We announced a couple of days ago the big news – the Amazon launch of their new streaming service at no cost for their Amazon Prime customers. For those already familiar with Amazon on Demand premium streaming service, the fact that Amazon is serious about the movie streaming business comes as no surprise.
The big surprise however is that Amazon will basically give the service for free to the Amazon Prime subscribers. Why are they doing it? Is it worth subscribing to Amazon Prime just to get the free streaming service? How well it works as both web browser experience and using a dedicated media streamer box? How is the image quality? This review will try to answer to all these questions.
For those of you that don’t know, Amazon Prime is a subscription costing $79 / year that brings a big advantage: Free two days shipping for any items shipped from Amazon warehouses. Better yet, there is no limit of what you order, so you can just get a pack of chewing gum and enjoy free two days shipping. This opens a lot of possibilities in ordering groceries, books, online, having them shipped fast and convenient, tax free. It beats buying local in many cases. As a premium subscription it resembles the Costco membership although the two are quite different in scope.
That being said, it is obvious that Amazon wants to build around premium services that are highly profitable. To entice many Amazon prime subscriptions, they offered a free one year Amazon prime membership for students. Now, they are adding an instant streaming plan. Let’s dig a little bit to see what is all about and how it compares with th two already established instant streaming players: Netflix and Hulu Plus.
Note: Amazon Prime video streaming is only available with a PAID Prime subscription. The free student Prime subscriptions do not qualify. Also, the guest accounts don’t qualify either, only the primary account can stream for free.
2. Browser experience / Functionality
The easiest and fastest way to start experiencing instant video streaming with Amazon Prime is right from the PC. Fortunately, Amazon allows you to filter the titles that are available with for free with a Prime subscription and you will immediately see Prime members: $0.00 cost.
Starting a movie is as easy as pressing the Play button and a couple of seconds later you are in business. The experience is identical on any browser that runs Adobe Flash 10 including newer Android devices and interestingly enough Google TV (not via a dedicated application but via its quite capable browser). On Boxee Box is a hit and miss experience, sometime the movie loads and plays, sometime you get a blank screen so it is safe to say it actually doesn’t work. Of course, we hope native applications to arrive as soon as possible on many platforms.
Apple iOS devices are also out of luck at this point not supporting Flash and with no native application available at this point.
One of the current issues I found with Amazon prime streaming is that, since it is built on a platform destined to rent / purchase content, it doesn’t offer a good search capability and also no queue functionality. Actually, I found that I miss the Netflix queue functionality the most when I am using the service.
For those that expect to have access to high definition content, a bit of bad news. There are probably less than 50 HD movies available right now (720p, 2.5Mbs – NOVA episodes making the most of them), most of the content being broadcast in 480p.
In terms of title selections, I would say Amazon Prime selection is very poor, at least compared with Netflix. Amazon streams toward 5,000 pieces of content (if you count every episode from very season) while Netflix has around 20,000. I know many criticize Netflix available selection but trust me, I am using all three services and Amazon is far, far away from Netflix in terms of available movies and also far, far away from Hulu Plus in terms of available TV Shows. Most of current Amazon Prime selection consists of foreign movies and older shows. Talking about foreign movies, there is one aspect where Amazon beats Netflix: It can offer some content in both dubbed / subtitle versions.
4. Video quality
As I mentioned, very little content is available in HD, the vast majority being streamed in 480p. As a result, it looks like crap on my 60″ 1080p plasma TV but acceptable on an Android tablet or on the PC. The streaming starts in a coupe of seconds and it is easy to pause / stop / navigate anywhere on the stream.
If you do not need HD streaming, Amazon’s service offers a decent SD streaming experience though, including 16:9 format.
5. Hardware clients
Amazon Prime instant streaming is available on the same hardware clients Amazon on Demand is supported including Roku, TiVo Premiere and almost 200 others. Logitech Revue Google TV is also listed among compatible devices as is the new Sony DMXNV1 Bravia Internet Video Link. The best implementation is currently as a Roku channel (see the gallery for more screenshots) which was just updated to support the new Amazon prime instant streaming content. To see the full list of compatible hardware, check Amazon’s official list.
If you are already an Amazon Prime subscriber, the decision to use Amazon Prime Instant Streaming is a no brainer, especially considering the cost. However, if you consider signing for it specifically to get movie streaming functionality, you are much better served by Netflix (movies) or Hulu Plus (TV Shows). I can’t recommend Amazon Prime Instant Streaming as a standalone service to serve your media needs because a lack of content, hardware devices supported and HD content. The only good thing is price and the fact that is streams without commercials. However, with the current price increase for Netflix and if you already plan to get Prime for its free two day shipping service, subscribing to Amazon Prime is a good way to save money. if you need to choose a compatible Blu-ray, Set top box, TV, etc, check Amazon’s official hardware support list.
- Free for current Amazon Prime subscribers
- Advertisement free streaming
- Poor content selection
- Limited Hardware support
- VERY limited HD content