Even if you ditch your cable company, you can still keep current with the latest series and movies by subscribing to one or more video streaming services. Amazon Prime Video offers a growing library of quality original content and a large collection of movies and TV shows to stream. Subscribers also have the option to download content and even watch 4K titles. On top of that, Amazon hosts an impressive catalog of TV shows and movies available for rent or purchase. However, it doesn’t have as many high-quality shows as the top services and continues to lose third-party content to others.
Although Amazon Video started out as a place to purchase and watch TV shows and movies, the industry has changed and Amazon has embraced the world of unlimited, buffet-style streaming for a single monthly fee. Take, for example, Amazon’s growing library of excellent original content such as Bosch, Catastrophe, Electric Dreams, Fleabag, Good Omens, Homecoming, Hunters, Jack Ryan, Tales From The Loop, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Patriot, The Boys, The Grand Tour, Undone, and Upload. Amazon even saved The Expanse from cancellation. Amazon is also producing a series based on the Fallout franchise. The list of originals continues to grow, and while it’s not nearly as large as Netflix’s or HBO Max’s collection, many of the shows are on par, quality-wise. Prime Video’s original shows also outclass Hulu’s.
You get much more than just Amazon’s originals with Amazon Prime Video, including shows such as Chuck, Burn Notice, Hannibal, Mr. Robot, Parks and Recreation, and The Americans at no additional cost. Note that Prime Video has already lost shows such as Justified, The X-Files, and Veronica Mars to Hulu. Other HBO shows previously on the service have left, too. More shows may leave when NBC’s Peacock launches. Amazon Prime Video has the most shows any streaming service, but when you filter for quality, Netflix and Hulu are better options.
Prime Video is also an excellent service for watching popular movies, though the available titles rotate frequently. Like Netflix, it also creates original movies, such as Honey Boy, My Spy, Troop Zero, The Aeronauts, The Big Sick, and The Report. These movies have not fared as well as Netflix’s The Irishman, El Camino, or Roma. Prime Video has more movies than any other service, but when you filter for quality, its numbers are in line with Netflix’s. For a more curated movie library, check out Mubi or The Criterion Channel.
Amazon Prime Video falters when it comes to anime and cartoons, though it does feature a good range of animated kids’ shows and some anime titles. VRV is our Editors’ Choice pick for watching anime, thanks in part to its massive library of series and films, though both Hulu and Netflix offer some anime titles as well. In terms of other animated shows, Netflix leads the pack with originals such as Bojack Horseman and Matt Groening’s Disenchantment. Hulu is another good option for animated shows that premier on traditional cable networks.
Our feature on everything arriving on Prime Video can help you keep up with changes to the library.
In addition to on-demand content, Amazon will host some live NFL games on Thursday nights during the 2020-2021 season, assuming they happen. Note, however, that other NFL streaming services offer more comprehensive coverage. Amazon also produces the All or Nothing series that follows various professional sports teams throughout their season. If you are a die-hard sports fan, however, fuboTV or ESPN+ are far better sports streaming services, particularly for their live coverage of games.
However, Amazon does let subscribers add Prime Video Channels to an existing subscription, some of which are sports-focused. For instance, users can subscribe to MLB.TV, NBA League Pass, and PGA Tour Live through their Amazon Prime Video account. Of course, each of these channels adds a significant cost to your monthly or annual subscription.
There are two ways to get access to Amazon’s video content: a standalone Amazon Video subscription and an Amazon Prime subscription. An Amazon Video subscription costs $8.99 per month and only includes access to Amazon’s streaming video library. Alternatively, you can pay $12.99 per month (or $119 per year) for an Amazon Prime subscription, which includes Prime Video as well as other perks such as free two-day (and same day, when available) shipping, unlimited music streaming, a Twitch Prime membership, and discounts at Whole Foods. To clarify, the vast majority of Amazon’s documentation refers to its video service as Prime Video, though a standalone subscription is technically called Amazon Video. Both tiers give you access to the same content and are ad-free, save for Amazon’s in-house, pre-roll ads, which are entirely skippable.
If you no longer want or need your subscription, follow our instructions on how to cancel your Amazon Prime account. This will take away your access to Prime Video as well.
Students can sign up for an Amazon Prime subscription at a discounted rate of $6.49 per month or $59 per year. This plan includes all the perks of the regular Amazon Prime subscription, including Prime Video and Music (not to be confused with Amazon Music Unlimited).
Like many other video streaming services, Amazon Prime Video also lets users add subscriptions to different content providers to their account for a monthly fee. Options include CBS All Access ($5.99), Cinemax ($9.99), HBO ($14.99), PBS Masterpiece ($5.99), Showtime ($8.99), and Starz ($8.99). Prime Channels are not available for Amazon Video subscribers; you need to have a full Amazon Prime account to add this content.
For comparison, Netflix’s cheapest plan with HD streaming costs $12.99 per month. Hulu’s cheapest on-demand streaming plan costs $5.99 per month, but if you want an ad-free experience, the cost jumps to $11.99 per month. HBO Max costs $14.99 per month and CBS All Access’s commercial-free plan costs $9.99 per month. Acorn TV and BritBox are both cheaper at $5.99 and $6.99 per month respectively.
