June 6, 2014

Study: Best Streaming Service - Netflix vs Hulu Plus vs Amazon Prime

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There's a lot of talk about cutting the cable cord but little clarity over what service or services to use. If you want to be able to keep up with the water cooler talk at work, or at least have the option of vegging in front of the tube without having to pay hundreds of dollars a month solely on entertainment, we have a list for you. CreditDonkey has analyzed the pros and cons of the major alternatives to cable and satellite companies by looking at the details behind Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime.

Those who have made the switch, by either dropping their cable or at least lowering their dependence on it (it's still hard to do completely if you love local programming and sports), have found they get more bang for their buck through these nontraditional companies. And besides the cost, they get more control over what they watch, when they want to watch it.

Here is how the major streaming services stack up.

Roundup Methodology

Here are the main factors we considered when comparing the companies:

  1. Cost
  2. Availability of Programming
  3. Accessibility
  4. Customer Support

Best Streaming for TV Series and Movies: Netflix

  • Cost: $7.99 per month ($96 per year) - soon to be $8.99 per month for new subscribers; $12.99 per month ($156 per year) if you subscribe to both Netflix's DVDs and streaming service, 4/5
  • Availability of Programming: 52 exclusive shows, and critically acclaimed Netflix original programming, 4.5/5
  • Accessibility: Must have Internet access; Can view shows on PC and smartphones; App available for Wii, PS4, and Xbox consoles; Streaming available on smart TVs, tablets, and devices like Roku; Limited users per account, 5/5
  • Customer Support: Email, chat, and 1800 number; Takes 24 hours for email reply, 4/5
  • CreditDonkey Score: 4.375/5

With more than 20,000 TV shows and more than 3,000 movies stored on its servers, Netflix allows customers to binge watch an entire series (not just one season) in weeks not years. Recent contracts with Cartoon Network will allow the streaming king to provide Adventure Time, Regular Show, and some classics from Cartoon Network.

Here's a sample of what Netflix has to offer:
Bates Motel, Walking Dead, House of Cards (original programming), Orange to Black (original programming), and Arrested Development (exclusively on Netflix)

Why We Like It
For a decent price, customers are able to binge-watch shows and movies commercial-free. The streaming has had glitches in the past, which appear to have vastly improved, and if there is an issue with the audio or video, Netflix is exceptional with fixing the problem. Russell Holly from Geek.com agrees Netflix provides the best picture quality.

Another reason to go with Netflix: the well-received shows the company produces, like House of Cards and Hemlock Grove, are only available through its service.

Its Downside
While Netflix has an eclectic collection, ranging from anime to B-rated horror movies, those may not fit your taste. You're more likely to find popular current releases on iTunes or through Netflix's DVD mailing service. Except for Netflix's own shows, which the company releases as soon as they're ready, you cannot watch the current season of other shows in its collection.

Without warning, Netflix will discontinue a show or movie. I went to Netflix to watch King of the Hill, and now the show is no longer available. The world's smallest violin plays somewhere in Rome.

Who Netflix Works Best For
Netflix has the best picture quality, great originals, and full seasons of popular shows. If you don't mind being behind an entire season or want the option to binge-watch some of your favorite shows, this is for you.

Best Streaming for Current TV Shows: Hulu

  • Cost: Free with limited viewing options, or $7.99 a month ($96 per year) with unlimited streaming, 5/5
  • Accessibility: Must have Internet access; Can view shows on PC and smartphones; Can view shows through Wii, PS4, and Xbox consoles; Streaming available on smart TVs, iPads, and devices like Roku; There are some restrictions when viewing shows on other devices and for watching certain shows on mobile devices, however, 4/5
  • Availability of Programming: Hulu has more than 25,000 TV shows on regular Hulu and more than 29,000 on Hulu Plus, 4/5
  • Customer support: Email, chat, and 1-800 number; Email takes 24 hours for a reply, 4/5
  • CreditDonkey Score: 4.25/5

Owned by ABC, NBC, and Disney, Hulu allows customers to view a popular series the week after it's broadcast on network television. It also has clips, which means you can post highlights from your favorite shows onto social media. In addition, it allows customers to see sneak peeks of movies, extended trailers, and in some cases, same-day airing of popular shows.

