Which online streaming service is the best for you?

 

online streamThe days of expensive cable services providing live TV show and movie viewing may be on the wane. Online streaming is experiencing explosive growth as more folks cut the cable cord in favor of targeted and cheaper online streaming services. Theses services make it easy to pick and choose what you want to watch, when you want to watch them..

Online streaming provides a host of media, including live news shows, sports, classic and popular movies and your favorite TV shows. Even with cable’s use of archived programs that can be viewed with video on demand choices, the biggest downside of cable companies is the cost. It’s doggone high, jack, and seems to be going higher.

That being said, not a single online streaming service provides everything you can possibly want. There are major differences in picture and audio quality and menu maneuvering. There’s only one service I consider to be the winner. Mose  on that later.

I currently subscribe to all three of the bigger online streaming services: Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime. Each has it own upsides and downsides.

All services offer mixed selections of movies which they readily advertise and offer a 5-star review guide for. I found that this guide is somewhat broad in its interpretation of what’s good and what is ca-ca

To determine if one of these movies is worth your time investment, you can always search the Internet Movie Data Base for a quick review. Just drop the title of a particular flick into their search box and you’ll get a comprehensive review.

For TV shows that I’d like to see or old ones I would like to see again, I can remember the plot but sometimes forget the title. I just do a quick search on Google for particulars on the show. Or check with IMDB that provides a list of TV shows past and present making searching easy.

All online streaming services offer a 30-day free trial. I initially subscribed to Hulu and Netflix because they suited my needs. I went with Amazon Prime because I buy stuff online and they have a different lineup and a great deal of additional services.

A lot of the media entertainment offered by all three is the same. You can find identical lineups on Netflix and Hulu, with Prime offering some additional stuff that the others don’t have, mainly CBS TV shows, Clint Eastwood movies and music. The 30-day free trial comes in handy for a complete search of what each service offers so you can make a qualified decision.

Each service also offers a the ability to create a personalized list of what you want to watch in the future. On Hulu this is called a Queue, on Netflix it is accessed by a My List button in the drop down cues to a watcher Profile while Prime offers a Watchlist.

Hulu
huluHulu is a service that offers a large selection of “B” and “C” movies mostly in the darkened genres of horror and suspense. Most of these movies I consider pure trash and not worth my viewing time. Once in a while Hulu changes its line up, adding new stuff and trash canning the old. The result is a changing menu of films.

Hulu Menu
Hulu’s menu is OK with drop-down categories of TV, Movies, Kids and Add Ons. The latter provides Showtime access which you have to pay extra for.

The TV category contains Popular, Recently Added, Genres and Staff Picks. A Networks button displays a listing off all broadcast networks Hulu has contracted with in an alphabetical icon list format. Click a network logo and all current shows appear.

Again the selection of TV shows is heavy in the horror and chop-socky martial arts stuff, but occasionally you can find a “Long ago” gem by using the Search box. I found WKRP this way. A funny comedy from the late 70s.

The TV program mix offers dated and modern, with the number of episodes varying from show to show. Sometimes you can only get one season of a favorite, like The Last Ship, and must wait for Hulu to do its voodoo and grab the other season. The usual lag time between broadcast and appearance in Hulu’s selection can vary. Most of the time it’s a couple weeks. Sometimes only one, so it’s worth to keep search for the stuff you like.

Hulu Movies
In movies, things are a little different. You have Trailers, Documentaries, Hulu Movie Night, Staff Picks and Criterion, which is a selection of “classic” movies where “classic” is a very loose modifier. There’s a good selection of genres. The best way to choose a flick is to search for it by name in a search box. If something you like isn’t there, keep trying. The movie selection rotates every month.

Hulu boo-boos
To me Hulu comes in third place, far behind Netflix and Prime. I’ve had some issues with Hulu’s audio and video qualitymis which seems to be lacking at times. Once I began watching a John Wayne western that was out of focus! What’s up with that anyway? If you offer a paid service claiming professional quality, back up your claim. This boo-boo didn’t endure this John Wayne fan’s heart to any degree.

