Amazon Prime Video has finally arrived in India along with 241 other countries. It was officially announced on 14 December, and will be available on the Android and Apple app stores as well as on the web on India has seen a proliferation of video streaming services over the last couple of years. With Netflix India already present in India since January this year, and HotStar being a local favourite, there will be a fierce battle between these three, in addition to a lot more video streaming apps, to capture Indian eyeballs.
Home Page Content Categorisation
The home page is the first thing that you come across when you fire up the apps. It is a major contributor to how long you will stay on the app. Considering these are video streaming apps, the home pages are generally visually heavy, and require multiple scrolls to see the all the categories.
Home screen
NetflixThe featured image on Netflix is generally an announcement with a call to action. Netflix uses this top featured image to push out its recent shows or give you an idea of which new shows have been added to its catalogue. Then you have the ‘Continue Watching’ tag which lets you resume watching the shows from your last played locations. Apart from these features, you then come across a whole list of categories: Recently Added, Trending Now, Watch It Again, New Releases, Popular On Netflix, Kid’s TV, Because you watched <insert show name>, and so on and so forth. Netflix keeps mixing and matching these categories from user to user which not only helps in keeping the categories dynamic, but also help with easy discovery of some interesting content.
HotstarWith Hotstar, the featured image at the top is dynamic. It basically presents a carousel with a mix of Live TV, free to stream movies or TV shows as well as Premium content – each having a call to action. This is followed by a multiple-scroll list of categories with Popular Movies and Popular shows up top, followed by the latest trending live TV content, Premium content, Must Watch Clips, popular Premium content and so on. Considering Hotstar also has the whole bouquet of TV channels, the categorisations on the home page are much more dynamic than Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, with playlists not just across genres, but also based on TV shows. As compared to Netflix and Prime Video, you get a lot more information than just a TV show or movie poster. At the base of the app, there are tabs such as Home, TV, Movies, Sports and More which makes navigation more easier.
Amazon Prime VideoJust like Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video also has a carousel with the most popular and premium content up front. This is followed by ‘Watch Next’ which is instead of directly playing the show from the last played moment, adds in an extra unecessary step, which takes you to the TV show page, with a button for ‘Resume Episode’. Then there are categories such as Amazon Original Series, Latest Movies, Latest TV, Exclusive Movies, Kid & Family TV, Movie Genres and so on. It would be too early to say if the categorisation on the home page for Prime Video would be dynamic at this stage, but going by what we have seen on Netflix and Hotstar, it would be safe to assume that it would. The Home, TV Shows and Movies tabs are present right at the top.
One common design element that is common on Hotstar and Amazon Prime Video is the film-strip like layout for every category with a ‘See More’ or ‘See All’ on the far right hand side. Netflix on the other hand does not have anything on the far right, you just scroll horizontally through the entire category.
Offline options
India may be a heavy consumer of videos, but bandwidth is still a question mark. There are very few among us who would stream content when we are commuting without having even the slightest nagging fear at the back of our minds of hitting our FUP limits. Hence the need for Offline viewing is paramount. Hotstar started the offline viewing feature earlier this year, which was followed by Netflix India and Prime Video offers it out of the box.
NetflixTaking a video offline on Netflix is pretty easy. Just navigate to the TV show or movie page. On the right hand side you will see a Download icon, just hit it and it will start downloading. Beware that not all TV shows or movies are downloadable. For instance, I could not find a download link for The Cuba Libre Story, whereas Stranger Things was available to download. You can view your downloaded content in ‘My Downloads’ section in the settings. You could set the app to download only on Wi-fi connection, keep the video quality as Standard or Higher. There’s also an option to ‘Delete All Downloads’ in case you don’t want to go through the rigmarole of selecting individual show and deleting it from the My Downloads segment.
Just like Netflix, Hotstar also offers download only on select content – TV shows and movies. For instance Premium content does not have the download button. You have to try your luck as to what is and what isn’t available. Honestly, 3 out of every 5 movies or TV shows I checked did not have a download option. Moreover there is no easy way of knowing what I can download. With Netflix and Prime Video, upfront you get a lot more featured shows with a download option. Also another pointless thing is to actually have the Download button (it’s of a light shade) for shows which cannot be downloaded. Also for a lot of TV shows and movies, the disabled download button gets activated only when you start streaming the content. Once the download starts, you can do other things while it is happening in the background. On the whole, the experience of finding download worthy content on Hotstar is a struggle. Also the whole user experience needs to be relooked at.
The only silver lining on Hotstar though is that it gives you and exact resolution and file size when you do eventually find that Download button. This is much better than Netflix or Amazon Prime Video which does not specify the resolutions or file size. Double thumbs up for that!
