Amazon's Prime Video Review: Deep River of Content, But...
Amazon's messy menus can make finding TV shows and movies a chore.
Alison DeNisco RayomeManaging Editor
Managing Editor Alison DeNisco Rayome joined CNET in 2019, and is a member of the Home team. She is a co-lead of the CNET Tips and We Do the Math series, and manages the Home Tips series, testing out new hacks for cooking, cleaning and tinkering with all of the gadgets and appliances in your house. Alison was previously an editor at TechRepublic.
ExpertiseHome Tips, including cooking, cleaning and appliances hacksCredentials
National Silver Azbee Award for Impact/Investigative Journalism; National Gold Azbee Award for Online Single Topic Coverage by a Team; National Bronze Azbee Award for Web Feature Series
Wide variety of movies and shows, including many critically acclaimed originals
Large collection of 4K UHD shows and movies
Offline downloads and user profiles
Can't watch shows as they air on other networks
Paid content mixed in with free content
Menus can be confusing
Epic fantasy series, theatrical film releases, Rihanna, MLB and football all share space on a common platform: Amazon's Prime Video. It's where you can watch the latest Savage X Fenty fashion show, originals such as Sound of Metal and The Boys or live concerts from artists like Carrie Underwood.
The service tends to come behind Netflix, Disney Plus and Hulu in discussions about streaming, and teeters somewhere close to HBO Max's massive subscriber numbers with over 75 million users. Yet the tech and retail giant's streaming arm is muscular in its own right with lots of high-quality original shows and movies, an impressive back catalog of older favorites (and B-movies you haven't heard of), Yankees games on Fridays and NFL on Thursday nights.
If you already subscribe to Amazon Prime for the free shipping, the video offering is a really great included perk. And if you don't, it may still be worth paying $9 a month for, especially if you're interested in any of its Amazon Originals or its large movie selection.
On the other hand, Prime Video is more of a companion service to Netflix and Hulu, and weaker overall than both. It can't replace Netflix's massive catalog of originals and hit shows, and can't compete with Hulu's vast collection of TV both old and newly aired. If you don't already have a Prime subscription we'd definitely recommend choosing one of those two first -- but chances are you already get Amazon's video part for free.
The setup works in two ways. If you are one of the 150 million-plus people worldwide who subscribe to Amazon Prime for the free two-day shipping ($15 per month or $140 per year), Prime Video is included with the service. If you don't have an Amazon Prime account, you can still subscribe to Prime Video for $9 a month, which is one dollar less than Netflix's Basic Plan, and a few bucks more than Hulu's base ad-supported plan. Prime Video subscribers can add on subscriptions to HBO, Showtime, Starz, Paramount Plus and several other channels for an extra monthly cost as well.
Streaming Services Compared
Amazon Prime Video
$8.99 (or included with $140/year Prime membership)
Starts at $9.99
Basic $6.99 with ads, ad-free Premium for $12.99, Live TV for $70
$9.99 for basic with ads, $14.99 for ad-free
Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Boys, Reacher, The Wheel of Time
Content: Critically acclaimed TV, and loads of movies that are... less so
Prime Video lists more than 200 Amazon Original series and movies on the site -- larger than Hulu's 100 or so originals, and smaller than Netflix's collection of 2,000. Amazon's Original series stand out for the amount of critical acclaim they've received: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Boys, Fleabag, Good Omens, The Man In The High Castle, Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan and Mozart in the Jungle all were nominated for or won Emmy awards in the past few years. These shows are typically made available on the platform a full season at a time.
Later this year, Amazon's Lord of the Rings prequel series will debut on Prime Video as well. Amazon reportedly paid nearly $250 million for the rights, and it's estimated to cost up to $1 billion overall, making it the most expensive TV series ever. You'll also find exclusive original comedy specials, documentaries and reality shows.
The service has original movies, too, including Being the Ricardos, Coming 2 America, Hotel Transylvania: Transformania and a slew of Blumhouse co-productions. This is in addition to an extensive catalog of B-movies that are pretty terrible and super-fun to watch. But if you prefer to watch films of better quality, some of those exist, too. Just check out some of the platform's sci-fi, fantasy or horror flicks.
Another area where Prime Video stands out is its selection of kids' shows. You'll find favorites like Sesame Street, SpongeBob SquarePants, Shaun the Sheep and Thomas and Friends along with originals like Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny.
While Prime Video is great for binge-watching original shows and older favorites, one downside is that there's no option to keep up with current shows like you can on Hulu, unless you subscribe to one of the channels for an extra cost.
