Netflix vs Amazon Prime vs Now TV: Best streaming service of 2016
Amazon and Sky are looking to steal Netflix's crown, but how do the streaming services match up?
With the world turning away from programmed television viewing towards on-demand content, the question of where to get your televisual delights has never been more pertinent.
So as more and more competitors emerge hoping to steal Netflix's crown, we look at how two other streaming giants – Amazon Prime Video and Now TV – match up.
Streaming providers offer an easy way into their services through free trials for you to check out their systems.
Netflix offers a fairly straightforward process – sign up and you get a month free. However, this automatically rolls over into whichever subscription package you opt for so if you aren't satisfied after a month, you'll have to cancel it yourself to prevent paying out.
Amazon has the same deal – but also offers a second free trial that probably makes the deal a complete no-brainer if you're a full-time student.
Amazon Student includes all of the perks of Prime – unlimited TV and film streaming, plus access to the site's music library along with offers such as discounts on textbooks with free next day delivery – but gives you a whopping six months to test it out before rolling over to a £39 a year charge.
Sky's Now TV offers a much smaller trial package, with only 14 days to check out three of its passes –Entertainment, Sky Cinema and Kids. All three rollover into monthly payments at their respective prices. Unfortunately, there is no free trial for Now TV's sports streaming services.
All three services offer content at a similar price – but there are extras which cost more. Netflix has two options based on how many devices you wish to watch shows on at the same time: two screens will cost you £7.49 a month but for £8.99 you get four screens and the Ultra HD (4K) content.
The very basic package comes in at £5.99 a month and every option gives you the first month on the house.
Amazon Prime Video comes free if you subscribe to the Amazon Prime delivery service (£79 a year), which works out at £6.58 a month and gives you next-day delivery on all your Amazon parcels.
At present, the full Prime service, including free one-day deliveries on orders, early access to deals, the Kindle eBook library and music streaming alongside the library of films, is only available as a yearly, one-off payment. However, Amazon has begun to experiment with new subscription options.
In the US, customers will soon be able to access the service on a monthly rolling contract. It works out more expensive than the original option, but could be worthwhile for customers looking to pick and mix certain features at a time suiting them. There's no word on monthly Prime coming to the UK, although many expect Amazon to roll it out eventually.
If you only want the online streaming, then the price is not much less over the course of a year than the £79 annual Prime fee - £5.99 a month working out at just under £72 a year.
Now TV has the most complicated of pricing plans, with a mixture of one-day passes alongside weekly and monthly options. The Sky Sports day pass costs fee of £6.99 and provides access to seven Sky Sports channels for 24 hours. It's available as a weekly and monthly pass, too, at £10.99 and £31.99 respectively.
This is aimed at those people eager not to miss out on a particular sporting event. The standard Now TV Entertainment Month Pass costs £6.99 a month for access to Sky's subscription entertainment channels and on-demand screening of their programmes.
As for films, the Sky Movies Pass costs £9.99 a month, with access to a whole host of the latest releases.
In terms of films, Now TV has the newest in the UK thanks to Sky's deals with all the major film studios. So if new releases or anything that plays on Sky's movie channels are what you are after, Now TV is the place to go.
Amazon and Netflix are often battling it out for specific older films, meaning movies are shown on one or the other but not both. Again it depends where your cinema tastes lie. Some critics seem to prefer Amazon's back catalogue, but it's a close run.
Netflix is the clear winner, however, when it comes to original television content, such as the award-winning House of Cards. Exclusives such as Arrested Development and Breaking Bad have also won favour with the critics.
Amazon's catalogue of television shows is growing and it has begun to produce its own content, with Jeremy Clarkson's new TV series an obvious example of that – but "while there are some exclusive TV series on the service", says Pocket-Lint, "they still don't generate as much excitement as the shows only available on Netflix".
A new type of content is set to be available very soon, though. Homemade videos as well as pieces created by smaller, independent film-makers could soon flood in, expanding the catalogue greatly.
Amazon Video Direct, which will be available to Prime subscribers, is a self-service YouTube-style platform, with content creators able to host their films and projects in exchange for royalties.
It means Prime is about to become a two-way street – a streaming service and a video-hosting website.
Now TV allows customers to view most of the shows on the Sky Atlantic channel, which means box sets such as Mad Men, Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire are available. The choice of shows is much smaller than its rivals though.
But if you're a sports fan, "you'll be in heaven", says Stuff.tv. Sky's "enviable line-up" includes everything from Premier League football to Ashes cricket to Formula 1, which are all available through the Now TV sports packages.
All three services are primarily available through your internet browser, with Netflix generally considered the most easy to use.
"Its much-vaunted recommendation engine is fantastic for finding you new stuff to watch," says Gizmodo, "and the user interface is also a masterpiece in simplicity." Netflix also provides the easiest ways to watch via pretty much any device you could imagine watching television on, including its own app.
An individual Netflix account can be set up for multiple users, too, so the service is tailored for sharing with family and friends, although how many can watch at one time is dictated by the terms of your price plan.
Picture quality will largely depend on your internet service provider. Both Netflix and Amazon make use of adaptive streaming, altering the bit-rate to suit bandwidth. However, much of the content will be presented in 1080p, while both services offer a few items in 4K.
Now TV has HD capability of 1080p. There are 12 live free-to-air HD channels available in 1080p and all the catch-up app services broadcast their programmes at the same quality.
Amazon has its own trump card in terms of the quality of service. You can now download videos to your iOS and Android devices to watch on the go or offline, at no additional cost. PC Advisor says it's a "major bonus" and that Netflix could be forced to follow suit.
All three services have apps you can download on to portable devices to let you watch wherever you are - if you've an internet connection.
While iOS and Android are both covered by all three streaming sites, there's only one option out there if app compatibility is a dealbreaker and you have a phone running Windows 10 – Netflix.
If you scale up and play video through a television set, you'll most likely stream through a games console. Support here is good, with the PS3 and PS4, as well as the Xbox 360 and Xbox One having dedicated apps for all three services. Nintendo Wii and Wii U can play Netflix and Amazon, but Now TV isn't on the list of compatible devices.
Don't have a gaming console but still want to play content through a television screen? Then you need a smart TV with a built-in app. New sets made by LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Philips, Sony, Sharp, and Toshiba now come Netflix ready. The list is slightly shorter with Amazon, with the likes of Philips, Sharp and Toshiba missing out. Now TV customers without a special LG television set could be disappointed, though - they're the only manufacturer getting ready for Sky's streaming service.
Each service has its own qualities, Now TV is the best for new movies and the only choice for sports fans. Amazon Prime Video is growing in its original content and has a good selection of films, while Netflix is still the top-dog when it comes to television and ease of use.
Stuff.tv gives its backing to Netflix saying: "The films on it may not be the newest, but the selection is very well curated, while a TV library boasting the likes of House Of Cards and Breaking Bad is hard to top."
Gizmodo agrees but says if you are already an Amazon Prime member or buy lots from their shopping service, the choice is a "no-brainer". It adds: "Amazon Prime Video is cheaper, and just as good at forcing procrastination as any of the rest."