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Amazon Instant Video review

Michael Passingham
11 Sep 2015
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
4.49
inc VAT for HD movie rental

Amazon has an impressive catalogue of films and TV, but an inconsistent mobile experience limits its appeal

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Specifications

Platforms: Web; Amazon Fire TV; Amazon Kindle Fire; PS3; PS4; Xbox 360; Xbox One; Wii U; Wii; Sony, Samsung, LG, Panasonic TVs; iOS, Android Content: Max 1080p quality including closed captions and 5.1 surround sound

Amazon has become a big player in the world of streaming TV and films, slowly but surely catching up Netflix with a growing roster of original content and crowd-drawing TV programmes such as The Walking Dead, Six Feet Under and Boardwalk Empire included in its £79 per year Prime subscription service. When it comes to pay-per-view streaming, however, Amazon holds less of an advantage in terms of exclusive content, more or less matching its major rivals both in terms of variety and pricing for the latest TV programmes and films.

Find the best movie streaming service for you with our indepth guide

Content

At this point it's worth pointing out the differences between Amazon Instant Video and Prime Instant Video. If you're a Prime subscriber, you get a selection of TV programmes and films included with your subscription, including Amazon Originals such as Bosch, Mozart in the Jungle and Transparent. There are also some recent blockbuster films included (such as The Wolf of Wall Street and The Imitation Game), but if you fancy watching the more recent American Sniper, you'll have to pay the full rental or purchase price on top of your Prime subscription. At last count, there were just over 16,000 films available on Prime Instant Video for no extra cost, while the full Amazon Instant film library exceeds 88,000 titles.

Popular TV programmes such as Revenge, Suits and Game of Thrones are also available, and you can buy season passes for ongoing series. This allows you to buy the full series for a fixed price instead of having to buy each episode individually as they become available. TV programmes typically cost £2.49 per episode in HD, with full HD seasons costing between £22.99 and £32.99. Buying a full season is always better value than buying each episode individually, especially with US TV series that often exceed 20 episodes per season.

Films are available to both buy and rent, although brand-new releases don't have a rental option, meaning you'll either have to wait or buy them outright. £4.49 to rent and £13.99 to buy a new film in HD is par for the course. Rentals have a 30-day time limit, although once you press play for the first time you have 24 hours to finish watching. This is half the 48 hours you get with most other services, which puts the pressure on you to watch the film in one sitting rather than on consecutive nights.

Films around two years old tend to be cheaper, although their availability and quality varies much more widely than it does with the latest flicks. Some films, such as 2013's Star Trek: Into Darkness, are only available to buy outright for £5.99, and can't be rented. The original Star Trek reboot from 2009, however, is available to rent for £2.49 in SD and £3.49 in HD. Meanwhile, only three of the eight Harry Potter films are available in HD. This means that while Amazon's catalogue is an admittedly large box of chocolates, you're never quite sure what you're going to get.

Not all films and TV programmes have subtitles, although many of them do. The best way to find out whether a video has subtitles is on the store page, where it's clearly marked. Impressively, you can customise how subtitles are displayed. Some, but not all, films come with Dolby 5.1 surround sound, and this is again clearly marked on the film's store page.

Video quality

At its absolute best, Amazon Instant Video is available in 1080p. In our Star Trek: Into Darkness tests shown below (both images have been blown up to roughtly four times real size), Amazon manages relatively natural colours and only a small amount of compression artefacts on Benedict Cumberbatch's face, although there's a little more noise in the background and some detail is off. Additionally, contrast is slightly affected, with Cumberbatch's hair and jumper looking just a little crushed. It still beats most of the other services we tested, though; see our full comparisons here.

Click either image below for a full-size view.

Amazon Instant Video versus Blu-ray quality image Benedict Cumberbatch
Amazon Instant Video versus Blu-ray quality image Star Trek

Platforms

Amazon Instant video is available on a wide range of operating systems and devices, although each has its own limitations and quirks. For example, you can watch TV programmes in HD in your browser on both Windows and Mac OS computers, but you can only get HD films on Windows PCs, while Mac devices are limited to SD.

The film experience is poor for users of non Amazon-branded Android devices. You're limited to SD streaming with no downloads, and you have to open videos through your device's web browser instead of an app. This is a huge departure from the seamless experience you get on Amazon Kindle Fire tablets and Fire phones, where you can buy and watch content in HD and download content for watching on the move without a Wi-Fi or mobile data connection.

iPhone and iPad users get a better deal. You can stream in HD and download videos in SD to watch later, which is useful if you're going on a long trip without a data connection. You can't buy content from within the app, though, so you'll need to use your web browser to make any purchases before watching them in the app.

Amazon also has a decent presence on smart TVs and Blu-ray players, with devices from Sony, Samsung and LG all supporting the service. PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Wii U console owners can all stream Amazon Instant Video in HD, and Wii owners aren't left out either, although they can only watch in SD. If you don't have a smart TV, you can buy an Amazon Fire TV Stick for around £35 or a Fire TV set-top box for around £79 to give you access to the full range of Amazon's content on your TV. The Fire TV Stick in particular is superb value, and we awarded it a Best Buy award when we reviewed it earlier this year.

Amazon Fire TV Stick interface

^The Amazon Fire TV stick is one of the best places to watch Instant Video content

On smart TVs, although you can buy most films and TV programmes in both HD and SD formats, the quality of the content you receive will vary depending on your playback device and the speed of your internet connection. Amazon does not say which HD resolution it uses; there's no label to differentiate 1080p and 720p content. Check your device is compatible with Amazon's HD streams before shelling out for HD content. You can find the full list here.

Usefully, all the various platforms support WhisperSync, meaning you can stop watching on one device and continue on another from where you left off, without having to scrub through the video to find where you had got to.

Amazon Instant Video has a great variety of films, TV series and a growing roster of original content available on a huge array of devices; and even if you don’t have a compatible device, you can always upgrade your TV with an inexpensive Fire TV stick. However, mobile device support is much less impressive unless you own an Amazon-branded tablet, and are willing to put up with the accompanying restricted version of Android for the sake of your video watching. 

BEST FOR: Amazon Prime subscribers, Kindle Fire and TV owners

Pricing
HD Film (rent/buy)£4.49/£13.99
SD Film (rent/buy)£3.49/£9.99
HD TV series (buy only)£22.99
SD TV series (buy only)£16.99
Content
Rental period30 days
Time to finish watching24 hours
SubtitlesYes
5.1 surround soundYes
Platform details
Web/PC/MacWeb: Windows and Mac 720p TV streaming. Windows 720p films, Mac SD films streaming
RokuNo
Amazon Fire TV1080p
Amazon Kindle Fire1080p
Games consolesPS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U: 720p streaming. Wii: SD streaming
Smart TV/box manufacturer supportSony, Samsung, LG, Panasonic
Smart TV/box qualityUp to UHD
iOSSD streaming and downloads
Apple TV/AirPlayNo/Yes (720p)
AndroidSD streaming
Windows PhoneNo
ChromecastNo
UltraViolet supportNo
Detailsamazon.co.uk/instant

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