Kim Komando Special for USA Today
When you’re picking a streaming video service, so many questions pop up: How much does it cost? What movies does it have? Can you find current episodes of your favorite TV show, or are they all from past seasons? Is there an app, and how well does it work? The list goes on and on.
Probably one of the most frequently asked questions I get on my national radio show is, “Which streaming service has A&E, Fox News, HGTV or fill-in-the-blank?” It’s complicated.
To simplify things, I created a streaming service chart. Using it, you can see which service has the channel or network you want to watch. Click or tap here now for an easy way to find a service based on specific shows you want to watch.
The three big players right now are Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. Unlike network and public television, which have a lot of free streaming content, these are paid services with vast catalogs, original programs and curated lists and recommendations.
All of these services have earned their stripes. So which service is best for you? We’ll look at Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, along with Vudu, an alternative to renting or buying movies on iTunes or Amazon. Here are the pros and cons of each.
Price: $10.99 per month for HD streaming
Netflix is the king of the hill when it comes to on-demand video subscription services. It has moved well past its origins as a DVD-mailing company and now churns out tons of buzzworthy original content alongside a big collection of television shows and movies. It’s also easy to access. You can watch it with all sorts of streaming devices, including most TVs, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon’s new Fire TV Cube, tablets and smartphones.
Netflix also flip-flopped on its promise never to allow downloaded films, and now you can quickly stack your tablet with an incredible range of movies and shows. Netflix has mastered its format, and with acclaimed original series such as “Glow” and “Stranger Things,” you can access a myriad of exclusive material.
Price: $119 per year
Amazon Prime Video is one big perk found in the larger Prime subscription package. Amazon has its share of original, exclusive shows, including “The Man in the High Castle” and “The Grand Tour,” that sweeten the deal and make the yearly subscription cost (and its recent price hike) more palatable. Thanks to the film “Manchester by the Sea,” Amazon Studios also won an academy award.
Prime Video is a formidable service, and it connects you to the broader universe of Amazon products, including Echo. You can also buy films and series or add entire networks, such as Showtime and HBO.
Video is just one Amazon Prime perk. There are many other Prime benefits you might not be using and may not know about. Also, if you want to test Prime Video without committing to the full Prime package, Amazon sells a month-to-month Prime Video subscription for $8.99.
Price: $7.99 per month
Hulu has been making steady progress in attracting subscribers. It isn’t as big as Netflix but has gotten a boost from a move into original television shows, including an upcoming Stephen King-based series called “Castle Rock” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” an Emmy-winning series which just finished its second season. Hulu also has the most economical basic plan, at $7.99 per month.
Like Prime Video and Netflix, Hulu has its app, and the streaming quality holds its own. Hulu is also trying to cash in on the “offline” viewing market, allowing subscribers to download their content. Hulu has a Live TV service with 50-plus channels for $39.99 (you can test it out with a seven-day free trial).
Price: Per rental/purchase
Vudu is a dark horse candidate when it comes to streaming. It’s owned by Walmart and operates more like iTunes: You pay for what you want to watch. Rentals start at less than a buck. There’s no monthly fee, and Vudu boasts that it gets access to movies even earlier than services such as Netflix and Redbox.
Vudu also offers a selection of movies that are free with the inclusion of ads. It’s hard to beat the price, but for content with commercials, Vudu’s appeal depends on your tolerance for interruptions.
So which service wins?
Like most service comparisons, there is no definite winner because the “best” service depends on your interests.
Amazon Prime makes sense if you don’t mind a lump investment and you plan to take advantage of the other features, such as shipping, photo storage and music. The annual price isn’t as attractive if all you want to do is watch videos.
Netflix is insanely popular because it offers a broad mix of programming alongside an ever-growing slate of original shows and movies. If you want access to Marvel superheroes in TV shows, this is definitely the place to go. If you’re only looking to subscribe to one streaming service, then Netflix is probably your best bet.
Hulu doesn’t quite have the depth of Netflix, but it’s still the go-to place to catch up on recent network TV shows. If that’s important to you, then take a close look at Hulu. The $7.99 plan, while cheaper than Netflix, comes with commercials. To dump the ads, you’ll need to move up to the $11.99 plan.
Vudu won’t take the place of a service such as Netflix, but it may appeal to viewers looking for an a la carte alternative. If you already buy or rent your entertainment through iTunes or Amazon, then you may not feel the need to try Vudu, though it can still be worth checking out its movie collection. You can always pick and choose what you want to pay for.
Pick and choose
There’s a reason why many people subscribe to more than one service. You may have Prime mainly for the shipping and other perks but also subscribe to Netflix for the wider range of programming. Alternatively, perhaps you’re a fan of a particular hit show on Hulu but get the rest of your streaming fix from another source.
Just be sure to re-evaluate your streaming subscriptions from time to time. If you’re not getting much use out of it, then cancel it and save yourself the money.