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Amazon Prime Video review: A great streaming service, especially when you’re already paying for it

Amazon Prime Video tends to come in third in discussions about streaming, behind Netflix and Hulu. But the tech and retail giant’s streaming arm is muscular in its own right with lots of high-quality original shows and movies, an impressive back catalog of older favorites (and B-movies you haven’t heard of) and NFL on Thursday nights. If you already subscribe to Amazon Prime for the free shipping, the Video offering is a really great included perk. And if you don’t, it may still be worth paying $9 a month for, especially if you’re interested in any of its Amazon Original shows or its large movie selection. 

LikeIncluded with Amazon Prime subscriptionWide variety of movies and shows, including many critically acclaimed originalsLarge collection of 4K UHD shows and moviesOffline downloadsAd-free content

Don’t LikeCan’t watch shows as they air on other networksNo user profiles yetMenus can be confusing

On the other hand, Prime Video is more of a companion service to Netflix and Hulu, and weaker overall than both. It can’t replace Netflix’s massive catalog of originals and hit shows, and can’t compete with Hulu’s vast collection of TV both old and newly aired. If you don’t already have a Prime subscription we’d definitely recommend choosing one of those two first — but chances are you already get the video part for free.

Select streaming services compared

Amazon Prime Video

Netflix

Hulu

Disney Plus

Monthly price

$9 (or included with $120/year Prime membership)

Starts at $9

Basic $7 with ads, Ad-free for $12, Live TV for $55

$7

Ads

No

No

Yes

No

Availability

Now

Now

Now

Now

Top titles

Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Hunters, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, The Big Sick

Stranger Things, The Office, Breaking Bad, 13 Reasons Why

Handmaid’s Tale, Catch-22, Lost, Bob’s Burgers

The Mandalorian, Avengers Endgame, Toy Story, The Simpsons

Mobile downloads

Yes

Yes

Yes (on Ad-free plan only)

Yes

4K available

Yes

Yes (on Premium plan)

Yes

Yes

HDR available

Yes

Yes (on Premium plan)

No

Yes

Number of streams:

2

1 (2 for Standard, 4 on Premium)

2 (Unlimited with Live TV + $10 add-on)

4

Prime 101

Amazon Prime Video — sometimes just called Prime Video — is Amazon’s TV and movie streaming service. Before the Prime Video we know today, Amazon launched Amazon Unbox, an online movie rental and download service, back in 2006 — just before Netflix introduced online streaming. 

In 2011, as a way to boost the Prime subscription service, Amazon created Amazon Instant Video, with access to 5,000 streamed movies and TV shows for Prime subscribers. Unbox officially shuttered in 2015, and Amazon began marketing its streaming service as Amazon Prime Video. It became available as a standalone service outside of Amazon Prime in 2016. 

If you are one of the 150 million-plus people worldwide who subscribes to Amazon Prime for the free two-day shipping ($13 per month or $119 per year), Prime Video is included with the service. If you don’t have an Amazon Prime account, you can still subscribe to Prime Video for $9 a month, the same price as Netflix’s Basic Plan, and a few bucks more than the Hulu Plus Ads plan. Prime Video subscribers can add on subscriptions to HBO, Showtime, Starz, CBS All Access and several other channels for an extra monthly cost as well.

Sarah Tew/CNET
Critically acclaimed TV, and loads of movies that are… less so

Prime Video lists 194 Amazon Original Series on the site — larger than Hulu’s 100 or so originals, and smaller than Netflix’s collection of several hundred. Amazon’s Original series stand out for the amount of critical acclaim they’ve received: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Fleabag, A Very English Scandal, Good Omens, The Man In The High Castle, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle all were nominated for or won Emmy awards in the past few years. These shows are typically made available on the platform a full season at a time. 

And next year, Lord of the Rings fans will find an Amazon Original prequel series streaming on Prime Video as well. Amazon reportedly paid nearly $250 million for the rights, which would make it the most expensive TV series ever. 

Original movies include The Big Sick, Manchester By the Sea, Late Night and The Report. You’ll also find exclusive original comedy specials, kids’ shows, documentaries and reality shows.

Another area where Prime Video stands out is its selection of kids’ shows. You’ll find favorites like Sesame Street, Spongebob Squarepants, Shaun the Sheep, Thomas and Friends and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, along with originals like Clifford the Big Red Dog and Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny. 

