With Amazon becoming the almost default choice for DVD and Blu-ray purchases, it was perhaps no surprise to see the company offering this content in a different format.
With Lovefilm on the books providing the postal rental solution, the way that Amazon went about switching on a streaming service ruffled some feathers, initially bundling it into the company's Prime subscription offering (primarily posited as a free next day delivery service on all Amazon orders).
The service has since changed, and continues to change - Amazon Video now encompasses 4K ultra-high resolution and HDR (high dynamic range) for some content - allowing Amazon to elbow its way alongside Netflix in offering a multi-platform video streaming service.
Indeed, Amazon's streaming offering has become one of the most important services on the market. But is Amazon Video actually any good?
Amazon Video review: To Prime or not to Prime?
What Amazon offers that makes it different to Netflix is a fusion of subscription and purchase or rental video content. At first glance this makes Amazon Video seem a little more confusing, as you're offered perhaps the first two seasons of the latest blockbuster series and you're then asked to buy the third if you want to keep watching.
This is in stark contrast to Netflix where you can watch everything you can see in its library (although that library is subject to change over time). On Amazon, you're teased with content you'd have to pay more for, beyond your Prime subscription. That makes Netflix seem simpler, but Amazon's approach is a little more dynamic in offering you a wider variety of content.
For those who subscribe to Amazon Prime for the faster free delivery and other benefits, Amazon Video is essentially a free service. As it's part of the Prime deal, if you can justify the £79 a year subs to Prime, you're effectively getting a premium video offering thrown in for good cause.
Sure, there is the potential to get confused, but with Amazon there's access to brand new content. For example, the service is offering series to purchase that are currently showing on broadcast TV, something that never happens on Netflix. You also have the option of renting the latest movie releases, adding more dynamism overall.
If you're not a Prime subscriber, you can still buy and rent content from Amazon Video through your Amazon account - much as you might do with iTunes or Microsoft Movies & TV. What you lose as a non-Prime subscriber is access to all that "free" content, your daily diet of Amazon Originals - the Amazon exclusive series that you won't find on Netflix or elsewhere.
Amazon Video review: Not such an 'appy story
Amazon Video is available on a wide variety of platforms thanks to a variety of apps. Where Netflix has been aggressive in bringing its apps to everything, Amazon has been a little more reluctant. There was a position recently where iOS (iPhone and iPad) had Amazon apps, but Android didn't. Then Android tablets offered it and Android phones didn't.
Apple iOS is the simpler option for Amazon Video watchers thanks to Apple's rigorous app guidelines, while Android remains something of a circus act. As Amazon has its own ecosystem of Android-based devices (the Fire tablets), it has a vested interest in doing its own thing with Android. That's the appeal of Android: it's very open, but that doesn't always make for the easiest approach.
To get Amazon Video on an Android device you have to jump through hoops, installing the app from Amazon itself, rather than through Google Play. For those literate with Android apps and how they work it isn't a problem, but for a newcomer, you'll need a decent guide to installing Amazon Video on Android. Which, lo and behold, we've already written for you, link below.
The Fire tablets offer a simpler, more integrated experience than other Android tablets, while Amazon Fire Stick and Fire TV are perhaps better placed than other third-party devices for playing Amazon content (which is where Amazon's interests really lie).
Still, with all that said, apps are also available on many platforms, such as Roku and Xbox, and through a wide number of smart TVs and other connected devices like Blu-ray players. Where Amazon is less prevalent is in things like set-top boxes: unlike Netflix, it isn't a defacto inclusion, it's rather more limited.
In the same vein, Amazon hasn't enabled support for Chromecast, Google's simple HDMI dongle which allows for content to be pinged from smartphone/tablet to your larger TV screen. Again, we suspect that's because Amazon would rather you use its own hardware, rather than encouraging easy access via a different platform.
