Streaming is the future of TV. In fact, with so many people cutting the cord and turning to streaming services as their exclusive source of movies and television, we can say that the future is already here.
When streaming first became a thing, Netflix was pretty much the only option, but this is no longer the case. Now, you have tons of choices, so many that deciding which one is best for you can be rather tricky.
Some may think, “Why not just get all three?” and that's certainly an option, but considering that would cost you around $50 a month, doing so can be expensive. And if you also get a live TV option such as PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV, or Sling TV, you might even wind up spending more than you did on your original cable, defeating the entire purpose of cutting the cord and going with streaming.
To make things a bit simpler, we've put together a detailed comparison of these three services, outlining the pros and cons of each so that you can more easily tell which one is the best for you and the most deserving of your hard-earned money.
Netflix has been the leader of the streaming pack since the beginning, largely because it was the first one to jump into the market. But is this still the case? Here are the reasons why you should and shouldn't sign up for a Netflix subscription.
Here are the things Netflix brings to the table that might make it the best option for you:
Netflix figured out a while ago that original content was going to be the secret to its success. People only want to watch old shows and movies so many times before they get bored. Its first show – House of Cards – which starred Kevin Spacey, won several Emmys, which gave the company the justification it needed to keep spending money on original content, and it hasn't looked back since.
Over the years, Netflix has been spending more and more money on producing new content. In 2020, it's planning to spend a whopping $15 billion.
All of this spending, plus recognition for even more shows, helps attract well-known actors and directors, helping bolster the platform's original library even more.
Of course, not every show it produces is a hit, but Netflix certainly is the place to go for interesting and sometimes even groundbreaking shows (such as Thirteen Reasons Why) that you won't be able to access anywhere else.
One nice thing about Netflix is that it now offers all of its content in 4K and HDR, which is the best quality you can get. Unfortunately, you do need to pay a bit extra for this – higher-quality content was part of the reason why Netflix unrolled its price hikes a few years back – but it's still not too expensive ($16/month), and the better video quality is quite nice.
Both Hulu and Amazon Prime offer this as well, but Netflix definitely has the largest catalog of HDR content. So, if this is important to you, definitely consider choosing Netflix as your primary streaming service.
Excellent User Interface
Netflix has an extremely user-friendly interface that makes it incredibly easy for you to find something new to watch. It has an algorithm that picks out content it thinks will be best for you, although it does seem to be biased towards its own content.
In addition, Netflix breaks content up into numerous different categories that make it really easy for you to find titles that are in the genre you are interested in watching.
However, what we particularly like about Netflix's interface is that it is the same no matter which device you are using. This used to not be the case, but now it is, and it makes things much easier. So, no matter if you're on your phone, TV, computer, or tablet, you don't need to worry about learning how to navigate a new system.
Available on All Platforms
Thanks to its wide range of apps, you can watch Netflix in several different ways. It's available on many Blu-ray players, Xbox, PS4, Amazon Fire, Chromecast, and more. Netflix is even integrated into some cable boxes, which is strange since they are technically competitors.
All of this means that you won't need to do much more than download the app to watch Netflix, and because the interface is the same no matter what device you're using, it makes for a truly streamlined experience that gives Netflix a major boost over the competition.
Lastly, if English isn't your first language, or you require subtitles because of a hearing issue, Netflix is going to be your best option. Back in 2014, it made a deal to subtitle all of its content, so you can be sure to find quality closed captioning for all your favorite shows.
Netflix is available in countries all around the globe, and so many of its shows, especially its original ones, are available in multiple languages, which is great for those of you who are practicing to become bilingual or who aren't native English speakers.
This is a small but potentially big advantage Netflix has over its competitors, and it could be a deciding factor as to why you choose it as your streaming service.
Of course, Netflix does have some downsides, such as:
The most popular Netflix plan, the one that lets you stream on four devices at once and in 4k and HDR – i.e. the only one you want – is $16/month. This still isn't going to break the bank for most, but it is a good bit more expensive than both Amazon Prime and Hulu (although when you upgrade to the ad-free version of Hulu, the difference shrinks quite a bit).
As a result, if you're looking for the cheapest streaming option, Netflix might not be the best choice for you but considering what you get with your $16 monthly payment, it is still worth it for most people.
If you want to save some money, Netflix's lower-tier service costs just $8, but it doesn't give you access to HDR content and knocks the number of screens you can stream on at once down to two.