All of these are considerably cheaper than the cable-replacement type services, such as Sling TV ($30 per month) and Hulu with Live TV ($54.99 per month).
Amazon Prime Video works on a web browser, as well as Android and iOS devices, media streaming devices (including Apple TV, Chromecasts, Fire TV, and Rokus), game consoles (PlayStation, Xbox, and Wii), and Smart TVs. Recently, Prime Video launched a Windows 10 app joining Netflix and Hulu on the Microsoft Store. The app supports offline downloads and the IMDb-powered X-Ray panel for streaming content (a feature I discuss later).
With Prime Video, you can stream up to three titles at the same time from the same account. Most other video streaming services support more concurrent streams. BritBox, for example, supports five. Other than Prime Video, Apple TV+, Disney+, and Netflix also offer 4K and HDR content. fuboTV also streams select programming in 4K.
Renting and Buying
Amazon Prime Video offers an advantage over rivals such as Netflix and Hulu with the option to rent or buy TV shows and movies outright, similarly to iTunes, Google Play Movies and TV Shows, and the Microsoft Store’s Movies & TV section for Windows 10 and Xbox. Notably, for some content, buying and renting are your only options. Keep in mind that purchases and rentals come with restrictions. Once you purchase a video on Prime Video, you can stream it as many times as you want and download it on up to four compatible devices. For rentals, the three-video-stream limit remains, but Amazon does not let you stream the same rental to more than one device simultaneously. If you watch a downloaded rental video on one device, you can still watch it on another (though not simultaneously). You typically get 30 days to download or start streaming a rental, but after you do, you usually have 48 hours to finish watching it. You can read all of the specific details on Amazon’s Video Usage Rules support page.
Amazon prioritizes movies and TV shows that are included with Prime, so your best bet is to specifically search for the content you want to watch or navigate directly to the Rent or Buy section. Renting a movie typically costs between $2.99 and $5.99, while buying it runs anywhere from $7.99 to $19.99, depending on how recent it is and the quality (SD or HD). Sometimes, however, the SD and HD options cost the same.
In terms of pricing, Amazon Prime Video is in line with its competitors for both buying and renting movies. For example, Ford v Ferrari (in HD) costs $19.99 to purchase. Google Play, iTunes, and the Microsoft Store charge the same price. However, the iTunes and Google Play versions are in 4K and support HDR. Some movies are free if you subscribe to a channel add-on that includes it. In the case of Ford v Ferrari, subscribers to the HBO add-on would get to watch the movie for free.
The story is pretty much the same when it comes to TV shows as well, though not all TV shows are purchasable outright. Individual episodes typically cost between $1.99 and $3.99, with seasons running anywhere from $22.99 to $29.99. I compared prices for an HD episode from season 3 of Westworld across the four platforms. Each service charges $3.99 per episode and around $29 for the entire season. Amazon organizes all the content you rent or buy in the Your Video Library section, which is separate from the Your Videos section, which collects streaming content.
One of Amazon’s biggest issues (not unique to its video services) is that it shoehorns all its services into the same interface. Amazon Prime Video, like all of Amazon’s other services such as Amazon Fresh, lives in the drop-down to the left of the main search bar. Amazon should create a separate site solely dedicated to its video services or at least organize everything better. That said, the interface’s organization has improved substantially since the time of our last review.
The video service’s homepage can’t match the minimal aesthetic of Netflix or HBO Max, but it looks fine. At the very top, users can select between the following menu items: Home, Free to Me, Store, Channels, Categories, My Stuff, and Watch Party. Right below that, Amazon Video highlights a few notable shows or movies available for streaming and then organizes everything else in horizontally scrolling lists, such as Watch Next, TV Shows We Think You’ll Like, and Blockbuster Movies, going down the rest of the page. The Categories section is particularly useful for finding new releases, originals, and 4K UHD content. There’s also a Prime Video Explorer tool for finding additional recommendations.
If you can’t find something to watch on the homepage, you can use the search bar up top to find specific content by title, genre, release date, or channel. If you see something that interests you, you can start streaming immediately (provided it is available for Prime Video) or add it to your watchlist. Your watchlist is just an easy way to keep track of the shows and movies you want to revisit at a later time.
Clicking a movie or TV show link opens a page showing the user rating, runtime, release date, and other pertinent information. If you’re on a TV show page, you can click the Preview button to watch a snippet; movie pages let you watch a trailer. One advantage that Amazon Video offers over Netflix is user reviews. Mubi and Shudder also let users chime in about shows and movies. Like Netflix, Amazon gives recommendations based on the content you watch. You can indicate that you aren’t interested in particular items, but this system is not as intuitive as Netflix’s thumbs up or down rating system or percentage-based recommendations.
