How well does Amazon Prime Video work for inflight viewing?

Alex Kidman 26 February 2017

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Amazon Prime Video doesn’t offer a huge library in Australia, but at least you can download it all if you have a long plane flight ahead of you.

Back in January while heading to CES 2017, I took the opportunity to test out Netflix’s offline viewing feature as an alternative to using the inflight entertainment system on the plane.

For the trip to Mobile World Congress 2017, it seemed only fair to see how the other side lived. I signed up for the current cheap trial of Amazon Prime Video available to Australians to see how Amazon handles its offline viewing experience.

Amazon is offering a special discount rate on its Prime Video service for Australians, with the first six months costing just US$2.99 per month. There’s no commitment to continue, and as such $2.99 for a couple of flights of entertainment seemed like quite a reasonable deal to me.

One genuinely beneficial factor Amazon Prime Video offers is the ability to download at differing quality levels. If you’re using a device with limited storage capability but just want something to watch it could be worth using the lower quality settings. The very lowest setting is in quite ropey pixel-o-vision, which could be problematic depending on your tolerance for bad video quality.

Amazon Prime Video also scores well for availability of download titles. While the available content library is minute compared to that of Netflix or Stan, I couldn’t find anything that it offered that wasn’t available for offline viewing. This is a huge benefit compared to Netflix, where numerous series, including all of the Marvel Originals titles such as Jessica Jones or Luke Cage aren’t available at all. We're still waiting to see what proportion of its library Stan offers for offline viewing purposes when that launches in March 2017.

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The approach that Amazon has taken to DRM is also a rather interesting one. Like renting an on-demand movie, once you’ve downloaded your content of choice and hit play, you’ve got a 48-hour viewing window before the content becomes inaccessible. If you go online again before that 48-hour period expires, access rights to the content will be restored. It’s a decent balance between accessibility and rights holders, and should work fine unless you’re planning a round-the-world trip with no actual stopovers.

The Android version of the Amazon Prime Video app works acceptably well, and if you’re used to apps such as Netflix or Stan it’s all mostly logical. One nice feature is the addition of “X-Ray” data that gives IMDB-level trivia about what you’re currently watching. It’s especially welcome when you’re on a plane because you don’t otherwise have access but might be puzzled when that-actor-oh-you-know-the-one-he’s-in-everything comes onscreen and you want to find out what his name is. Inevitably if they die it was Sean Bean, and if they don't, it was probably Kevin Bacon.

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El Gran Tour

I did hit one weird quirk testing on the Android version of the app. I downloaded a couple of episodes of The Grand Tour, because it’s good dumb time-wasting content for a long flight.

The first episode played back without issues. The second episode was set to Spanish audio only for some reason. As far as the app was concerned, it was English spouting out of Jeremy Clarkson’s mouth (and some might say that was an improvement), but I couldn’t select other languages or somehow brute force it back to the actual original English language audio.

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I could put English subtitles on, but not alter the audio in any way, which meant I could watch it, but not quite the way I might have wanted to. I still have no idea why Prime Video decided I wanted that episode, and only that episode, dubbed in Spanish. Maybe it was priming me for MWC, as that’s held in Barcelona?

This could have been a quirk of the way Amazon has uploaded its video content. Possibly it was a bug when I was downloading them to the tablet. Either way, once you’re on the plane there’s no Internet availability to try again, or simply stream them from the service.

It’s hard to argue that I didn’t ultimately get US$2.99 worth of value during my flight. It’s always a good time watching The Blues Brothers, and the fact that Amazon seemingly makes everything available to download is a huge plus.

That being said, the library is still woefully small, and the recurring error with audio files doesn’t speak volumes about a quality-first approach.

Amazon Prime Video still has quite a bit of work to do in order to catch up to rivals Stan and Netflix, although if you were feeling budget-pinched and were happy enough with the small array of original content and a few classic movies, you’d be able to get value out of it for shorter holiday trips.

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