Picking which streaming video service to go with got a bit more complicated last week with the announcement of Amazon Prime Instant Video.  Choosing between Netflix Watch Instantly and Hulu Plus wasn’t that complicated, but with Amazon tacking the videos onto an already existing service as an added bonus, the decision is no longer quite as easy.

Despite the fact that consumers complain about the lack of recent material on Netflix’s streaming video solution, it has been the clear leader in the race against Hulu Plus due to the number of videos it does provide, along with its deep integration in to just about every consumer electronic you can name that is currently connected to your television.  Hulu Plus on the other hand is a subscription you only really need if you want to get the content to your television and you want to go further back in their content time wise.

The surprising announcement by Amazon last week of giving streaming to its Amazon Prime customers who pay $79 a year for unlimited shipping came as a bit of a shock.  Some estimates claim that the service has ten million subscribers, so, if true, Amazon just propelled itself into the streaming game in a big way.  Add in the fact that the annual fee makes it the cheapest service on a per month basis of the big three, and Prime customers just got a heck of a deal.

Here are how the three services currently compare to one another.

Video Streaming Comparison Chart

While Amazon is currently the furthest behind when it comes to selection, it is also lacking in a few other areas.  The lack of an iOS compatible app is a major one, as is the inability to build a queue of what you want to watch.  I’ve been browsing the service via a Roku XD|S, and while I’ve found some television series I want to watch, I have to browse to it every time I want to view another episode.  Shouldn’t I be able to build a list or even favorite the shows I want to watch?  Seasons of a TV show are also currently counted as separate listings, so just because you find the title you wish to view, it may not be the season you want, so you have to keep looking.

To be fair, this is very early days for Prime, and I’m sure there will be the addition of a lot more titles, more ways to view and easier browsing at some point, but for right now I’m just glad it’s tacked on to something else I love as opposed to being a service I have to pay for on its own.

All of this has made one thing very clear to me, however, and that is that 2011 is clearly going to be the year streaming video makes a run for the big time.  With Netflix getting dedicated buttons on remotes – which will serve as a constant advertisement to non-members – and Redbox entering the streaming video arena, it’s clear that these types of services are going to be inescapable this year.  Since Amazon has now made it clear that they are jumping into this fight, there’s no way the company is going to sit back and think it’s current offerings and functionality are enough, and it’s going to be working to improve itself constantly.  I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear a lot of announcements coming out of this company over the next few months in regards to new deals it strikes.

For now, overall, Netflix Watch Instantly is still the best solution, but I wouldn’t be getting complacent if I was them, which they don’t appear to be as they announced a deal with CBS the same day Amazon launched.  I, for one, would definitely keep one eye on the growing competition while also trying to be out there being innovative as opposed to being reactionary to the changing environment.  Too often in technology we have seen a company get comfortable in the lead position, and then realize too late the competition had just shot past them.  It would be nice to see a lengthy battle happen for once where a company didn’t just sit back and actually fought to keep its crown.

What do you think?  Is 2011 going to be the year streaming video breaks wide?

UPDATED 3/1/11:  Numbers updated for Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime for how many TV episodes each offers.