With the majority of streaming consumers hunting down the best original content, Netflix will be feeling confident about winning the race, with its four Oscars tucked carefully under its belt. It might not be such an easy win, however, especially given how limited Netflix content is if you’re overseas and unable to make your VPN unblock the US library. By weighing up the pros and cons, we plan on finding out what is the best streaming service for 2019.
Finding the best streaming service is essential if you, like many others, are tired of managing numerous services and subscriptions. With so many options available, it can be difficult to pinpoint one that’s going to meet all your requirements, including the availability of original content, affordability, availability, device compatibility, and ease of use. In this article, we’ll compare those streaming giants, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, according to the criteria listed and help you assess their comparative pros and cons.
Five Criteria for Choosing the Best Streaming Service
1. Library Content
By far the most important thing about any streaming service is the content it has on offer. When Netflix launched, it offered a welcome alternative to cable, giving consumers a huge library of TV series, documentaries, stand-up comedy, and movies to choose from and watch on demand. Over 20 years later, it still has one of the most impressive online collections… for Americans, at least.
As Netflix updates its library every month, there’s an ever-changing roundabout of high-quality viewing options available. Netflix is largely responsible for the increase in binge-watching, with series like mysterious comedy-drama, Russian Doll, proving too gripping to watch episode by episode.
Netflix isn’t the only one producing transfixing original content, however, and, in addition to reruns of popular shows like Parks and Recreation, Hulu has gained a significant audience as well as some critical acclaim with the release of The Handmaid’s Tale a couple of years ago, and last year’s blockbusting counter-terrorism drama, The Looming Tower. Although Hulu doesn’t have quite the same range of content as Netflix, much of it is more up-to-date, screening just a day or two after the program’s appeared on cable.
It’s little wonder that the unwieldy beast of technology that is Amazon also has a finger in the streaming pie and is a powerful contender with an extensive catalog of content and some impressive original offerings, like the award-winning The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and the crime series, Bosch. Amazon Prime’s service is not quite as straightforward as its competitors, with some content available for free on subscription, and some requiring an additional subscription to a specific streaming channel. Nevertheless, it’s got a solid collection of content for those willing to work it out.
Unfortunately, none of these streaming sites can make all the content that’s available inside the US available overseas due to copyright regulations, however, both Netflix and Amazon Prime allow users to download a limited selection of television series and movies to watch offline at a later date, which is handy for traveling.
Hulu hasn’t quite got there yet, although there are plans afoot to introduce a download service of some description. In the meantime, if you’re traveling to Europe on business or Indonesia for a vacation, you’ll need a VPN for streaming Hulu. A service such as ExpressVPN, which is one of the best VPNs for streaming Netflix, will be able to create a fake IP address in the US, through which you’ll be able to access the full library of whichever streaming site you’ve selected.
Overall, Netflix is pretty hard to beat when it comes to the size of their libraries, and the diversity of content. Nevertheless, if you want more up-to-date content, Hulu’s your best option, while those who love sports as much as series, a subscription with Amazon Prime Video can give you both.
If you’re happy to tolerate a few adverts in exchange for a cheaper subscription, then Hulu’s most basic plan is a great option. While undercutting the competition financially, Hulu compensates for the lack of income from the viewers by taking advertising revenue instead. It seems, however, that with original content, those adverts are now customized and linked to the shows themselves, making them both more relevant and more entrenched into the show and its characters.
Although the adverts may be both creative and appealing, not everyone wants them interrupting their viewing experience every few minutes, so are happy to pay the extra to get Hulu Plus or Hulu + Live TV. While Hulu Plus remains slightly cheaper than Netflix and offers a similar 30-day free trial, it doesn’t have quite the depth of content, focusing rather on the latest episodes than whole back seasons.
Amazon Prime is the most expensive of the three options we’re discussing but will give you access to music and books as well as visual content. By offering high-definition content at no extra cost, Amazon Prime keeps its pricing structures comparatively accessible and simple, unlike Netflix. Depending on the quality you want from Netflix, your monthly subscription will range from $8.99 to $15.99 per month. The cheapest option won’t give you access to HD or Ultra HD quality and will limit you to just one device, but that’s still not bad for unlimited content, especially when it includes such a diverse array of quality entertainment.
While all streaming services have international restrictions, some also have regional content that isn’t available to every user in the US. For example, if you’re using Hulu + Live to watch a sporting event like March Madness, you may find some live matches are not available in your region. This rarely impacts on the availability of television series or movies, although some devices may not have access to all the content in the Hulu library depending on their level of compatibility.
Another downside of Hulu’s service is that it doesn’t yet allow users to download content that they can then view offline at a later date so if you’re heading off overseas, Hulu isn’t ideal unless you’ve got a reliable VPN that can mask your location with a fake US IP address. Of course, that isn’t rocket science and VPN providers like ExpressVPN and NordVPN will easily navigate the geographical restrictions and give you access to your favorite content from even the most remote areas of the world. That’s part of what makes them some of the best VPNs for international travel.
When it comes to international restrictions, all streaming sites have them, largely due to copyright regulations on their content but Netflix is notorious for its efforts to prevent users from getting into its US library from overseas locations and has left many VPNs by the wayside with its innovative technology. IPVanish, for example, has pretty much given up on Netflix, focusing its energies on other, easier targets instead. Meanwhile, ExpressVPN continues to provide consistent access to all Netflix content, regardless of location. For those that find themselves constantly on the move, this is a huge benefit, especially when you consider that people in countries such as Hong Kong get less than 10% of Netflix’s total content, and those in Thailand, less than 5%!
