As Netflix begins the process of spinning out its streaming business from its traditional DVD rentals, I wanted to examine the alternative streaming services that are currently available. I looked at Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, Vudu.com and Justin.tv. Added to this mix is what is available on Comcast's Xfinity service to just show what can be found from a typical cable TV company. (Of course, if you don't live in a Comcast service area, you can't subscribe to their streaming service online.) I choose five random movies and five TV series to see what was available on each service.
|Netflix||Amazon Video||Hulu Plus||Vudu||Justin.tv||Comcast Xfinity|
|Streaming Subscription||$7.99/month||$79/year (Prime)||$7.99/month||None||None - $9.99/month (Pro)||Need cable subscription|
|Per Video Rental||none||$2.99+ - Movies
$1-$3 - Episodes
|Mobile clients||iOS, Android, Windows Phone||None||iOS, Android||iOS||iOS||iOS, Android|
|Gaming Clients||PS3, Xbox, Wii||None||PS3, Xbox||PS3||None||None|
|Other Clients||Roku, Boxee, Apple TV, Tivo||Kindle, Roku, Google TV, Logitech Revu, TiVo||Tivo, Roku||Boxee||None||Comcast DVR|
|Movie selection||1/5 Streaming, 4/5 DVD||2/5||0/5||3/5||Unknown||1/5|
|HD Quality?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Varies||Yes (Fullscreen Only)|
Granted, your results might differ based on your own personal content selection, but the general trend is that Netflix is still the champ, but only if you count both its the streaming and DVD mailing services. All ten of our selections were available, but only four of them via streaming. Amazon and Comcast had five streaming videos out of the ten available for instant watching, and Vudu and Hulu each had four.
Hulu Plus and Comcast Xfinity both have a better selection for TV series than movies, whereas Vudu is better in finding more movies. Amazon has decent coverage in both media.
If you are searching for something on Justin.tv, you will quickly find out that you can't easily find anything. If you hunt around, you might come up with a movie or TV show that someone has uploaded, but chances are this upload won't be around for very long if it violates the show's copyrights. Still, if you know your way around, you might be able to find popular shows that have been posted.
Netflix has made a name for itself supporting a wide variety of clients and browsers, on everything from Blu-ray TVs to iOS phones and tablets. Of the services examined, Amazon was the only one missing an iOS client.
What does it all cost?
The fees for each service are also hard to compare with Netflix. Vudu charges per show, and there are different prices depending on the popularity and vintage of the movie. Amazon wants you to sign up for its Prime service at $79 per year, but once you do you have unlimited streaming access for the next 12 months. If you don't want Prime, you can pay from $1 to $4 to rent the movie for up to two days, or purchase it for download. There are a host of restrictions on how long you can actually have possession for the movie too, based on our wonderful studios legal departments. Justin.tv offers both free and paid accounts that remove inline ads. And Hulu also has two pricing levels: Plus for $8 a month (the same for Netflix' streaming component) and free. Plus adds full episodes of the TV shows that it offers along with HD quality streaming.
Overall, once you leave Netflix you will find fewer choices and searching won't be as easy to find something to watch. Netflix has a great search engine that won't just look for movie titles but also check for actors and other principals involved in the movie itself, something the other services don't do as well at.
Plus, your collection of recommendations and previously watched content on Netflix can't easily be exported to any other service. Finally, while all of the services provide for streaming to your Windows or Mac Web browser, not all movies are available to stream to your iPad or Tivo box.
So while you might be upset about paying for two bills for your video rentals from Netflix, unless you are willing to spend more time searching for content, you are probably better off sticking with the service for the time being, at least until the others catch up with their content licenses. Or if you already have a cable TV subscription, investigate whether it offers something similar to Comcast's Xfinity and see what their coverage is there. Ironically, that might be your best alternative to Netflix after all.
NB: Thanks to Maia Rowland who provided the research for this article.