Also in the downside area, Hulu films appear a little darker, almost as if there’s a curtain between you and the screen. It doesn’t seem to occur when watching TV shows, though. And charging $4 extra for commercial-free TV is kinda dumb, considering that Hulu’s direct competition offer the commercial-free option built in. Hulu, might be a good idea to rethink that option.

To be fair, Hulu is punching up their tech in other areas. I’ve noticed that the TV selections are growing and seem to be changing for the better. For some of these shows, it’s no mystery why they were cancelled. And because they are in a competitive niche, I expect that things will continue to improve.

Conclusion: Hulu is not my first choice
The selections are somewhat limited, the tech a little clunky, but Hulu is still hanging in there. Time till tell.

flix 2

I subscribe to Netflix and really like the service they provide.

You can create profiles that allow a specific viewer’s choices to be saved and other programs or movies presented based on what already been watched. This is both good and bad.

Once enabled, Netflix seems to overpopulate your viewer category with stuff you may have never heard of, or wished you hadn’t. And these items appear in your Home  section, so it requires a little wading thru to get to the stuff you want. But this is a minor clunk.

Netflix offers superior menu navigation
Like Hulu, Netflix offers an assortment of menus, but Netflix’s menus are much more complete and easy to use. They’re easy to navigate by clicking on a Browse button which opens up to an organized drop-down lists of categories of TV and movies stuff to watch.  These categories include My List, Home, New Arrivals Subtitles and captions.

Once you select a category a subgenre button appears which opens up your options even more. Be it known that these menus are easy to use and the overall site layout is clean

The TV shows menu contains a sub category of 20 items of different genres. There is a My List function allowing you to save movies you cruise by and would like to watch later with options for removal after you watch. And to keep your My List current, once you watch a movie you can remove it from your list making the process nicely streamlined.

There’s a search box offered but if a movie or TV show is not available, Netflix will tell you. It usually also tells you that you can obtain the flick by subscribing to an additional DVD by mail deal for an additional fee. This deal offers a three-tired plan of the number of DVDs you can get with each and costs.

An easy access drop down on the right top of your screen allows quick access to other individual viewer profiles. You can can have a total of five profiles in all

Media additions
One other thing I like is that on displayed TV show icons, when Netflix obtains new shows a message will appear on the icon announcing it. This is cool because you don’t have to go back searching the show title, wondering if new stuff has arrived. I also like the automatic aspect of viewing TV series. As one  episode is viewed, Netflix automatically plays the next show unless you stop it.  This way you’ll never lose your “place.” In case you have a question, there also a fairly good Help section right under the Profiles button. Hulu hides theirs on the bottom of each page.

Netflix Audio & Video Quality
Netflix clearly has superior audio and video quality with all it’s streamed programs. I use it on my computer exclusively and like the quality. The only downside I can see is that sidewise motion is a little jittery, but I think that’s due more to my PC tech than any Netflix technical challenges.

Netflix viewing options
You can select the device you can use Netflix for watching by clicking the Ways to Watch button in the drop down Browse button.

Conclusion: Netflix is a winner


Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime is a great deal for anyone who buys online. They offer unlimited free 2-day shipping that can’t be beat. This is one of the biggest incentives for choosing Prime. On top of this they offer streaming movies, TV and a bunch of other stuff.

A Prime membership is kinda like investing in a Costco card. You have to buy a certain amount of goods before that membership fee investment is returned. Like Costco, Prime requires that you continue buying until you match the cost of your investment, then you can start cashing in on even more. How long it takes for your ROI depends upon your budget. But with free 2-day shipping that regularly costs $14.95 a pop , if you buy 6 purchases, you’re there.
Here’s what Amazon Prime currently offers

Prime Video
Selecting Prime’s videos through its menu is easy to use. I do like that everything is listed on the left hand side of the page, with the distinctions between free online video and videos you must buy or rent are easy to see. A quick look at any video film page resolves any difficulty. Prime and Amazon Instant video selections are clearly defined, with listing for rentals or purchases right below these. and nope! not all of Prime videos are free.