Amazon Video review: X-Ray benefits and downloads
In Amazon's defence, its video service does have a lot of extras that could be overlooked. X-Ray, for example, sees a mirroring of the sort of additional information that Amazon offers through its Kindle books. A tap/click on the screen when you're watching a video will bring up these details.
This gets around the need to query apps like IMDB (which provides this information) to find out where you've seen that actor before; you simply have to tap to see who is currently in the scene, who they are and access more information on that person. If you take a particular shine to one of Hollywood's beaus, you can make sure you know where to find more of their work.
One service we do miss on Netflix, and one that gives Amazon Video the upper hand, is downloads. Netflix has repeatedly stated that it is a streaming service, but Amazon seems to understand that you travel, you go offline, or you might not have a data plan and that you want to download some shows. This option is available through the Android and iOS apps, as well as on Amazon's own Fire tablets.
You also get that smart connected feeling across Amazon Video. You can pause The 100 on your Samsung smart TV and resume watching on your phone in bed, with your progress synced to your account, for happy resumption of viewing.
Amazon Video: Prime cuts and quality fare
As we've said before, content is king and both Amazon and Netflix know this, hence each having unique original series.
While Amazon might not have had quite so many headline-stealing shows, there are some real quality offerings like Bosch, in full 4K and HDR, as well as The Man in the High Castle, and Mozart in the Jungle.
One show that will steal headlines in 2016 is The Grand Tour, which sees Top Gear's three stooges reunited in motoring mayhem. The Grand Tour is the biggest play that Amazon has made so far and when it hits Amazon Prime in November, it will probably be a huge draw for fans in the UK who didn't take to the BBC's rebooted Top Gear.
There is a lot of other TV on Amazon however - Mr Robot, Preacher, Ripper Street, Black Sails, Vikings - as well as a lot of movies. Even if you never buy or rent anything, and stick within the realms of included Prime Video, you'll be well served and well entertained.
In many senses it's worth having Amazon Prime full-time and dipping into Netflix when it releases new must-watch additional series; the two services almost complement one another.
Amazon Video review: 4K future, with an HDR glaze
There's another string to Amazon Video's bow: 4K HDR content. In our review of Netflix we talked about how important the service had been in offering content ahead of the curve - and Amazon sits in the same position. Alongside Netflix, Amazon has done more to push this next step in content quality than anyone else.
The big advantage that Amazon offers over Netflix is that you don't have to pay more (only Netflix's top-tier package of the three available offers it): all the 4K programming is available to you through your Prime subscription. Well, if you have a device that supports it. As we said before, that's a little more tricky, as it's likely to only be your smart TV or Ultra HD Blu-ray player that offers that option currently.
Amazon offers both 4K and HDR content on programmes and recent changes to players have brought more information into the display. Press pause and you'll see what quality you're watching at, which is really handy for confirming what your TV is showing you.
Amazon Video vs Netflix: Which plays better?
Having used both services extensively and interchangeably for some time, we've found that Netflix is often the better performer. Amazon also uses a variable bitrate system so things start blocky and get better as the stream is established (Netflix used to do this but has gotten better).
That avoids the old buffering problem, but we've found that sometimes Amazon takes an age to get going and we've watched whole episodes which have never clicked into the top resolution. That's not a bandwidth problem, because Netflix would perform perfectly. When push comes to shove, we think Netflix has the slight edge when it comes to playback.
While Amazon Prime might seem like an expensive option to get free next day delivery, it has evolved into so much more. For us, not only is it the express route to delivery for everything, but it delivers a first class entertainment service that not only has premium exclusive programming, but also brings cutting-edge Ultra HD quality to that massive new TV in the front room.
Choosing to subscribe to Netflix is easy: it's a small monthly cost. Choosing to subscribe to Amazon Prime is a bigger hit, but arguably it is better value for money, because you get so much more than just movies and TV.
If you're in any doubt, there's a 30-day trial, but if you dive into Amazon Video beyond the tempting offer of watching Clarkson et al make fools out of themselves in The Grand Tour, you'll find yourself richly rewarded.
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