Netflix Instant, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime Instant Video

When TV content first went to a subscription model, consumers basically had one major decision to make: cable or satellite TV? Honestly, the decision didn’t carry that much weight. Yes, you may have had a slight variation in channels if you decided on one over the other, but in general, your content options would be the same either way. As TV has begun to give way to its competitors in the Internet world, however, you’re faced with a lot more options.

The possibilities may seem endless when you decide what providers of streaming content you want to subscribe to. This fight is also much different than the simple question of cable vs. satellite TV because each provider of streaming video offers its own catalog of content. While there is some overlap, if you make the wrong decision, you might have to go without access to some of your favorite shows or movies.

The three companies that have established themselves as having the best selections of content available via subscription are Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. So how do you decide which of these services to turn to for your streaming needs?

Netflix Instant

Current price: $7.99 per month

The pioneer of subscription streaming, Netflix revolutionized the market when it introduced Netflix Instant. Seemingly out of nowhere, the company began moving a sizable number of its DVD titles online where customers could stream them whenever and (eventually) wherever they wanted. Netflix still maintains the largest catalog of movies from among its competitors as well as a huge library of TV series.

Netflix delivers the best video quality and is available on a wide array of devices. In addition to having native apps on set-top boxes like the Apple TV and Roku players, Netflix also has apps for iOS, Android, Windows 8, and Kindle users to enjoy content on their phones and tablets. Recently, Netflix has taken the jump into producing original programming featuring big names and big budgets. Some examples include the drama series House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey, and the re-launch of the cult comedy Arrested Development. All Netflix streaming movies and TV shows are ad-free.

Hulu Plus

Current price: $7.99 per month

While it didn’t really start as a competitor for Netflix, Hulu began to enter the race when it introduced its subscription-based Hulu Plus service. Hulu still differs enough from Netflix, however, that it’s hard to pit them against each other.

While Netflix mostly focuses on movies and TV shows of the past, Hulu puts its prime focus on today’s hot television programs. The shows on Hulu Plus (which include hit shows from all of the major TV networks) are available to watch the day after they air on TV. Not only are you able to catch up on your favorite series on your television via a set-top box, but you can also watch your favorite shows on the go with the Hulu Plus app that is available for most major platforms. The catch with Hulu Plus is that all the movies and series are ad-supported, so be prepared to endure several commercials.

Amazon Prime Instant Video

Current price: $79 per year

While it can be considered a bit of a sleeper among the streaming competition, the Instant Video service for Amazon Prime subscribers is quickly growing in popularity as Amazon adds titles and increases functionality.

Amazon Prime was around for years before the company introduced Amazon Instant Video. The service originally only provided members with access to free two-day shipping from the mega retailer. Amazon has consistently rolled out new features for Prime members over the last few years, however, first coming out with Instant Video and later introducing the Kindle Lending Library, which gives Kindle owners access to free books.

The Amazon Instant Video catalog isn’t as big as either Netflix or Hulu Plus, but it has picked up several exclusive movies and TV shows that set it apart from the other services. It is also cheaper on a yearly basis and offers similar accessibility with apps for Roku players and many phones and tablets. Plus, since Instant Video isn’t the only feature you will get from Amazon Prime, there are other cost-effective benefits as well.

The Bottom Line

In the end, if you need to make a choice which streaming service to go with, you will have to weigh the pros and cons of each company.

When looking for the most comprehensive streaming package, Netflix is still your best bet, especially if you value movies over TV shows. Hulu Plus can be a great addition to a Netflix subscription, especially if you’re thinking of cutting the cord with your current TV provider. Between the two services, you can have access to a good selection of what would be available on cable. While Amazon Prime probably won’t win out as your only streaming provider because their catalog is still in the process of growing, it’s a service you’ll want to keep an eye on.