Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime: Here’s What You Need to Know Before Deciding

A man streams movies on Netflix and Hulu in St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 4, 2019.
Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

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.

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

  • 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 and Netflix is testing ads. 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 by device.
  • 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.

So how do you know which, if any, service is best for you? That depends on what you need to be entertained.

How are Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Different?

Close up of the Hulu browser on a flat screen TV
Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

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 specific numbers when it comes to the titles or program hours in its catalog, but each offers thousands of options.

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.

Why Choose Hulu:

How much: One-month free trial. Plans start at $5.99 per month for limited commercials, $11.99 per month for no commercials and $44.95 for Hulu + Live TV and Cloud DVR storage. HBO, Showtime, Cinemax and Starz are available as add-ons.

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, but you can only stream to one at a time (Live TV subscriptions include two screens).

Biggest Pro: Episodes of some current TV shows are available the day after they air.

Biggest Con: Less breadth and depth of programming comparatively.

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.

Why Choose Netflix

Close up of the Netflix browser on a flat screen TV
Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

How much: One-month free trial. Three plan options beginning at $8.99 per month up to $15.99 per month, depending on the number of devices and type of HD you want. All are ad-free.

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.  

Biggest Pro: Netflix has tons of original programming.

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

Best for: Viewers who like a lot of original content choices across a variety of genres.

Why Choose 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.

Biggest Pro: Prime Video’s X-ray feature lets you access actor bios, background information, trivia, bonus content, music info and other show-related information

Biggest Con: It’s sometimes difficult to determine what content is included in your subscription and what costs extra

Best For: People who already have an eligible Prime Membership.  

How to Choose Between Hulu, Netflix and Amazon

If you’re looking for original programming, Netflix has an array of options. Hulu is a great choice if you want to stay on top of the latest popular TV shows. And if you want access to the largest catalog of programming, Amazon is the way to go.

So no clear winners. But that’s show biz.

Staff writer Tiffany Connors updated this article, which was originally written by former staff writer Lisa McGreevy.