Amazon Prime Instant Video hands-on

Amazon has just turned on its Prime Instant Video service, letting paid Prime subscribers (sorry, students) in the US (sorry, foreigners) stream any of 5,000 movies and TV shows directly to their machines free of charge -- well, free beyond the $79 Primers already pay. Jeff Bezos has confirmed that there will be no extra charge going forward for this service and that Prime itself will not be getting more expensive to pay for all these bits and bytes. Right now the selection is limited, particularly if you already have a Netflix subscription, but we just had to try it out. Click on through for our impressions on a variety of devices.

Naturally our first stop was to try it out in a browser, and there these instantly viewable titles interface nicely with Amazon's already existing selection of instant titles. However, now above the "3 day rental" and "Buy movie" buttons (which are still there, if you want to pay for downloadable versions) is a "Watch now unlimited streaming" button, with a quite appealing price of $0.00 driving home the idea that, indeed, there's no charge here. Just in case you had any last doubts.

Click on to get things rolling and the streaming starts impressively quickly, about three seconds on average on the PC we tested this with. Skipping ahead was similarly quick, buffering taking virtually no time at all.

We then moved on to other devices, first a Logitech Revue Google TV box. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Amazon has not (at least not yet) blocked streaming on this box, and everything played perfectly. Next up was an Android device running Flash and, sure enough, it worked on there too -- well, the video plays. How well it plays will largely depend on your phone's processor and your current connection. Content ranged from slideshow to acceptable on the first-gen Droid we spun it up on. We also have confirmation that this service works on the Amazon Instant Channel on Roku and we're guessing just about anything else that'll do Amazon Instant is good to go.

To check quality we loaded up a few films that are streaming both on Netflix and here (not difficult to find) and compared them back-to-back. Ultimately the Amazon quality is good, but not great. In Man on Wire the applied film grain effect shown for flashbacks played havoc on the presumably lower bitrate from Amazon. It looked noticeably better on Netflix. Additionally, there was some detail lacking in the skin on the faces of the speakers in the film.

We also got Red Cliff going to see how Cao Cao would fare in conquering this new service. This film showed a bit more dithering in the scenery shots and the subtitles looked less crisp. So, there's definitely a difference if you're looking for it, but the Amazon content certainly doesn't look bad. And, we really like that Amazon gives the option in many foreign films to choose between dubbed and subtitled. It's also worth noting that you can watch up to two videos simultaneously on two different devices, so if you like the subtitles but your spouse prefers those awful dubs, you can each watch your preferred version together -- if you have enough devices.

Ultimately you can't be too harsh on a service that comes for "free" and just makes an already tempting offering even more appealing, but ultimately Prime Instant Videos is actually quite good. No, the quality isn't quite as good as Netflix and you're going to have a hard time finding anything here that hasn't already been served up there, but now Amazon has another nice bonus to go along with all that two-day shipping.