Hulu indicates it looks to provide other services in the future, but no news has come out related to the commercials it forces customers to watch during streaming.

One of the reasons why people love Hulu is the easy-to-use interface. Jillian D'onfro from Business Insider states, "The site also lets you sort by network, which is helpful if you know that you really like Comedy Central or CW shows, for example."

Here's a sample of the popular shows currently available on Hulu:
Once Upon a Time, Grim, Community, SNL, Misfits, The Voice, Supernatural, and Family Guy

What We Like
Hulu has your favorite shows with a week delay and with fewer commercial interruptions than traditional cable. Missed an episode of Once Upon a Time? Missed the entire season of Community? Well, Hulu will allow you to watch all of these in HD.

Plus, the interface is superb and users can search for a particular show with ease.

Its Downsides
Can you say too many commercials for paid service? Even though this service broadcasts some of my favorite shows and shows some of my favorite anime undubbed, the amount of commercials you're forced to watch with a paid subscription can be overbearing. Four commercial breaks during one show isn't my ideal definition of limited commercial breaks.

Even worse, the types of commercials don't vary. Seeing the same GEICO commercial at each break will make you want to push your computer off your lap.

Who Hulu Plus Works Best For
Hulu works best for those looking to catch up on their favorite show currently airing and for late night and prime time talk shows such as The Daily Show and Conan. If you don't mind commercial breaks and being behind one week on some of your favorite shows, this is for you.

Best Streaming for TV Shows: Amazon Prime

  • Cost: Per year $79 (soon to be $99), 4/5
  • Accessibility: Must have Internet access; Can view shows on PC and smartphones, except Windows phones; Can view shows through Wii, PS4, and Xbox consoles; Streaming available on smart TVs, tablets, and devices like Roku, 4/5
  • Availability of Programming: Amazon has more current shows available than Netflix, but most are not free for Prime members, 3/5
  • Customer Support: Email, call back, and chat options; No more than 15-minute wait time to get problem resolved; If streaming through Kindle Fire, a live chat session is possible, 5/5
  • CreditDonkey Score: 4/5

This retail tycoon with exceptional delivery service gives Amazon Prime customers the option to view shows from the History Channel's Vikings to PBS's Downton Abbey. It also has original programming that continues to grow each year, although those shows don't get the same level of critical acclaim or popularity as Netflix's shows. What does set this service apart is its recent contract with HBO.

Here's a sample of the types of shows currently available for Prime customers:
Dr. Who, Downton Abbey, Suits, Under the Dome (simulcast show), Falling Skies, American Horror Stories, Dracula

What We Like
Amazon gives customers the option to watch shows in HD. In some cases, it will stream the show the same day it aired (Under the Dome). Currently, Amazon has contracts with Nickelodeon (Netflix once has one but it was not renewed) and History Channel, and is looking to increase its stockpile of shows for your viewing pleasure. Like all things Amazon, it strives for customer service. With that being said, Amazon offers reduced priced for shows not in the Prime library for Prime customers.

If the $99 a year (less than Hulu and Netflix for one year) is a bit much, Amazon offers mother and student options for those who qualify.

Its Downsides
In some cases, if you want to watch a current show or movie, even if you have a Prime membership, you'll have to buy it. While $1.99 or $2.99 don't seem like a lot to own a show, it can add up. Because if you are like most people, watching a good show is the equivalent of eating wings; you cannot just have one.

Although Amazon is teaming up with HBO, it seems Game of Thrones was not in that deal.

When you choose the Student Prime option ($39 for one year), you must wait six months before you are able to view the Prime shows, but not many people watch those anyway.

Who Amazon Prime Works Best For
If you don't mind paying for current shows, this option is for you. And if you don't mind paying once a year instead of monthly or you are already a frequent Amazon shopper, Amazon may be the better option for you.

Other Options to Consider

While streaming from one provider seems great, having the option to stream from multiple providers is even better. Google TV, Apple TV, Roku, Satellite, Amazon's Fire TV, to name a few, make this possible. If cutting the cable cord is your main objective, then you will probably want more than one service to get your fill of programming.

Write to Natasha P at feedback@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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