A Little Help from a Friend: Choosing a Streaming Service

People ask me for movie recommendations all the time. Some people have called me “The Walking IMDB”. Those people are me. One of the reasons I started this blog is so when people ask me what they should watch, I can say in my best robot voice, “For a daily review of the best and worst in the world of streaming video, visit aconstantstream.wordpress.com“.

Because I’m always talking about streaming movies, people also ask me which service they should subscribe to. My advice: all of ’em. If you’re a film buff (or just a couch potato) the only way to get the most complete coverage is with all the services. For those who are recreational movie watchers,  it’s probably best to go with just one or two. So how to choose? I’ve seen comparisons online before, and too often they’re incomplete because they look only at statistics and not the actual experience of the viewer. But I stream A LOT. Sometimes it’s a wonderful experience. Other times, I want to rip my beard out, and I can tell you from a more personal standpoint what these services are like. So here’s a little help from a friend:

Netflix

Cost: $7.99/month (full plan here)

Titles: Approx. 25,000

The good news:

  • Netflix has been in the game longer than any of the other services, and in that time they’ve learned a lot about pleasing their customers. Netflix is very user friendly for browsing and searching streaming titles. The website is easy to navigate as is the mobile app.
  • Users can rate the videos they watch, and because of this the recommendations are spot-on. I love that Netflix is so personal with their recommendation service, and it often leads me to movies or shows I never would have found otherwise.
  • One recent thing that has boosted the quality of their service is the production of original content. In fact, Netflix Original shows received a combined total of 14 Emmy nominations this year. Of the nominations nine went to House of Cards, 3 to the new season of Arrested Development, and two to Hemlock Grove. The company has made it clear that they intend to expand on their original content. Their goal is to revolutionize TV and eventually make ratings obsolete. So far, it looks like they’re headed in the right direction

The bad news:

  • Of all the streaming services, Netflix has the most titles available! Wait…shouldn’t that be a good thing? You would think so. The problem is, while Netflix has a great selection of titles, ranging from foreign classics to brand new comedy television, they also have a lot of junk. And sometimes, you have to sift through that junk to get to the treasures. This isn’t always the case, but sometimes my home page is flooded with things that I just don’t care about. Sometimes, quality is more important than quantity, and it seems for every Pulp Fiction and Apocalypse Now, there is a White Chicks  and a Starship Troopers 2. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

HuluPlus

Cost: $7.99/month

Titles: Approx. 10,000

The good news:

  • Hulu’s strongest points are often overlooked, but I’ve noticed a lot of things that make this service stand out. One of my favorite things about HuluPlus is that it pays plenty of attention to foreign titles, in addition to popular US content. At the top of their home page is a slideshow with featured titles and descriptions of the program. This might include blockbuster movies and primetime TV, but will usually highlight lesser known programs as well, like the quirky TV comedy Spy from the UK or Roman Polanski’s debut Knife in the Water (I highly recommend both).
  • HuluPlus also has a wealth of quality exclusive series. They may not be garnering Emmy noms like Netflix programs, but there are some great series that you won’t find anywhere else. Some examples are Rev, Braquo, and The Yard. 
  • Also, for those with short attention spans, Hulu has the answer. In addition to watching full shows, viewers can watch clips from recent airings or top ten lists from classics like SNL. Hulu also offers special content from DVDs, like director commentary, interviews, and deleted scenes. This is something that you can’t find on other services.
  • Hulu, like Netflix, also has recommendations but they are not personalized. Rather, the staff compiles lists of movies they think their subscribers will like. While this may not be as complete as Netflix’s recommendation service, it is far more interesting, offering lists like “Don’t Mess with Mother Nature” and “Uniquely British”.
  • There is one final note on Hulu. Oh and this is the big one…CRITERION COLLECTION!!!!! If you don’t know what that is then shame on you, you cretin. No but honestly the Criterion Collection is this exclusive list of titles that are deemed to be of the highest quality. There are some duds on the list, to be sure. But for the most part you can’t go wrong. It’s such a big deal, that if Hulu didn’t have it I would unsubscribe their asses in a heartbeat.

The bad news:

  • Compared to Netflix and Amazon, browsing titles on Hulu is a lot more tedious and not as user friendly. There is a lot of horizontal scrolling to look through your options, and you can never see more than about 5 movies at a time.
  • Ads 😦 Yeah you might be able to watch all those new shows but dammit, those pesky commercials ares still there. Sure, they may be shorter than cable ads, but it ads up if you’re in marathon mode. For me this means one less episode of 30 Rock before bed.

Amazon Instant Video

Cost: $6.67/month

Titles: Approx. 12,000

The good news:

  • I’ll be honest–as a streaming service, Amazon is not the best. But it’s cheaper than all the others AND you’re also paying for an Amazon Prime membership. To me, that’s really cool and totally worth the cost.
  • If you’re looking for classics, you’re gonna find a lot here. Amazon has some big names from the past, the most notable being Citizen Kane and Casablanca. I’ll admit I’ve spent a few afternoons basking in the glory that is Cary Grant. Old ladies, here’s your chance to relive the good old days.
  • Star Trek. Alright, so the other services have the Star Trek TV Series too, but wait! Amazon has the whole package. Not only are they streaming The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise; they’ve also got movies 1-10. Hallelujah, Trekkie heaven!! (Note: I am not a Trekkie and never will be, but Star Wars isn’t streaming on any service so Spock will have to do).
  • Amazon also has the best programming for kids, hands down. Their new deal with PBS added to a huge list of shows aimed at slobbering little brats precious, sweet, little angels.

The bad news:

  • Searching videos and narrowing down those searches is much harder on Amazon Instant Video. The organization of titles gives me a headache sometimes. The “Recently Added” section is particularly strange, as it seems to always be shifting, and showing me titles that were available months ago.
  • Amazon has no personal recommendation system. Basically, you have to know what you want and just search for it.
  • I use a lot of Apple products. It makes it very easy for me to connect all my devices and keep them synched. Unfortunately Amazon Instant Video is not supported on Apple TV, and it looks as if it never will be.

My Final Say

Each service has it’s pros and cons. I couldn’t ever give a blanket statement that one is better than another, but for certain types of people there are clear winners.

  • Netflix: College students, zombie fanatics, the unemployed, teenagers.
  • HuluPlus: Hippies, art students, nerdy white guys that are obsessed with japanese culture, people that smoke a pipe.
  • Amazon Instant Video: Old ladies, young parents, shopaholics, dirty Trekkies.
  • All three: People that are awesome.
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