Amazon streaming: What works, what doesn't

Amazon's new Prime streaming service is supposedly available on about 200 devices, but it doesn't actually work on all of them. The service does offer decent picture quality.

Amazon.com's new video plan launched yesterday, enabling Prime customers to stream content to a Mac, PC, and a number of set-top boxes, HDTVs, and other devices that consumers may have in their living rooms.

The question is, which products are supported and which are not?

The official Amazon word on Prime streaming is that it works with "more than 200 devices." The company also has a page on its site where people can see which products are supported.

However, that list isn't entirely correct.

According to Amazon's list of "compatible set-top boxes and DVRs," TiVo owners will be able to access the company's streaming service. TiVo support is not, in fact, offered with Amazon's Instant Video service. And when pressed for when streaming will be coming to TiVo, Amazon wouldn't comment.

But even if TiVo owners can't stream Amazon's selection of 5,000 films and TV shows, owners of several brands of HDTVs, including Samsung, Panasonic, and Vizio, as well as Roku set-top box owners, can access the service.

But based on the fact that Amazon's listing of supported devices included the TiVo, we decided to check that list against the products in-house at the CNET Reviews office and in my own home where I have a few compatible products. Along the way, we found several devices that streamed Amazon content. We also tested picture quality. We even examined the two main ways that people can access the content from their respective set-top boxes.

Hands-on with Amazon streaming
CNET's David Katzmaier was able to get Amazon's streaming service up and running on several HDTVs, including the Panasonic TC-65VT25, Vizio's XVT553SV, the Samsung UNC46C6500, and the Sony KDL-52NX800 .

I was able to stream content with the Samsung UN55C8000, as well as through the Roku HD XR.

Amazon streaming works on the Samsung UN55C8000.
Amazon streaming works on the Samsung UN55C8000. Don Reisinger/CNET

In all of our cases, we used the free "Walking Dead" HD preview to see how picture quality fared across the many devices. Katzmaier's devices connected to the Internet via Ethernet, while my Samsung set and the Roku were connected to my home network via Wi-Fi.

In order to get Amazon's streaming service running, the app must be linked to a person's Amazon Prime account. On the Roku, for example, customers must surf to a specific Amazon Roku page and input a code displayed in the app running on the set-top box.

Amazon's app running on different devices must be activated.
Amazon's app must be activated. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

It's worth noting that the Panasonic TC-65VT25, the Sony KDL-52NX800, and the Roku set-top box have native Amazon Instant Video applications available to customers. The Vizio set, along with the two Samsung HDTVs, require people to employ a Yahoo widget to access Amazon's streaming service.

I wasn't too pleased with the Yahoo Widget integration. The menu system is too difficult to maneuver and it was much slower than the native application on the Roku set-top box. The service delivers a far more appealing experience when built-in apps are available.

The Samsung UN55C8000 requires users to access Yahoo widgets to stream Amazon content.
The Samsung UN55C8000 requires users to access Yahoo widgets to stream Amazon content. Don Reisinger/CNET

Once a Prime account is linked to Instant Video, Amazon's streaming service works much like Netflix. Simply choose a movie or television show to watch, and start streaming. Videos come up quickly, though finding content on the Roku, which has a native app, was a bit easier than working around Yahoo widget integrations of the service.

Roku has a native application available.
Roku has a native application available. Don Reisinger/CNET

In his testing, Katzmaier was quite pleased with Amazon's video quality, describing it as "very good on the HD stream." He also pointed out that the stream was "comparable to Netflix HD."

I'd have to agree. In my time with both the Samsung UN55C8000 and the Roku XR, picture quality was quite good across the board. I didn't deal with any buffering problems after the video started and there wasn't any degradation in quality at any point during the stream. It was solid throughout.

However, it should be noted that picture quality through any of these devices can vary depending on bandwidth in a person's home.

Also, the movies and shows are free, but Prime membership costs $79 annually. The membership also includes two-day free shipping on all Amazon purchases.

All in all, Amazon's new streaming plan works quite well. Amazon's library isn't as deep as Netflix's, but with 5,000 pieces of content already, there is plenty to choose from. If Amazon adds more content over the coming months, its streaming service might just cement itself as a worthwhile competitor to Netflix in the booming streaming market.

 

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