Sony dropped a pleasant bombshell on the PlayStation community by releasing an app for playing Amazon Instant Video on PS3 yesterday. There’s no shortage of video apps available for Sony’s console, so some may be confused by another option. Let’s clear that up.
Amazon Instant Video works like a mix of Vudu, Hulu Plus, and Netflix Instant, three other video apps available for the PlayStation 3. Like Vudu, there’s a wide variety of movies and TV shows available to buy or rent as you choose without requiring any sort of subscription. The selection is robust, offering movies the same day as DVD and TV episodes the day after they air. Except for HBO, that is — you won’t get those shows until after the season has run its course. There’s also a wide variety of older movies and shows, and there’s very little that you won’t find in a search.
The similarity to Netflix and Hulu Plus comes from the ability to purchase an Amazon Prime subscription. While new releases will still have to be purchased piecemeal, Prime offers a large chunk of the library for free to subscribers, and this selection is remarkably similar to what’s available on Netflix Instant. Prime content isn’t exclusive to subscribers — it’s more of a “thank you” to those that shell out the $79 for an annual sub, and those without can still purchase the content. A Prime subscription is cheaper in the long run than the $7.99 that you have to shell out for Netflix Instant or Hulu Plus every month, while also offering benefits on Amazon that are separate from the video service.
As for Hulu Plus, the $7.99 per month that you spend there is typically for new TV, something that you won’t get with a Prime subscription. Amazon Prime offers early seasons of a few ongoing shows (such as Glee), but if you want to watch new episodes the day after they air then you’ll have to pay for them separately. However, Hulu doesn’t offer programming from HBO or Showtime the way that Amazon or even Vudu does — you won’t find Game of Thrones or Dexter there. There are some Criterion Collections films that are exclusive to Hulu Plus, but that’s about as far as the service gets you on the movie front.
The Amazon Instant Video app itself offers a sleek presentation and a mostly navigable interface. A slideshow of new content is put front-and-center on the home page, with thumbnails for popular shows, movies, and your video library right next to it; links to the Prime library, movies, and TV shows run along the top of the screen. The built-in search suggests content as you type, and you probably won’t have to type more than a whole word to find what you’re looking for. However, it would be helpful if shows were listed as entire series. As it stands, individual seasons are listed by popularity, and finding exactly what you’re looking for could be tricky in a mix of different shows.
There are still a couple more issues with the app, and service as a whole. Fast forwarding or rewinding is a bit hit or miss, as the video pauses while you scrub down the timeline. While the 720p video and 5.1 audio works well and plays without issue, it’s currently below both Vudu and Netflix, which allow you to view video at up to 1080p; Vudu even offers 7.1 audio on some movies. Amazon Instant Video also lacks the convenience of Netflix’s Instant Queue — Prime members will have to find their free content individually, as only purchased TV shows and movies show up in your library. There’s also a weird mix of movies that are either rent-only or buy-only, which can be inconvenient depending on what your plans are.
If you already subscribe to or use any combination of other video apps, it’s fair to wonder why you would use Amazon Instant Video. The most apparent reason is that it’s cheaper than any other service. In the long run, $79 per year is cheaper than $7.99 per month for either Netflix or Hulu Plus while offering an equal or better library, while buying and renting piecemeal is typically a buck cheaper here than on Vudu.
If don’t plan on spending money beyond an Amazon Prime subscription, you’ll still have plenty to watch with a library spanning 17,000 movies and TV episodes, which currently outnumbers what’s available on Hulu Plus. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a number for how many videos are available for Netflix streaming, but I found plenty of overlap between what was in my Instant Queue and what Amazon has to offer.
New release content is where finding a “winner” gets a bit trickier. Amazon Instant Video has a clear advantage over Netflix Instant, where it can take far too long for a new movie to show up. Hulu offers up pretty much the same new TV content, and may actually be the better value if that’s all you’re looking to watch — buying just a few episodes on Amazon is easily beat by the countless hours available with eight bucks a month. Vudu is pretty much on equal ground in terms of selection, but the option for a full 1080p, 7.1 surround experience doesn’t exist on AIV just yet.
Choosing really, truly depends on what you’re looking to get out of a video service. If you’re someone like me who already had a Prime subscription before Amazon’s video service even existed, then it might be worth ditching Netflix. It’s a harder sell to someone that doesn’t currently have Amazon Prime, where you have to pay $79 up front rather than $7.99 a month to get that same content. New release movies and TV make it even trickier to figure out. Personally, I’ll be taking the $7.99 I pay for Netflix and using it for Hulu Plus to supplement Prime-enabled Amazon Instant Video.