Fewer Network Shows
One serious knock-on Netflix is that the network shows it does carry (which aren't that many) don't appear until a season after they've aired on television. For those who want to keep up with all the latest shows, this can be extremely frustrating and might be reason enough to not bother getting a Netflix subscription.
Netflix is perfect for those who prioritize quality original content and who don't mind paying a few extra dollars a month to access it.
Next on the list is Hulu, which offers you the following benefits:
Hulu is a lot cheaper than the other options on the list. The Basic plan, which gives you access to the entire Hulu library but with advertisements, costs just $5.99 a month. If you already have a Spotify Premium account, then it's free, which is pretty tough to beat.
If you don't want ads, then you can upgrade to the Premium plan, which includes all the same content but doesn't have any ads. It costs $11.99 per month, which is about $4 less than Netflix. Not a huge saving, but still something.
What's nice about Hulu is that these plans give you access to HDR content at no extra cost, something Netflix doesn't do.
Immediate Release of Network Shows
Probably the biggest perk of Hulu is that network television shows that have an agreement with Hulu make their content available the next day. You don't need to wait a whole year to watch new episodes. Instead, you can watch it the next day and stay in the loop when your friends and coworkers are talking about what just happened.
Huge Catalog of Classics
In addition to current network shows, Hulu also has an expansive library of classic TV shows, with some of the most well-known being Seinfeld, Friends, The Office, The Simpsons, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and The Twilight Zone, among many, many more.
If this is the type of thing you're looking for from your streaming service, then you will want to seriously consider making Hulu the one you get. It has no competitor when it comes to this type of content.
Another nice thing about Hulu is that you can add on extra channels to increase the size of your library, the most popular being HBO, Showtime, and Starz. These networks are known for producing some of the best content out there – think Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, Shameless, etc.
However, to get access to these, you will need to pay more, and this can cause your streaming budget to shoot up pretty quickly.
For example, HBO costs $14.99 per month, Showtime is $10.99, and Starz is $9.99. This might seem like a lot, but if this is all you're paying for in terms of video content, then it can be worth it. Plus, another available add-on is “Unlimited Screens,” which costs $9.99 per month. Tacking this on allows you to share your account with multiple people, which means splitting the costs and more savings.
Another thing that Hulu has over the competition is that it has a Live TV plan. This will add about $50 a month to your bill, but it will give you access to more than 60 live channels, mostly sports and news.
For those looking to make a complete break from cable companies but who still want to have access to some of the stuff on network TV, or for those who want to watch their favorite shows as they're airing, this is a great option.
If you keep the basic plan and add Live TV, you will be paying $54.99 a month, and if you add it to the Premium plan, which has no ads (except on the live TV part), your total bill will be $64.99 a month.
These numbers might seem high at first, but considering the average cost of cable is over $100 a month, the savings, and the value that comes with it, is pretty tough to beat.
At this point, Hulu might be sounding pretty good, but you should keep the following in mind before fully committing.
Ads on Cheapest Plan
The fact that the Basic Hulu plan costs just $5.99 a month is pretty awesome but that this plan makes you watch ads – that you can't skip – is a pretty big disadvantage. One of the biggest advantages of a streaming service is that you don't have to sit through ads.
Obviously, you can spend a bit more money and get rid of the ads, but for those looking to get a great streaming service at the lowest cost, this whole advertisement thing can be quite frustrating.
Less Original Content
Since Hulu specializes in network shows, it doesn't spend as much on original content, although it has produced some shows that turned out to be big hits, both with the fans and the critics, the most notable being The Handmaid's Tale, which was based on a book by Margaret Atwood.
There are a few more shows worth checking out, but if your main goal in switching to a streaming service is to get away from the content being produced by the main networks, then Hulu isn't going to be the best option. You'll probably want to spend the extra cash on a Netflix subscription.
Poorer Sound Quality
Unlike Netflix and Amazon Prime, Hulu doesn't offer Dolby Atmos sound, which is a bit of a shame seeing as this is really the future of sound. However, Hulu gets even more points deducted because most of its content is only available in surround sound 2.0. Some content is available in 5.1, but nothing is available in 7.1, which is the industry standard today.
Of course, if the primary device you use to watch Hulu doesn't have the capabilities for this higher sound quality, such as a phone or a tablet, this probably won't matter too much. But if it does, you will probably be disappointed and will want to go with either Netflix or Amazon Prime as your primary streaming service.
