21 December 2017
In the past one year, the whole battleground for on-demand entertainment streaming services in India has changed completely. There used to be only local players with not so diverse content to choose from but fast forward to 2017, you now have world's biggest players trying their luck in the country. And even though there are a lot of options to choose from, we will be talking the three major streaming services: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hotstar.
Netflix is a US-based service which is the currently the global leader in the streaming space and Prime Video is an offering from the e-commerce giant Amazon for its Prime members. And as for Hotstar, it is the brainchild of India-based media and entertainment company Star India. So now you have a little idea about each of these services' background, let's have a look at what they have to offer and how much they want you to pay for their offerings.
Web and smartphone app UI:
On the web, Netflix's home page has an UI full of animations and transition effects which appear as you interact with it. At the top, you will either have a static banner or a carousel showing you all the featured TV shows of the series. On the top bar, there are options for accessing all the Netflix content on the basis of various categories, switching to Kids mode, search bar, and options for checking your profile and account details.
As you will scroll down, you will come across various recommendations from Netflix which are based on your what shows/movies that you have watched before. At the time of registration, it asks for your preferences which are saved in "My List" option which further helps the service in making suggestions to you. If you were watching something on Netflix which you did not complete, it also shows a separate section for that too so that you can resume from where you left without any extra effort. And you can always hover the mouse over any title to know more about the content.
Amazon's Prime Video has a slightly cleaner look than what we saw on Netflix. At the top, it has options for jumping specifically to TV shows or movies along with search and your profile options. Just below these options, you will get to see a carousel showing you all the featured content followed by a section of what you were watching before. On further scrolling, you will see different sections like Latest movies/TV shows, Trending, genres, languages, new content, and more. If you want to know about any TV show/movie in detail, you can either hover your mouse over it or simply click on it.
Hotstar has the cleanest UI among all these services with no animations or any kind of effects at all. Just like the above two, it also a top bar with options to browse through content along with a carousel of featured content and options to access information about your profile and account. It also has a section so that you can resume what you were watching previously as well as differnet section of shows and movies that Hotstar thinks you might like. And the only way to know about a specific title in detail is to click on it.
While Netflix has a lot of TV shows and movies to choose from, it is the Netflix Originals offering which has helped it grab such a big piece of the whole pie in the streaming space. It has a lot of original content to choose from which includes the likes of House of Cards, Narcos, Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black, Black Mirror, Daredevil, The Crown, and Jessica Jones. It is also home to some of the best Marvel shows.
As for the local content, it is quite less as compared to the English-language content but it has increased the quantity since its launch in India last year. The only major flaw is that it is quite unorganized as all Netflix has put all the India-related content under Indian section. There is no further categorization for content based on language or region specific except for the only major category related to Bollywood. Otherwise, if you are looking for content in specific regional language, you will have to put in some extra effort.
Prime Video also has its own catalog of original shows which it likes to call Amazon Original Series. Some of these are The Grand Tour, Mozart in the Jungle, The Man in the High Castle, Goliath, Z: The Beginning of Everything, Bosch, and Hand of God. As for the local content, Amazon has done a better job than Netflix here. You will find specific categories like Bollywood movies, Telugu, Tamil, Marathi, Bengali, and more. Even the overall offering is not huge, it is still good to see that they cared enough to differentiate each one so that interested viewers can find them easily.
Hotstar's overall content is less than what both Amazon and Netflix has to offer and is also more inclined towards what is already available on the cable TV but is more diverse than the other two. It currently has four shows under its Hotstar Originals offering: On Air With AIB, Tanhaiyan, CinePlay, and Bol Viru Bol (featuring Virender Sehwag). But that's not it as Hotstar also has another offering calling HBO Originals where you will get access to some of the best shows available under HBO's umbrella. Some of these are Game of Thrones, Westworld, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Sex and the City, The Newsroom, and Silicon Valley.
