Since Amazon released its video on demand service earlier today, I’ve pored over each and every section of the site to determine if it has what it takes to supplant Hulu as the best online video service providing professional network content. And after doing just that, I’ve quickly realized that it doesn’t.
Amazon has done all it can to solidify its stance in the online video market. First, it launched its Unbox service to compete with film streaming and now it has tried to compete in on-demand streaming of TV shows and movies. And by making TV shows and movies available online to be streamed directly to your computer, it’s quickly becoming apparent that Amazon is not necessarily focusing all its attention on iTunes, but on what it perceives to be the next frontier in video: online streaming.
Amazon is quick to point out that the videos it offers on its new service don’t have ads breaking into the flow of the shows. But that is because you have to pay $1.99 for each TV episode. Granted, Amazon’s VOD service does have some free shows — I watched 30 Rock a few times — but the list of free shows is laughable, compared to the sheer number of paid shows.
So is it even fair to compare a paid service to a free one? Sure it is. Right now, for instance, Hulu is offering five episodes of The Office for free on its site with just a handful of commercials in each. I tried playing those same shows on Amazon to see if I could stream them for free on its service and was presented with a banner telling me I needed to buy the show after just 2 minutes of viewing.
If you’re fine with paying for TV shows, you’ll be happy to know that Amazon’s offering has quite a few — it claims it has over 40,000 movies and TV shows available. In fact, practically every episode from each season of every show in Amazon’s VOD service is available for purchase. I was pleased to see that I could choose from a slew of networks like TV Land and NBC. So Amazon lives up to its name in terms of breadth of selection. But there was something frustrating about the fact that so few shows had a free stream available, given all the free TV to be found on the Web.
Overall, the Amazon VOD experience is quite similar to Hulu: you pick a network from the links on the left column, choose your show, and find your episode. The picture quality of the videos I watched were highly-detailed and I was pleasantly surprised by Amazon’s decision to offer such a large display instead of the somewhat smaller screens found on Hulu.
That said, the actual video playback was suspect at times and the video streams would skip too often. That may be the result of all the attention Amazon’s VOD is receiving today, but so far, I haven’t seen any improvements. I also didn’t like that the video playback screens were too cluttered with extras. The pages feature all the episodes below the video. And Amazon’s ubiquitous recommendation engine picks underneath only muddies an otherwise clean screen.
Are no commercials worth it?
The main selling points of Amazon’s Video On Demand service are that it doesn’t have commercials, it has a slew of shows available and the picture quality is superb.But the streaming is choppy, the site layout is suspect, and some of the same content is available elsewhere for free.
Even though Hulu commercials can annoy me when I’m excited to see what happens next on The Office, I’ve never realized until now just how much I prefer them to shelling outcash for what is often a hit-or-miss experience. I don’t mind paying for a show I enjoy, but $1.99 seems a bit steep for one episode and if it’s being played for free on Hulu, I’m not sure why I would even consider using Amazon’s service.