What is Prime Instant Video?
Let's start with the basics. Prime Instant Video (apart from being the least snappily named service yet devised by man or beast) is Amazon's on-demand streaming service. That means it uses your Internet connection to show video on your TV, phone, tablet or computer, without you having to first download a file. If you're a subscriber to the service, you get unlimited access to Amazon's catalogue of streaming movies and TV shows.
How much does it cost?
Here's where things get a little complicated. Amazon is trying to bundle access to Prime Instant Video with its "Prime" free one-day delivery service (used when you buy items like books or DVDs from Amazon's Web site).
Becoming a Prime member costs £79 per year. That's a bit more than the £72 per year that Lovefilm Instant used to cost, and quite a bit more than the £49 that the Prime free one-day delivery used to cost by itself.
The good news is that Amazon lets you buy access to the streaming service alone for £5.99 per month. When you sign up, you get the first 30 days for free.
How much is there to watch?
In the US, Amazon's streaming service boasts of "tens of thousands" movies and TV shows that are available to stream. In the UK there are only 15,000, but totting up figures in this case isn't actually much practical help. Many streaming services offer many more hours of entertainment than you could possibly ever watch, but most of it is total rubbish that you'd never consider viewing.
Prime Instant Video offers popular TV shows including Dexter, The Walking Dead and The West Wing, as well as blockbusters from the last few years like The Hangover Part II or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. No UK streaming service offers a selection that's anywhere near comprehensive, however, and if you head to Instant Video with a particular show or movie in mind, you'll more than likely be disappointed. Instead, you'll be navigating to the service and browsing around until something captures your attention.
Can I buy or rent films instead?
Yes. Apart from the subscription service, Amazon has also launched its Instant Video shop in the UK. Even if you're not paying out the £5.99 per month for streaming, you can use this online catalogue (which normally offers more recent movies and programmes), to make one-off payments in exchange for entertainment.
This is quite expensive though. For instance, Gravity is available to rent in standard definition for £3.50, or to buy for £10. You can have it in HD to rent for £4.50, or a wince-inducing £14 to buy. Purchasing a movie doesn't mean you can burn it to DVD or keep the file, it just means you can watch that film as many times as you like on Amazon's service.
So, is it worth my money?
In deciding whether you should sign up to Prime Instant Video, the smartest move is to head over to Amazon yourself, and figure out how many movies and TV shows it has that you would actually watch. Personally, I find Netflix has a stronger selection of decent movies and TV shows, and anecdotally I've spoken to more people who use Netflix than use Prime Instant Video (or Lovefilm Instant, as it used to be known).
These recent changes might suggest, however, that Amazon is about to make more of an effort when it comes to what's available on-demand in the UK. That may be wishful thinking, but here's hoping the next few months see plenty more movies and programmes popping up on Amazon's new platform. If you're curious, you could always fire up the 30-day free trial -- just make sure you delete your account before your card gets charged.
Are you a Prime Instant Video fan, or do you like Netflix? Stream your thoughts into our on-demand comments box below.