It is also the only service which has sports content where you get to see live matches, highlights, and best videos related to various sports tournaments around the world. This includes cricket, football, Formula 1, tennis, badminton, hockey, and kabaddi. And as for the local content, you are in for a treat as there are a lot of channels to choose from. You can watch content from the likes of Star Plus, Asianet, Star Vijay, Star World, Life OK, Star Jalsha, Star Utsav, Channel V, and a bunch of sports channels as well.
Content Playback UI:
Netflix's content playback UI is pretty clean and quite easy to get used to. It has a time seek bar to show you how much of the show/movie has passed and how much is left. There are options for play/pause content, skip to next episode, index for all episodes in a particular series, enable/disable subtitles, and ability to switch to full-screen mode if you want. And while it allows you to choose the preferred video quality from the settings, it does not let you switch it while watching a show or movie. It automatically switches the streaming quality depending on your plan and internet connectivity.
Prime Video's content playback UI is also cleaner with standard options like play/pause, time seek, and subtitles on/off. But for what makes it different, it lets you switch the video quality on the fly along with quick toggles to rewind of fast forward the currently playing content by 10 seconds. It also has a unique feature called X-Ray which shows you information about actors in the particular scene that you are watching. It is a very useful feature as it can happen that you might like a character in the show you are watching but you don't know who's the actor playing it. In such a case, simply wait for any scene of that show where that particular character appears and click the X-Ray option to know more about him/her.
Hotstar as a pretty simple content playback UI with no fancy features. It simply has a time seek bar, shortcut to rewind by 10 seconds, option to adjust video quality, and ability to turn subtitles on/off whenever you want. There is also volume control and full-screen mode.
Netflix lets you download selected content for offline viewing but this functionality is available only via the app. From settings, you can easily choose whether you want to download in Standard or High quality along with preferred download location. The app has a specific category called Available for Download which makes it easier to find the content which can be downloaded for offline viewing.
Prime Video offers offline download feature (only on app) but there is no specific section to find all such content at a single place. You will have to look for each content separately to see if it's available for download. As for settings, you can either preset the video quality for download or tell the app to ask each time when you start a download. You can also choose the download location. The only issue is that Prime Video takes relatively more time to start downloading as compared to Netflix. One thing which you will need to keep in mind is that it lets you keep downloaded content only for a specific period of time (for example 48 hours) after which the downloaded title gets deleted automatically.
While Hotstar does let you download content for offline viewing (only on app), it does not allow it for any of its Premium content even if you are a Premium member. And as for non-Premium content, you will have to try your luck to find the content which is actually available for download. The app has no specific settings for the download feature. You get to make all download-related choices right before you start downloading anything.
We can't share screenshots of the download features UI as Hotstar has disabled the screenshot capturing capability when a content is being played on the app.
Pricing and Plans:
Netflix currently has three plans to choose from which are priced at Rs. 500, Rs. 650, and Rs. 800 per month. The first plan offers content only in standard quality with support for only one screen at a time. The second plan upgrades you to the High Definition quality and support for up to two screens at a time. And with the last plan, you get both HD and Ultra HD quality along with support for up to 4 screens at a time.
Amazon's Prime Video is available for Rs. 499 per year which also includes all the benefits of Prime membership available on the e-commerce website. It supports up to three screens at a time.
Hotstar also has only one plan which is priced at Rs. 199 per month. But it is the only app which lets you stream much of its content for free. It is only the content labeled as Premium which is available with the paid plan. While you can stream the free content on multiple screens simultaneously, it supports only one screen at a time for the premium content.
Netflix offers the widest availability across different platforms. It is available via the web browser along with apps for iOS, Android, Windows, and even smart TVs.
Prime Video is available via web browser and only on Android and iOS smartphones. But you can also access it via Amazon's own Fire devices and many smart TVs.
You can access Hotstar either via Android/iOS smartphone or through the web browser.
So that was everything you need to know about Netflix, Amazon's Prime Video, and Hotstar. You can now look at your preferences and needs to see which one suits you the best. And if you still have any question or doubt, feel free to aks them in the comments section below.