Watching films from the comfort of your own sofa no longer requires shopping for Blu-ray discs and setting aside a huge amount of shelf space to accommodate your growing collection.
There has been a similar change in watching TV – the days when your evening’s viewing revolved around Radio Times listings and programme recording are long gone.
The arrival of video streaming services has seen to that, spearheading a ‘next generation’ of TV and film viewing that looks set to stay.
For the past few years, having thousands of hours of content available to stream 24/7 to our telly at home or on the smartphone in our pocket has changed our viewing habits, making marathon film trilogies and binge-watching TV boxsets the new going out.
It doesn’t have to come at a price either, with YouTube and UK catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer and ITV Player serving up hour after hour of free streaming. What a world we live in, eh?
But none of the other services has the content diversity or versatility of the two giants of video streaming, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix. Theirs is an intense battle that mirrors the rivalry between Spotify and Apple Music in music streaming.
Both offer thousands of movies and TV shows, old and new, for as little as £6 per month. There probably aren’t enough hours in the day to warrant two subscriptions, so which service should get your vote?
For the first month, why not try both? Amazon and Netflix each offer 30-day free trials, so it goes without saying that you should reap the benefits of having twice as much content as you could ever sit through. Just because you can - and because they offer different content.
But when the time is up, so is the two services’ subscription homogeneity. Amazon offers two cancel-anytime subscription tiers: ‘Prime Video’ for £6 per month, which is the standard video streaming service, and a more Amazon-embracing £8 per month (or £79 per year upfront) ‘Prime’ membership.
This option builds on Prime Video by supplementing ad-free streaming of Prime Music, unlimited photo storage in Amazon Cloud Drive, one-day shipping on select Amazon-stocked products and early access to Amazon’s ‘Lightning’ deals.
Both are inclusive of Amazon’s 4K and HDR content, and allow two screens to stream from the same account, with each video limited to one device at a time.
MORE: Amazon Video review
Netflix has a more tiered approach and, unless you’re happy settling for the standard-definition streams of the digital Dark Ages, is going to set you back more.
Up from the basic £6 monthly subscription, which allows SD playback to only one screen at a time, is the £7.50 tier that grants you access to high-definition streams to two screens simultaneously.
To take advantage of the 4K and HDR content Netflix has to offer, you have to sign up to the £9 per month premium tier, which also takes the screen count to four – a good-value family-size package, for sure.
For couples and singletons though, Amazon is the more affordable option – especially for feasting on sharper, more cutting-edge 4K HDR material.
MORE: Netflix review
Perhaps surprisingly, there’s not much crossover between the two catalogues, so paying out for both wouldn’t be as pointless as it initially seems.
There’s no official figure for the size of Netflix’s catalogue, though estimates claim around 3000 titles in the UK and more than 5000 in the US – the most of any country.
Amazon isn’t as reticent, boasting a precise 15,980 titles. No wonder the company's telling everyone.
Size isn’t everything of course, and many will no doubt veer towards one based on commitments to certain shows that are exclusive to each of the services. Do you care more about The Walking Dead and Lucifer (Amazon), or Peaky Blinders and Marvel’s Daredevil (Netflix)?
Both groom their catalogues on a regular basis, vary their offerings from country to country, and pluck titles from the post-Blu-ray-release window – so don’t go expecting films that have just hit the shelves or the latest series of TV shows before the next one has started.
That said, Amazon often pips its rival in the race to be first to show newer releases.
While brand new films (Neon Demon, for example) and hot-off-the-lens TV shows (series 7 of The Walking Dead, say) are reserved for Amazon Video’s 38,000-strong on-demand and rental service outside subscriptions, Prime and Prime Video subscribers have access to a fair few of last year’s big titles.
Currently there’s the latest Macbeth adaptation, Academy Award-winning Spotlight and nominee Room, as well as some films that had theatrical releases just a few months ago, such as A Walk in the Woods. Netflix has a few gems from the past 12 months – Sicario and Creed, for example – but not as many.
If this were a competition of firsts, Netflix would win. While Amazon was first to HDR content, Netflix pipped it to the post with 4K as well as self-produced original content.
More after the break
Today, TV shows produced by Netflix and Amazon’s own studios – ingeniously titled ‘Amazon Originals’ and ‘Netflix Originals’ – sit at the forefront of the services’ campaigns.
Netflix has more (and perhaps more popular) programming in its repertoire, led by acclaimed dramas Better Call Saul, Orange Is The New Black, House of Cards and Marvel’s Daredevil.
Amazon has stepped up its game and now arguably isn’t far behind, with the likes of Bosch, Mozart in the Jungle, Hand of God and The Man in the High Castle under its studio umbrella, as well as three series of Transparent, which last year won a Golden Globe for Best TV Series (Musical or Comedy).
