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I’ve been comparing the VOD services offered by Amazon and Netflix. Both services definitely have value but for someone comparing them, its important to know the key differences.

I used my PS3’s Netflix Streaming disc to check out the Netflix service and used Panasonic’s Vieracast on my TV for Amazon’s VOD: both using the same network connection via wired ethernet.

Interface: Netflix has really figured out a great way to show your queue (on the PS3 streaming disc) and show selected movies available for viewing. This looks almost like the cover flow on an iPod. As long as what you want to watch is in the selection Netflix shows, the interface works well. However, I couldn’t find any way to easily search for movies or go beyond the few shown on screen. Way around this is to add to your queue on a PC before starting things up on the PS3 disc.

Amazon’s interface is not that smooth. Buying a new episode required getting an additional “key” from amazon. But once you had the material on your list, Amazon interface was a breeze, easily utilizing the remote for pausing, forwarding etc. However, I preferred netflix’s approach of showing where you are forwarding to rather than going back or forward by minutes without knowing where you would jump to on Amazon.

Content:

Amazon is a clear winner on this. Netflix has a lot of older, less popular titles and some badly encoded (low quality) starz streams while Amazon has the latest available content and typically what you really want to watch is on Amazon.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that the cost difference is HUGE. Netflix charges as little as $9 a month for unlimited access to their database of streamed content, while Amazon charges individually. $1.99 for a TV episode, $2.99 in HD, $3.99+ for a movie etc. These can add up very quickly. So as I said before, both services have a place in the overall value landscape.

Video Quality:

Amazon at least during my tests came out as clear winner. There was almost no buffering and the experience was just like watching HD TV. Netflix buffered and the actual content seemed to be more compressed, coming out slightly grainy. I’ve tested out Netflix before using a laptop connected to a TV with Heroes and been very impressed with the quality. But high quality content like Heroes or Dexter is few and far between. Starz where you will find most of the things you want to watch on netflix seems to deliberately lower the quality making the content grainy.

Panasonic has still not incorporated Netflix into Vieracast for 2009 model TVs, which is unfortunate. They do have a box labeled “coming soon” but no indication of when Netflix will actually make that transition. Panasonic, get on it!

Look forward to hearing your thoughts on either of these services or any other alternative VOD services you use (except Comcast: long story but Comcast has so many billing errors [some might even be deliberate] that the user experience is miserable).

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I wanted to write a couple of words about my experience with Amazon VOD on my Panasonic Viera Cast TV.

I used an HD episode of Dexter to test things out and came away very impressed.  Obviously, I’m connected to the Stanford network which I’m sure has a lot more bandwidth than most home connections do, but even then Amazon delivered pristine picture quality that I could not tell apart from OTA HD delivered to my TV. The sound quality was great too. Viera Cast did change my color/display settings on the Panasonic G10 a little bit but I was able to manually tweak it back. I wasn’t super happy to see that the “THX”, “factory configured” display settings were not available for Viera Cast videos.

The user interface for Amazon on Viera Cast is not amazing but it’s functional enough, with links to my video library and previous purchases available.  The reason I decided to check Viera Cast out now was because I was told that Netflix was now available on Viera Cast. Unfortunately it appears that at least as of now, there is NO viera cast Netflix support for pre-2010 Panasonic TVs: hopefully this will be remedied very shortly with a firmware update, fingers crossed!

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Recently, I bought a flat screen TV. A 46 inch beauty that takes up about half the space in my tiny EV studio. The TV is made by Panasonic and the picture quality and black levels are amazing. Most readers of this blog, familiar with technology will by now know that the TV I bought is a plasma (the flat panel technology that Panasonic is backing).  As I was doing my research to buy my TV (the P46G10), it struck me that the TV that has better picture quality, better black levels and better viewing angles in almost the same form factor is being ignored and is therefore cheaper. LCD TVs are really ruling the flat panel TV world. The reason I’ve heard quoted many times is that people like to buy TV at stores which are typically brightly lit environments and in that setting LCD provides an eye-catching, bright image that salesmen love.

This obviously has many advantages for me, a plasma TV buyer who prioritizes picture quality and black levels in movies over everything else.  I also have the advantage of being an almost exclusively online buyer, shielded from the charms of salesmen at the big electronics stores. Because of the lack of demand, excellent plasma TVs like the one I bought made by Panasonic are heavily discounted. The legendary Pioneer Kuro line of plasmas is also no longer in production. As I think about this, I feel really bad for consumers who are pressured in stores to spend thousands of dollars for the latest in LCD TV, when they can easily purchase similar or better quality plasma screens for a fraction of the cost.  The only party that seems to still believe that plasma is alive is Panasonic that continues to churn out amazing TVs with constantly improving picture quality. However, I can only guess as to how long they can continue to do this in light of the onslaught from vendors who aggressively push LCD technology on consumers.

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