Hulu is ideal for those who love network television and want an option to keep a live TV subscription. All others will likely want to choose a different service.
The next major streaming service is Amazon Prime. Here are some of the reasons to choose it as your primary streaming service:
The main reason Amazon Prime stands out has nothing to do with its streaming service, but rather all the other things a subscription gets you. Most importantly, Amazon Prime gets you free two-day shipping on tons of products, as well as one-day shipping on many more.
Prime also gives you access to a cloud service, and you will also get discounts on lots of other items available on its marketplace. Also, Amazon is now releasing free grocery delivery in select cities, which will likely soon turn into lots of cities, which is a pretty amazing perk.
Oh, and did we mention you also get access to its digital video and music library?!
This is pretty tough to beat, and considering Prime only costs $13 per month, or $119 if you sign up for a year, which translates to a little less than $10 a month. If you're a student, you can get this yearly membership for just $59, which is impossible to beat.
But we're not done. You can also share your Amazon account with whoever you want, meaning friends and family can get in on the deal and help defray the costs.
The value you get with Amazon Prime really is the best on the market.
Excellent Sound and Video Quality
On top of all the benefits that you get from an Amazon Prime membership that have nothing to do with video, the streaming quality of Amazon Prime content is top-notch. It offers all of its content in 4K Ultra HD and HDR at no extra cost, and some of its content is now available in HDR10+, which is the competitor to Dolby Vision and represents the future of digital content.
Amazon Prime also offers top of the line surround sound (7.1), as well as Dolby Atmos, which is the new industry standard. Netflix does this too, but remember, you need to pay extra for it, and you don't get all the other benefits that come with an Amazon Prime membership.
Taking all of this into account, it might seem like Amazon Prime is the way to go, but there are a few things that knock it back down to reality.
Not as Much Good Content
Amazon has the largest library of any of the streaming services we're reviewing here, but this doesn't mean it has the best. It fills this library with a lot of movies and TV shows that most of us wouldn't watch.
One nice thing is that it has a lot of legacy HBO classics, such as The Sopranos and The Wire, but beyond this, the selection on Amazon Prime leaves a lot to be desired.
Some of its original shows have been received pretty well, such as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which has been recognized for several awards. But the original content Amazon comes out with is nowhere near that of Netflix's. It's closer to Hulu, but even Hulu, which gives you near-instant access to network shows, has it beat.
Network Shows Cost Extra
Amazon Prime does allow you to access the same network shows that you would get on Hulu, but it charges you per episode. Sometimes, the cost can be as much as $3-4 per episode, or $40 for a season's pass, which isn't a good price at all.
It's useful if you want to watch one or two episodes of something, but if you're going to be a dedicated viewer, then you're going to wind up spending quite a bit of money to access all the episodes you want to watch of your favorite TV shows.
Again, if network TV is what you want, then you're much better off going with Hulu.
Live TV Becomes Expensive
Amazon Prime also gives you the chance to add live TV to your subscription, but you have to do so on a per-channel basis, and it costs around $10 for each one you want to tack on. If you're only interested in getting one or two channels, say ESPN and CNN, this could be a good way to save on a cable subscription, but with this price model, Amazon Prime isn't a truly viable alternative to cable.
A Poor Interface
At the moment, Amazon's user interface leaves a lot to be desired. It's difficult to navigate and can be tricky at times to browse by category. However, Amazon is improving this all the time, so we expect this to change in the future and no longer be a reason to not get Amazon Prime.
One nice thing is that you can search for titles right from the Amazon home page, saving you steps and making it easier for you to find the content you want to watch.
You should go with Amazon Prime if you think you will use the other benefits it comes with. These extra features are the real value of the service, and the streaming is almost secondary. However, if you're looking for the best content and streaming service, Amazon might not be the service you should go with.
The Winner Is…
After this exhaustive review of the three biggest streaming services, the winner is…you! Having these three options at your fingertips means you will most certainly be able to find the right one for you. And now that you know the main differences between each one, this should be considerably easier than it seemed just a few minutes ago.
However, perhaps the best thing to do is to team up with a few friends, get all three, and then share account information so that you don't have to choose and you don't have to spend a fortune.
But if this isn't an option and you must choose, we hope you now have all the information you need to make the right choice.