Streaming Service Smackdown: Hulu vs. Netflix vs. Amazon Prime

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A photo illustration of a person figuring out what to watch: Amazon Prime, Netflix or Hulu. Tina Russell/ The Penny Hoarder
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Disclosure:

Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We’re letting you know because it’s what Honest Abe would do. After all, he is on our favorite coin.

Streaming video services are the best thing to happen to TV and movies since the invention of film technology.

We are truly living in an age of wonder, when we can watch old episodes of “Golden Girls” while making dinner or an Academy Award-winning movie at 39,000 feet.

There are several online streaming services out there to choose from, but Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video are among the most popular.

What Do Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Have in Common?

The three platforms are very similar in a handful of ways:

  • All have closed captioned programming, though only Netflix’s service has it for every English-language movie and TV show in its catalog
  • All offer at least a partial ad-free viewing experience. Netflix and Hulu are ad-free, though you’ll pay more for the option with Hulu. A lot — but not all — of Amazon’s content is ad-free
  • Content from each service can be watched on virtually every modern device that connects to the internet, though some content on Hulu is restricted from TV and mobile access
  • All have parental control features to restrict access to mature content
  • Best of all, all services allow viewers to watch an unlimited amount of programs for one flat fee per month

How are Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Different?

Each platform has a number of unique features that set it apart from its competition, most notably in the type of programming they offer.

None of the companies offer discrete numbers on the amount of titles or program hours in its catalog. As of early 2016, researchers say the amount of content on each platform looks something like this:

  • Hulu has 10,244 titles
  • Netflix has 7,008 titles
  • Amazon Prime Video has 20,386 titles

Whether you’re trying to Netflix and nap, Hulu and hang or Amazon and avoid life for a while, this list of pros and cons can help you weigh which option is right for you.

Hulu:

How much: One week free trial. Plans start at $7.99 per month for limited commercials, $11.99 per month for no commercials. A Showtime add-on is available for an additional $8.99 per month.

Available on: Laptops, PCs, TVs, phones, tablets and game consoles.

You can add as many different devices as you want to your account, but you can only stream to one at a time.

Pros:

  • Full seasons of older and current popular TV shows
  • Episodes of some current TV shows are available the day after they air

Cons:

  • Less breadth and depth of programming than Netflix
  • Some programming is not yet closed captioned
  • No audio descriptions on any shows
  • Website is not screen reader-compatible
  • Cannot stream content when traveling outside the U.S.

Best For:

Viewers who watch a lot of current U.S.-based TV programming and want to see episodes they’ve missed as soon as possible.

Netflix

How much: One month free trial. Three plan options beginning at $7.99 per month up to $11.99 per month, depending on the number of devices and type of HD you want.

Available on: Laptops, PCs, TVs, phones, tablets, game consoles, smart TVs, Blu-ray players and streaming media players.

You can add as many different devices as you want to your account and stream content to up to four at a time, depending on the plan you choose.  

Pros:

  • Tons of original programming
  • All English-language programming is closed captioned
  • Audio descriptions available for many shows
  • Website is compatible with most OS X and Windows built-in screen readers  

Cons:

  • Available seasons of currently-airing TV shows are usually at least a year old, so prepare to avoid spoilers for a very long time.

Best for:

Viewers who like a lot of content choices across a variety of genres and languages.

Amazon Prime Video

How much: 30-day free trial. Free with an eligible Amazon Prime membership or $8.99 per month. Premium channels like HBO and Showtime are available for an additional monthly charge.

Available on: Laptops, PCs, TVs, phones, tablets, game consoles, smart TVs, Blu-ray players, streaming media players, Fire tablets and Fire phones.

Pros:

  • If you already have an Amazon Prime membership, Prime Video is free.
  • Huge catalog of available content
  • On-screen integration with the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) lets you access actor bios, background information and other show-related information

Cons:

  • It’s sometimes difficult to determine what content is included in your subscription and what costs extra
  • Some programming is not yet closed captioned
  • Audio descriptions only available through Fire Stick
  • Limited content available for streaming when traveling outside the U.S.

Best For:

People who already have an eligible Prime Membership.  

Bonus: Sling TV

One major complaint about alternative TV services is there typically isn’t much offered for sports fans.

Sling TV by Dish Network is one solution. It offers live access to 20 premium channels, including ESPN, Adult Swim and AMC, as well as add-on channel packages based on your interests.

That said, it’s live access; there’s no option to record a show you want to watch later.

Sling does offer a replay period during which you can view shows that aired within the past three days on certain channels. Certain channels also allow you to rewind a show you’re already watching, but ESPN is not one of them.

Cost: $20-$25/month for the basic “Best of Live TV” package; add-ons available from $5 a month (for Sports Extra, Kids Extra, etc.) to $15 a month (for HBO)

How to Choose Between Hulu, Netflix and Amazon

At first glance it may seem like Netflix is the slam-dunk option with fewer disadvantages. However, its lack of current programming may be a big deterrent for many people.

If original programming is important to you, Netflix is amping up its self-produced content to the tune of more than 1,000 hours of new series, specials and movies in 2017. Netflix is also a good value if you like a wide selection of indie, foreign language, and older content.

Hulu is a great choice if you want to stay on top of the latest popular TV shows. Unless you own a DVR, it’s one of the only ways you can catch up on episodes you missed.

If you want access to the largest catalog of programming, Amazon is the way to go. Its integration with IMDb is a cool feature you never know you needed until the first time you use it.

Your turn: What’s your jam: Hulu or Netflix or Amazon Prime? Or all of them?

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She subscribes to all three services because she’s all about having choices.

Honest Abe

Disclosure:

Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We’re letting you know because it’s what Honest Abe would do. After all, he is on our favorite coin.