Prime Video also includes an extensive catalog of B-movies that are pretty terrible and super fun to watch — just not necessarily with the kids. Some older HBO shows are included in their entirety on Prime, including The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Entourage, True Blood and The Wire.

While Prime Video is great for binge-watching original shows and older favorites, one downside is that there’s no option to keep up with current shows like you can on Hulu, unless you subscribe to one of the channels for an extra cost. 

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Not everything in Prime is Prime

Unlike Hulu and Netflix, Amazon sells TV shows and movies separately from its Prime subscription content, for rental and/or purchase, including new releases like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and 1917. With the spread of the coronavirus pandemic forcing movie theaters to shut down, in March, Amazon even launched Prime Video Cinema — a hub full of movies that would have otherwise been shown in theaters, like Trolls World Tour.

These pay-to-rent (or buy) titles can show up on some Prime menus too, mixed in with stuff you can stream “free” as part of your subscription. The mingling of content is confusing and can even seem like another incentive to buy something. Every title that you can watch free with your account has a small white Prime tag at the top left corner, which is easy to miss if you’re not familiar with the service.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Otherwise Prime Video’s interface is pretty similar to those of Netflix and other streaming services. At the top, you’ll see tabs for Search, Home, Originals, Movies, TV, Kids, Purchases & Rentals, Watchlist and Settings. As you scroll, you’ll see personalized categories like Movies based on your viewing, Popular movies and TV shows we think you’ll like, followed by more typical ones like Trending TV and Top-rated movies. 

Prime Video’s nested menus operate similarly to those on Netflix. Click a title and you’ll see a description, an IMDb score and the ability to Watch Now if it’s included with Prime, as well as check out other rental or purchase options. If the title you choose is not included with Prime, this page will show you how much it would cost to rent or buy on the platform. 

You can watch Amazon Prime Video on your Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick, or Fire Tablet, as well as on Apple TV ($179 at Apple), Roku, Xfinity X1, smart TVs, Blu-ray players, game consoles, iOS devices, or Google Chromecast ($53 at eBay). 

Prime Video’s best features

One cool feature that differentiates Prime Video from other streaming services is called X-Ray. Thanks to Amazon’s ownership of IMDb, you can scroll up while playing a given show or movie and see information on cast members, the music playing and trivia — helping you avoid the “wait, don’t I know that guy from somewhere?” syndrome. 

Another perk: Prime Video is generally ad-free. You may see a short promos for an Amazon Original before a show. But Prime Video doesn’t run regular advertising, so you won’t see ads for things like soda or trucks during any commercial breaks in your programming. The exception is the IMDb TV category, where you’ll find some popular network shows like Lost and Friday Night Lights free with ads. 

To aid your binge sessions, Prime Video does tell you what new shows are coming up for the month, which Hulu does as well but Netflix does not. 

Most Amazon Original movies and shows along with several others are available to stream in 4K Ultra High Definition. This is great news, since in our experience, HDR actually delivers a more noticeable picture quality improvement, especially on a good TV, than 4K resolution. You’ll need a 4K UHD display and a streaming device that supports the format, including 4K compatible smart TVs and streaming players like the Amazon Fire TV or Fire TV Stick, the Apple TV 4K and the Roku Streaming Stick Plus, among others.

Up until recently, Prime hasn’t allowed you to create separate user profiles, like Netflix, Hulu and Disney Plus do. But that feature is now rolling out in certain countries, with users being able to add up to six different profiles on one account. 

You can download Prime Video titles to watch offline if you have a Fire tablet, or the Prime Video app for iOS or Android. 

Sarah Tew/CNET
Is paying for Prime Video worth it if you don’t have Amazon Prime? 

Depends on what you’re looking for in a streaming service. If you’re a big fan of movies (good, bad and everything in between), a Prime Video subscription might be worth it for the extensive film catalog — especially if you can use it to replace pricey digital rentals. The growing collection of quality Amazon Originals is also a big draw — especially since there are no ads in any shows. And the large number of 4K HDR offerings is a plus for those with 4K TVs. 

But if you’re more of a TV show binge watcher and the Amazon Originals don’t spark your interest, you may be just fine with your Netflix and/or Hulu subscription. Either way, you can try out Prime Video free for 30 days — just make sure you cancel before it auto-renews.

About the author: SubSellKaro

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