Not all Prime Video content belongs to the platform
Unlike Hulu and Netflix, Amazon sells TV shows and movies separately from its Prime subscription content, for rental and/or purchase, including newer releases like Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
These pay-to-rent (or buy) titles can show up on some Prime menus, too, mixed in with stuff you can stream "free" as part of your subscription. The mingling of content is confusing and can even seem like another incentive to buy something. But Amazon has since changed the Prime Video layout to make it clearer what's included in Prime (which typically has a blue Prime tag or ribbon) and what's paid for (which has a gold dollar sign tag). But this appears differently across different devices.
While you can easily scroll through Prime Video's curated carousels, searching can be a hassle. That is, if you type in a specific title, the results can sometimes be mystifying. For example, I searched for Deadpool, and while five Deadpool movies popped up, so did Venom: Let There be Carnage, Cocomelon, Sonic the Hedgehog, Trolls, Jurassic World, Baywatch, Date Night and a bunch of other unrelated fare. This is one of Prime Video's sore points.
Then there's Freevee. Formerly known as IMDb TV, it's Amazon's free, ad-supported streaming service and its library is listed within Prime Video as a "channel." Depending on where you're watching (on a PC, for example), some Freevee titles appear in a designated row in Prime Video. If you're searching for a specific title like Deadpool 2 or Bewitched, it will either say, "Free with Freevee" or show up in your search results under Prime Video with the words, "Included with your Freevee subscription." While you automatically have access to Freevee with a Prime Video subscription, you don't need a paid subscription to any Amazon service to watch Freevee originals, shows or movies.
Otherwise Prime Video's interface is pretty similar to those of Netflix and other streaming services. At the top, you'll see tabs for Search, Home, Free, Movies, TV shows, Channels, My Stuff and Settings. As you scroll, you'll see personalized categories like Movies based on your viewing, Popular movies and TV shows we think you'll like and live stream offerings followed by more typical ones like Trending TV.
Prime Video's nested menus operate similarly to those on Netflix. Click a title and you'll see a description, an IMDb score and the ability to Watch Now if it's included with Prime, as well as check out other rental or purchase options. If the title you choose is not included with Prime, this page will show you how much it would cost to rent or buy on the platform.
Prime Video's best features
One cool feature that differentiates Prime Video from other streaming services is called X-Ray. Thanks to Amazon's ownership of IMDb, you can scroll up while playing a given show or movie and see information on cast members, the music playing and trivia in real time -- helping you avoid "wait, don't I know that guy from somewhere?" syndrome.
Another perk: Prime Video is generally ad-free. You may see a short promo for an Amazon Original before a show. But Prime Video doesn't run regular advertising, so you won't see ads for things like soda or trucks during any commercial breaks in your programming. The exception is within the Freevee category.
To aid your binge planning, Prime Video does tell you what new shows are coming up for the month, which Hulu does as well but Netflix does not.
Most Amazon Original movies and shows, along with several others, are available to stream in 4K Ultra High Definition with HDR. This is great news, since in our experience, HDR actually delivers a more noticeable picture quality improvement, especially on a good TV, than 4K resolution. You'll need a 4K UHD display and a streaming device that supports the format.
Prime now allows you to create separate user profiles like Netflix, Hulu and Disney Plus do, with users being able to add up to six different profiles, including kids' profiles, on one account. A kids' profile comes with content suitable for ages 12 and under, and the purchase/rent function is automatically disabled. Parents can also set up additional parental controls -- like PINs -- for any device by navigating to Prime Video Settings > Parental Controls on a web browser.
You can download Prime Video titles to watch offline if you have a Fire tablet, or the Prime Video app for iOS or Android. One note though: Any of your downloads will be still accessible on a kids' profiles, regardless of rating.
Is paying for Prime Video worth it if you don't have Amazon Prime?
Depends on what you're looking for in a streaming service. If you're a big fan of movies (good, bad and everything in between), a Prime Video subscription might be worth it for the extensive film catalog -- especially if you can use it to replace pricey digital rentals. The growing collection of quality Amazon Originals is also a big draw -- especially since there are no ads in any shows. And the large number of 4K HDR offerings is a plus for those with 4K TVs.
But if you're more of a TV show binge-watcher and the Amazon Originals don't spark your interest, you may be just fine with your Netflix or Hulu subscription. Either way, you can try out Prime Video free for 30 days -- just make sure you cancel before it auto-renews.