Amazon Prime VideoAmazon has activated the download option for most of the content. There wasn’t any TV show or movie that did not have a Download button. This feature will be present for all the content on Prime Video according to Amazon representatives I spoke to at launch event. However, while trying to download certain TV shows, I did face an issue in the sense that the downloads took quite a while to begin the process. But it’s just been a day since the launch, and hopefully this is just some glitch. The thing to note is that everything is available for download. But unlike say Netflix or Hotstar, the downloaded content for offline viewing will disappear after 48 hours. So don’t keep that show you want to binge-watch on Saturday, to download on a Monday. You may have to re-download it on Saturday. There are only two options in the Download settings – button to activate Downloads only on Wi-Fi and the Download Quality which varies from Good (1 hour video uses 0.1GB storage), Better (1 hour video uses 0.6GB storage) and Best (1 hour video uses 0.9GB storage).
Once the video starts to play
NetflixThe playback screen on Netflix shows subtitle menu, list of episodes and if you are using an iPhone, then Airplay mirroring. There is no option to change the streaming quality on the fly in Netflix simply because the resolution of streaming will depend on the plan you have taken. The UltraHD plan is for Rs 800/month, HD plan is available at Rs 650/month and SD plan starts at Rs 500/month. Even with an HD / UltraHD plan, you will have to change the streaming resolutions at a system level from the settings menu. When streaming on cellular data, you get the option to select the quality of the stream from Low, Medium, High, Unlimited, which stops playback after a GB is reached. The different settings give different durations that you can watch for.
The playback screen on Hotstar only has Closed Captions, Settings and display size resizing options on the top right hand corner. The Settings menu lets you select video quality on the fly, between Auto, Low (180p), Medium (360p) and High (720p). Closed captions are available in English only.
Amazon Prime VideoAmazon Prime Video has an interesting X-ray feature and IMDB integration into the app, which gives you a lot of information about characters in a TV show or movie in real time as the video is playing. Even what soundtrack is playing! This is a great value addition. When playing back a video on Prime Video, you get the subtitle menu and the Airplay mirroring option. Changing of resolutions has to be done at a system level, just like Netflix.
Regional Content
All said and done, if a streaming service has to thrive in India, regional content just cannot be ignored. India has a vast range of languages and every state has its own favourite local GEC channels where consumers watch shows and movies in local languages. For streaming services to really go mainstream, they have to attract people with regional content as well.
Netflix content catalogue is heavily biased towards English language content, but it also has a lot of Hindi movies onboard. Regional language cinema is quite limited currently and not really well categorised. Everything falls under the ‘Indian Movies’ umbrella. This could prove to be Netflix’s Achilles heel if not checked as the other two players have got this aspect quite right
This app became famous as an alternative to watching TV specially as it has the entire bouquet of Star channels on board. So GEC is front and centre on this app along with the live TV option. Hotstar also neatly demarcates things according to languages and how much content it has in these languages. In fact the settings menu has a tab for Languages. It covers Hindi, English, Malayalam, Tamil, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Kannada, Gujarati languages and each one shows how many movies and TV shows are available. This is one of the best categorisation for regional content.
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon has been operational in India for over three years now, so naturally it has a good grip on the Indian consumer. Keeping this in mind, not only did Amazon launch the Prime Video service with focus on regional content, but also announced around 18 TV shows which will be part of the Amazon Originals program. Languages currently covered by Prime Video include Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Bengali and of course Hindi. It does neatly demarcate the regional content, but not as well as Hotstar. But the good thing about Prime Video is that it has added subtitles in regional languages as well. So you can watch Seinfeld with Hindi captions. But if you lose the jokes in translation, then don’t complain. Regional language captioning is a really good move as it exposes people who may have not considered watching content in a language they aren’t fluent in, now have the support of subtitles. However, not all content has subtitles in all languages.
Platform availability
Netflix plans start from Rs 500 onwards and with the basic plan you can watch simultaneously on 1 screen, with standard plan that goes to two screens and with premium you can take that to four screens. You can watch Netflix via the Android and iOS apps, on the web browser and also through apps as part of smart TVs
Hotstar offers free streaming for TV content, but charges a premium of Rs 190 for international TV shows and movies or latest Hindi movies. You can only play one premium video from one subscriber account at a time. You can stream free content on multiple devices, as that does not really require a login. Hotstar is available on Android and iOS apps, on the web browsers
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime members do not have to pay additional charges for the Prime Video service. You can watch content on three devices simultaneously from one login according to Amazon. I tried it by playing Sultan on my desktop, iPhone and an Android phone, and all three worked smoothly. The app is available on Android and Apple stores, it can be viewed on the web and it will also be part of smart TV ecosystems.
So there you have it, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Hotstar compared across different parameters. Do let us know if you would like us to test more features. We will be using Prime Video extensively and doing a full review of the app soon. In case you are on the fence between switching your Netflix connection to Amazon Prime Video, read our story before proceeding.