The much-vaunted The Grand Tour, fronted by popular petrol-heads Clarkson, Hammond and May is bound to gain the service even more traction too.
Unlike Netflix’s conglomerate film-and-TV approach, Amazon is strictly concentrating its output on TV shows, and already has several in the pipeline for next year.
It is taking a crowdsourcing-like ‘have your say’ approach to new content too, releasing numerous pilot episodes which viewers can vote to make into a full-length series.
Streaming isn’t the exclusive domain of the dedicated couch potato either.
Both services are supported on a wide number of platforms, including PCs, laptops, Android and iOS smartphones, as well as TVs, Blu-ray players and games consoles, and are therefore as readily available on-the-fly as Facebook and Twitter.
Netflix has the edge here. It’s everywhere, on everything. While Amazon is now across almost every smart TV offerings, there’s no ‘almost’ about it for Netflix, which is as much of a household app on Sony, Samsung, LG and Philips televisions as BBC iPlayer and YouTube.
It also plays ball with Windows phones, Apple TV and Chromecast, which is more than we can say for Amazon. Instead, Amazon is much more concerned with native compatibility on the Fire phone, tablet and TV stick.
But where there’s a will there’s a way, and you can always AirPlay Amazon content from the iOS app to an Apple TV, and similarly Google Cast any laptop or mobile screen to a telly.
Where offline viewing is concerned, until recently there was only one winner: Amazon, which lets subscribers download many of its titles and watch them on the go without needing an internet connection. Netflix was online only until just a few months ago - but now it too allows downloading for easier viewing on the move.
Amazon has worked vigorously to simplify its interface.
Both follow similar layouts, with home screens dominated by seemingly endless lists of categories, from ‘Continue Watching’ and ‘Recently Added’ to ‘Independent Movies’ and ‘Award-winning Movies’, and including ‘Ultra HD’ (which appears only on apps of compatible 4K TVs).
You can strip out movies if you only have time for a TV episode, and flag things to watch later. These are stored in ‘My List’ on Netflix and ‘Watchlist’ on Amazon.
Ultimately, Netflix has the edge here. What you see is what you get – if you don’t pay for it (Ultra HD content, for example) you don’t see it.
On Amazon, there are effective filters to sieve out Amazon Video’s paid-for content, and what’s included in the subscription is well flagged by a sash-like banner, but the filters are a hassle and if you’re only using the web platform then all this is buried within Amazon’s all-encompassing website – which isn’t ideal.
It can definitely be a fuss to find your favourite shows on Amazon.
Netflix tries harder to take the pain out of fruitless browsing with its algorithmic ‘because you watched...’ suggestions based on past viewings.
But with layouts being shared, so are shortcomings. At the moment, HDR programming is buried within the services’ catalogues, and relies on your hunting skills to sniff out the small logo attached to content.
We’d like a category to flag which content is supported – as there is for Ultra HD material.
You are unlikely to choose one service over the other based solely on performance.
On both, a good many shows and films are available in 5.1-channel surround sound and, with regards to picture, the effort each service has put towards streaming quality over the past few years has paid off – HD material looks impressively bright, clean and sharp on our Samsung UE65KS9000 TV, Apple Macbook and LG G5 phone.
On the TV, it’s not a million miles from the standard you’d expect from playing a Blu-ray disc.
Through both Amazon and Netflix, lines are crisp, colours deep and motion handled as though stability has never been a streaming problem.
Unlike fast food or Bluetooth playback, the convenience of video-streaming services requires hardly any sacrifices in quality, and anyone just out of a three-year hibernation wouldn’t believe the progress that’s been made, let alone how juicy Ultra HD looks (once they’d looked up what that was).
Again, the equivalent disc format makes the most of the higher resolution, looking a touch crisper and sharper. But is the higher resolution justifiable for streaming? Absolutely. And to that end, Amazon and Netflix are equally compelling options.
A year or so ago, this fight would have been over by round two, with Netflix lifting the belt over Amazon’s crumpled figure.
But Amazon has risen to challenge its rival’s long-term supremacy, pruning its service to be more user-friendly and competitive in terms of both pricing and catalogue.
Amazon Video is arguably the most affordable way to watch 4K and HDR content and, for heavy users of Amazon’s shopping and music streaming, it’s an attractive option as part of its complete Prime package.
It might not have the global reach of Netflix, which claims more than 93 million members worldwide, or be as omnipresent or quite as effortless to use, but for those whose main concern is getting the most for their money – especially when it comes to ogling 4K – we think Amazon is the better bet.
Unless you’re a Marvel fan, perhaps.
*Overall winner: Amazon*
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