Basically, if you know you’re going to be traveling on a regular basis and don’t want your streaming subscription going to waste, you need a VPN and not just any old VPN, but one that’s capable of delivering consistent enough connections and fast enough speeds that you can binge watch without interruption. While almost every VPN on the market claims to be able to deliver both of these and much more, the proof is in the pudding, and we’ve had several mouthfuls so are more than happy to recommend the best VPNs for streaming here.
4. Device Compatibility
Given how many new devices appear on the marketplace each month, it’s incredible that all three of the streaming services under discussion manage to produce apps for those devices as though they simply pluck them from mid-air. For example, Netflix is compatible with the following:
- Plug and Play TV services, including Roku TV, Fire TV, and Apple TV
- Smart TVs
- Gaming consoles like PlayStation and Xbox
- Blu-Ray Players
- Smartphones and tablets, including Android and iPhone
- PCs and laptops
Amazon Prime and Hulu are similarly available everywhere and seem to play well with gadgets of all shapes and sizes, although Amazon Prime hasn’t yet made it to Chromecast nor produced an app for various Android TV set-top boxes, including Nvidia Shield Android TV. Aside from that, however, unless you’ve got an ancient PC or a laptop that still believes in dial-up, you can choose any of these three streaming sites and enjoy cross-platform compatibility, enabling you to take your streaming service with you wherever you go.
5. Ease of Use
For those of us that didn’t cruise into the digital world with style and aplomb, even the simplest software or app seems to come with an abundance of customizable buttons and complex inner-workings that, personally, we’d prefer not to come into contact with. Keeping in mind that, as far as we’re concerned, simpler is better, the fact that Netflix allows you to browse without leaving the main screen is extremely appealing and convenient. Its well-designed interface and easy to navigate grid display make it a personal favorite.
Hulu just revamped its entire interface, opting for a similar grid layout to Netflix which will give users more single-click content options and basically means it will look a lot more like its rivals. Even so, neither Hulu nor Amazon manage to create the same consistency of look and feel as Netflix does and, while you can identify a Netflix app at a single glance, Amazon doesn’t have quite that level of uniformity as yet.
Netflix is the undeniable grandfather of streaming sites and apps so it’s unsurprising that its approach to design and function has been closely followed by its rivals, meaning that there is now little to choose between them. Nevertheless, Netflix manages to maintain its advantage by producing consistent and intuitive apps for every imaginable gadget.
Are Streaming Sites Here to Stay?
Subscriptions to sites like Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix have now overtaken those to traditional cable television, so it’s little wonder everyone who’s anyone is trying to jump on the bandwagon. However, as the proliferation of streaming sites seeing an increasing number of smaller, more exclusive sites emerging in addition to the big players, it seems some consumers are tired of the endless decisions involved in creating their ideal streaming experience.
Recent research indicates that, with over 300 sites now offering movie-streaming services, the general public is getting tired of signing up with a handful of different providers to get the service they want. With the average American managing three different subscriptions and still finding it difficult to locate the content, they want to watch, the frustration is understandable. After all, if you’re browsing three streaming sites, it’s a big haystack in which to find your treasured needle.
Unfortunately, it looks as though the future will simply bring more choice, as services like Apple begin to emerge and Disney opts to move its content off Netflix and onto an independent site. This will inevitably mean more subscriptions and individuals feeling the need to cut and paste from a variety of services to compile a collection that suits their viewing tastes. The likelihood of services recombining is decidedly limited so it looks like we’re just going to have to accept the fact that managing multiple subscriptions is just part of life as a streaming enthusiast.
Nevertheless, streaming sites aren’t going anywhere so, regardless of whether you opt for Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime or one of the other popular choices, you can rest assured that you’ll be streaming all the way to the end of your VPN subscription. ExpressVPN is currently offering a great discount if you sign up for a one-year subscription, while CyberGhost VPN offers some impressive bargains for those willing to commit to two years or more. Given that a VPN can make the most of your pricey streaming subscription, any of these top VPNs are worth the commitment.
While Netflix manages to hold onto its tenuous upper hand, even this top streaming service has its limitations, most of them geographical, which means that frequent fliers out there can wave goodbye to a large portion of their monthly subscription. There is an alternative, though, and that’s to use one of the best VPNs for streaming to gain access to Netflix from overseas. A VPN like Surfshark can also ensure you make the most of the live coverage included in your Hulu + Live or Amazon Prime subscription, by bypassing limitations on regional games and matches.
As streaming sites seem destined to specify rather than aggregate and diversify, so managing a number of monthly subscriptions seems inevitable. Unfortunately, the more online accounts you have, the more you expose yourself to potential cyber threats. You can eliminate these risks by using a VPN, however, as it will give you the freedom to log in anonymously and give you the power to create and manage new passwords.
At the end of the day, your choice of streaming site will be largely dependent on content rather than anything else and, at the end of the next day, getting the most out of your subscription will largely depend on the efficacy of the VPN provider you opt for. Sure, you can stream unprotected, but why would you when comprehensive protection could cost you just a couple of dollars a month, and give you access to more content besides?