo storage
Our survey found Netflix considerably ahead. More devices were Netflix-ready; 88 percent of 130 Consumer Reports tested and recommended TVs
, Blu-ray players
, and stand-alone streaming devices
(such as Roku and the Amazon Fire Stick
) had its app installed. Amazon’s service was built into only 68 percent of those models.
Consumers also seemed to find it easier to stream from Netflix. Its streaming comprised 35 percent of all peak-time U.S. and Canadian Internet traffic, according to Sandvine, a company that tracks such usage, vs. Amazon Instant Video’s 3 percent.
The average Netflix user watches five TV shows and three movies per week, according to the firm GfK Research. If you paid $2 per show or movie à la carte, you would end up paying more than $800 over the course of a year. On our scoring scale, you get a deal with both streaming services: Netflix costs $108 per year (for a standard plan), and Amazon Prime is just a little less, $99 per year.
If your primary interest is watching high-definition movies and TV series, Netflix should be your first choice. If you’d rather have greater choice but in standard definition, and you swoon at the thought of goodies such as free shipping, music downloads, and photo storage, Amazon Prime may be a better bet. But all things considered, the two are pretty equal
Looking for a new TV? Read, “Are Netlfix-recommended TV’s better than regular smart TVs?“
This article also appeared in the May 2015 issue of Consumer Reports Money Adviser
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