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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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