Prime’s advantage
The biggest advantage Prime offers is that it may not have everything, but comes closest, because with it you can tap into other movies Amazon offers for a small additional rental fee which you can then stream. Saves a lot of runs to the local video store

Video and audio playback
Video and audio playback are par with Netflix. Prime has some network TV shows the other services don’t offer archived and ready to go, shows like CBS’s Under the Dome and USA’s Suits. A show’s season can be viewed in succession with the flick of a bottom screen button which advances the selection forward to the next episode. If you grow tired of intro music, just simply move the progress selector bar forward a bit to skip it. Can’t be much easier than that.

Prime Music
Prime Music offers playlists or song collections from Amazon’s Prime Music catalog. You can mix your music choices with Prime’s to create personal playlists. You get unlimited access to over a million songs, curated playlists, and ad-free music stations. Playlist are presented with a thumbs up or down icon.  You can fine tune your choices just like Pandora. That’s pretty impressive.

Prime Music plays on compatible devices that support Amazon Music, including Fire phone, Fire Tablets, Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick, Amazon Echo, IOS devices, Android smartphones and tablets (v.4.0 and above), PC, Mac, and the Amazon.com website.

With phones and tablets the Amazon Music app must be installed.  You can listen to downloads with offline playback but downloads can’t be exported.

Prime Photo
This deal offers unlimited Amazon Cloud Drive photo storage with an additional 5GB of free storage space for U.S. members.

Kindle Owners’ Lending Library
A Prime membership allows you to borrow one book from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library each month.

Student deals and discounts
Instead of the usual 30-day trial, Prime offers students a six month deal. And when you students choose to buy in, the cost is reduced to just $49 a year instead of the usual $99.

One Downside…Maybe
The only downside Prime has is they don’t offer subscriptions. The $99 membership fee that must be paid upfront. This breaks down to just $8.25 a month which is still a bargain when you add all the services they offer.. Netflix’s rate is just $7.99 a month per subscription with Hulu’s rate also $7.99 a month, but you need an additional $4 monthly to go commercial free

netConclusion: For the Best in Online Streaming Go Netflix…For now
Netflix continues to be on the cutting edge when it comes to online streaming, That doesn’t mean that other services are sitting on their butts. They’re constantly pumping in the R&D bucks to improve quality and experience which guarantees we’ll see changes on the horizon. For me commercial-free is the only option and is the one barrier that prevents me from digging into Hulu more than I have. What I do know is that these these services will be constantly upgrading and expanding what they have. So stay tuned, the best is yet to come

But while Hulu is trying to pay technical catch up, Netflix continues to move forward with innovations. They seem to have the pulse of what consumers want. But they may have missed the mark on downloads. Currently they don’t offer this option.

Amazon Prime continues to be a bonus for folks who buy stuff online. It’s $99 price tag seems like a small fee when compared to the large amount of benefits a membership offers.

Still, knowing Amazon as I do, I know that the folks there will continue to strive to perfect what they have. As they pump more R&D bucks into the system, I imagine that their selections and offerings will continue to expand and improve quickly. For now Prime continues to be the best benefit for online shoppers with a heck of a lot of other stuff thrown in.

cutIf You Plan To Cut The Cord…
So if you’ve cut the cable TV cord or plan to, these services can easily replace what your more expensive cable company offers. Just keep one thing in mind. As with any good media provider, it’s really easy to get lost in the mix. I prefer to watch missed parts of TV series in chronological sequence, not all at once. Of course, with Blacklist this just wasn’t possible. Same thing with Longmire. But at least I have an option.

Generally online streaming services are far cheaper than anything cable offers. But selections can be limited. For instance, there’s no access to Food Network which my wife pines for. Nor can I get any basketball games which is a bummer.

So while online streaming is a good deal, I also think that cable’s offering are more convenient. That may be because I liked playing with the TV box controller and watching the Thunder play basketball. But still, even with three services I subscribe to, the total cost for these subscriptions is about twice what I used to be charged for on my cable TV provider …every month.

So I’ll stick with online streaming and will do so even when we upgrade to a new TV. Because of the huge assortment of viewing options, there always will be more than enough to be entertained with. And as these services rotate their stock, new options will always appear.