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Netflix is pretty much the undisputed king of online movie streaming, with other services following a very distant second. This week, the options for people looking to watch their movies from the cloud just got brighter, with the announcement by Amazon.com that Amazon Prime Members get unlimited, commercial-free, instant streaming of more than 5,000 movies and TV shows at no additional cost through its Amazon Video on Demand service.
Amazon Prime is a program whereby members pay $79 per year for access to free two-day shipping with no minimum purchase requirement. Now, there's an additional benefit in the form of a selection of movies and videos to stream right to your computer or other Amazon Video on Demand connected device (the Roku player and some Blu-ray players have Amazon VoD access).
“Millions of Amazon Prime members already enjoy the convenience of free Two-Day Shipping,” said Robbie Schwietzer, vice president of Amazon Prime. “Adding unlimited instant access to thousands of movies and TV shows at no additional cost is a great way to give members even more value for their $79 annual Amazon Prime membership.”
By offering this service to their Prime members, it gives Amazon an instant customer base that it can dangle in front of content providers, and it shows that it is capable of playing in Netflix's league in terms of audience reach.
“In addition to now offering unlimited, commercial-free, instant streaming of 5,000 movies and TV shows to Amazon Prime members, we continue to offer all customers more than 90,000 movies and TV shows through Amazon Instant Video,” said Cameron Janes, director of Amazon Instant Video. “With Amazon Instant Video customers can rent or purchase hit movies, such as ‘The Social Network’ as well as purchase the latest TV shows available the day-after they broadcast.”
I decided to check out the quality of the movies and TV shows that are available in this new promotion and see how it compared to Netflix with the 1997 Jodie Foster movie Contact in SD and the TV documentary Yellowstone: Battle for Life in HD.
Picture quality comparisons of Contact between the two services didn't show any major differences, and the overall, I thought the end result was just below DVD quality. Audio quality was also very similar, with the stereo signal containing surround information that was very evident during the solar system flyby in the opening credits.
The 720p HD feed of Yellowstone: Battle for Life showed a little bit of a difference, with Amazon getting a slight edge over the incumbent leader. Sound quality was about the same between the two. Even when expanded full screen on a 1920x1080 monitor, the quality was impressive for a streaming video feed. Amazon's CPU usage was quite low, with the Flash player likely taking advantage of the hardware-based acceleration that my video card supplied.
The Amazon player can viewed within the browser's page, "popped out" in a
standalone window, or switched to full-screen viewing.
The connection information provided by the Flash-based Amazon player was helpful to know what kind of feed I was seeing and what the connection quality was like. Netflix's Silverlight player does indicate whether the feed is HD, but no connection details, but it does have a nice display when you are adjusting the time slider so that you can see frames of the video as you move the slider back and forth.
I do not have a standalone player capable of accessing Amazon Video on Demand, so I couldn't evaluate it in that environment. This is probably Amazon's biggest hurdle, as Netflix Instant Streaming seems to be on everything from TV's to Blu-ray players to toasters these days.
Overall, I was quite impressed! For the best quality, Blu-ray is still the only way to go. Especially, because I wasn't able to get 5.1 sound, much less the lossless sound that is now commonplace on Blu-ray discs. For the average TV show or to watch a movie that didn't require better sound, Amazon's new service definitely hits the right notes!
Source: Amazon Press Release
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