I particularly like Prime Video’s Now Playing screen, as it looks clean and lays out the controls intuitively. In addition to the standard play, rewind, and forward buttons, Amazon Prime Video also implements subtitle and streaming quality options on the screen. However, Amazon’s biggest draw—and something no other streaming service I’ve tested currently offers—is its X-Ray feature (powered by IMDb). This transparent overlay populates with useful information on the characters and actors currently in a scene, any soundtrack titles, as well as relevant show notes (such as continuity errors and important cultural references). Most shows get a Skip Intro button as well, a feature that Netflix made popular.
Amazon Video on Mobile
I downloaded Amazon’s Prime Video app on my Google Pixel 3 to test the mobile experience. Note that Amazon does not offer a separate Amazon Video app: all video accounts use the Prime Video app. I appreciate that Amazon built a separate app for the video experience, since wedging it into the Amazon shopping app would make things much less manageable.
The interface looks identical to that of the website, albeit scaled down for a mobile screen. The app appears similar to many other video streaming apps, notably Netflix and HBO Now, with a dark background and vivid content thumbnails. Across the top, the app displays the following menu options: Home, Originals, TV, Movies, and Kids. There’s a new bottom menu, too, for navigating between the Store, Channels, Search, and My Stuff sections. Gone is the overburdened left-hand menu. Tapping on a show or movie brings you to a details page where you can view a show summary, as well as read user ratings and reviews.
The app does give users a fair amount of control over the service, with settings for stream and download quality, parental control options, a list of registered devices, as well as the ability to clear video search history. Prime members (not Amazon Video subscribers), can also manage Amazon Channels subscriptions from the app.
Streaming on a mobile device is quick and stable. Over PCMag’s Wi-Fi connection (15Mpbs download), I downloaded a 44-minute episode of The Expanse in the highest quality in a little under a minute and a half. If you have the time and storage space, the app includes an option for downloading an entire season of a show all at once. For streaming or downloading on a mobile device, make sure that you are on a Wi-Fi connection or have an unlimited data plan; one hour of content equates to about 1.8 GB of data.
Accessibility and Parental Controls
Amazon’s Audio Descriptions “narrate information about actions, characters, scene changes, on-screen text, and other visual content.” In practice, this is one step above the regular dialogue-based closed captioning (CC). You can search specifically for Amazon’s Movies and TV Shows with Audio Descriptions to find compatible content. This search returns over 1,000 results at the time of publishing. Most of Amazon’s Original programming includes audio descriptions, and I hope that it continues to support and implement these enhancements. Netflix includes a similar capability.
Prime Video lets you adjust the CC settings directly from the video player. You can change the font size and color of the text. Acorn TV also allows these customization options from the playback screen.
In terms of parental controls, you can require a pin for any purchases, as well as restrict streaming by user ages. There’s also a dedicated Kids section of the interface. Netflix, Disney+, and HBO Max also include top-notch parental control options.
I did not experience any issues streaming over my home Ethernet connection (200Mbps download speed). Although Prime Video may take a couple of seconds to ramp up to full quality, the quality stays consistent once it does. The service is also pretty accurate at saving your progress through a video in case you get disconnected or need to resume watching later.
Amazon Prime Video does not splice ads into the middle of shows, but it does advertise in-house content at the beginning of a show or movie, similar to the way HBO Max does. Users can easily skip these ads, or if they are interested in the show, add it to their watchlist directly. In any case, Amazon Video’s in-house ads are much more palatable than those of the cheaper plans of Hulu or CBS All Access, which plague you with the mainstream commercials that drove people away from cable in the first place. Netflix offers the most ad-free experience, especially since you can now disable the auto-playing video ads for its shows.
Amazon Prime Video now lets you co-watch Prime Video content with up to 100 people, provided they all have an account and are located in the US. The service also finally brought support for multiple viewing profiles to subscribers in the US.
Prime Video and VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) is an important tool for protecting your privacy online. Unfortunately, some video streaming services, such as Prime Video, make it difficult, if not impossible to stream content while you are connected to a VPN. This policy could be due to content licensing deals, as many shows are restricted to viewers in specific countries. Amazon Prime Video did not work for me while I was connected to a US-based Mullvad VPN server.
You could try to find a VPN that works with all the services you subscribe to, but even if you do, this does not guarantee that everything will work together in the future. Many video streaming services continue to close down the loopholes that VPNs currently rely on to avoid being blocked. Note that some VPNs do offer dedicated streaming servers, which may be more reliable for this purpose.
A Complete Video Streaming Package
Amazon Prime Video offers a ton of great originals at a reasonable price and continues to introduce new streaming features. Additionally, Prime Video is available on nearly every platform you can name and lets you purchase or rent shows and movies it doesn’t include as part of its subscription. The main drawback is that the service does not have as many high-quality shows as our top picks and stands to lose more content to competitors.
Our Editors’ Choice winners for the video streaming category are Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube TV. Netflix has the best library of originals and movies. Hulu is a great value for its combination of a vast on-demand library and live TV capabilities. YouTube TV impresses with intuitive interfaces and an excellent range of channels.
Amazon Prime Video Specs
|Starting Price||$8.99 per month|
|On-Demand Movies and TV Shows||Yes|
|Offline Downloads on Mobile||Yes|