Picture this, you're settling in for a nice night of watching streaming using your Roku device. You watch a couple of episodes of a Netflix series or something on Hulu, then a couple of videos on YouTube, and everything is fine.
Then, you switch to Amazon Prime for a movie, and there's a problem: either the first few minutes of the Prime content is very blurry or "VHS quality", or the streaming abruptly stops, or else the picture goes from sharp to blurry and back to sharp continuously.
If you're like me, you attribute the problem to something on your end: a problem with your bandwidth, your Internet Service Provider (ISP), or your modem or router. You follow the troubleshooting advice on the web, and remove the Prime channel from your Roku device and re-add it, but nothing works.
Then, you notice that if you stream Prime through one of Amazon's own Fire devices, suddenly there is no problem. Is it possible that the "problem" isn't a problem at all, but deliberate?
The community weighs in
On a Roku forum, on September 29, 2019, user wawh411 posted: "Re: Pixelated, blurry video only on Amazon Prime. It is obvious to me that it is something that Amazon is doing or not doing. Run it on Roku or smart TV both show a blurry pic. On Netflix or Hulu HDR [High Dynamic Range] is very sharp. What's the deal with this? Band with (sic) and speed is just fine, as well as the hardware." An earlier post on this same forum by user atc98092 described Amazon Prime's streaming as "VHS quality (or worse)."
On Amazon's own Digital and Device Forum, users are reporting the very same issues. On November 4, 2019, user marietteem posted: "All my other apps are fine but with amazon prime video the quality begins OK and then degrades very shortly. And degrades to the point of unrecinizability (sic). The only solution I’ve found is to stop the video and begin playing again. I think you can see how quickly this becomes frustrating. I'm paying for this?! ..."
On November 15, 2019, user swade2 posted: "Same issue here on Vizio P55-F1, 4k smart tv. Netflix shows start in HD immediately. All Prime Videos start at 480p and take a long time to get to 1080 and rarely will ever reach 2160 for the 4k shows. TV is updated with Vizio software. All other streams have clear video, only Prime fails to reach the desired clarity. Yes, my tv is updated. So what is the next step to solve this issue?"
Also on December 15, 2019, user Bigmickt posted: "Same here... keep getting a message saying the internet connection is slow. Well not my end it isn't, 38Mb at worst to the device and no problems with netflix, skygo, youtube or any other streaming service, only Amazon..."
On December 26, 2019, user J Cole V posted: "Add me to the list of people with a poor stream. Video stutters every 10 seconds. Netflix= smooth as silk. Youtube= never an issue. Prime video=terrible."
On December 31, 2019, user suki06 posted: "Same here, it (sic) streaming with no interruptions but video quality is awful." And, on January 1, 2020, user Kardrake posted: "Same here. Terrible streaming. Buffers every minute or so. So bad I can't use it. ... Every other streaming service works flawlessly. Have tried all tricks of making sure all apps and tv (Roku tv) are up to date and reset, rebooted modem and router and tv multiple times. No luck. They have great content but what's the point if you can't watch it?"
On another Amazon Digital and Device forum, Roku users are describing the exact same problems. On August 28, 2019, user Dr.Matt49 wrote: "I too am having this issue of my Amazon Prime streaming app not work[ing] on my Roku device after having worked fine previously. I have uninstalled/reinstalled the app; it worked once, then back to not working again. My on-screen messages (which transmits in several languages) indicate that I'm having internet connectivity problems, which can't be totally accurate because Netflix/Vudu work fine and the Roku is plugged into the internet via a hard line un-reliant upon wireless. ... I might guess I'm not so subtly being led to purchase an Amazon fire-stick..."
On August 29, 2019, user ejh1967 wrote: "Having the same/similar issue. I use Roku with a 2 or 3 year old LG tv. Nary a problem until recently (maybe 2 months ago). Now, Many/most offerings on Amazon Prime, are slow to download and/or kick me back to the Roku home screen at about 30 minutes into the show. Loading back to the program to "resume" takes me to a scene 4 or 5 minutes earlier. The rest of the program usually plays through until about 2 minutes before the end---then it kicks me out again, and often treats that as a "finished" broadcast (ie, no way to capture that last 3 or 4 minutes). Most frustrating!!!! And definitely an Amazon Prime issue, as no other streaming services have any difficulty with my equipment. Hoping for a reply/fix sooner rather than later."
On September 25, 2019, user lapoodella wrote: "Amazon Prime becomes more and more expensive as it becomes more and more tedious. My Prime video doesn’t work on my Roku device. I am told to call a phone number that doesn’t work. I am told to go to Amazon.com/help by the phone number recording. But the website doesn’t have any fixes. All my other apps work on my roku. I think Amazon is trying to get me to buy fire. That’s not happening ..."
The problems aren't just happening in the U.S. User Saitek posted on an Amazon forum "Same issues in the UK, suddenly prime video on Roku won't open, click app, goes to load then boots out back to Roku home screen. Tried deleting-reloading prime video app, rebooting router and Roku all to no avail... Now read it's a problem being faced everywhere. ... As others, everything else on Roku works fine except the prime app."
It's also happening on Roku-equipped smart TVs
The same problem seems to be affecting Roku TVs. These are televisions with Roku already built-in. Roku TVs include:
- TCL Roku TV
- Insignia Roku TV
- Sharp Roku TV
- Hisense Roku TV
- Hitachi Roku TV
- RCA Roku TV
- Philips Roku TV
- Element Roku TV
- JVC Roku TV
Users on website product-reviews.net report the same issues with streaming Amazon Prime. A month ago, user Dan reported: "My Prime video will not stream content on roku devices. I have a Sharp Roku tv and a Roku Premiere Model: 392OX. 'Something went wrong,' message. Prime video does work on my LG tv, after an app update last week that was a total pain. I just reinstalled Prime on the Roku device, still does not work."
On January 12, 2019, user Debra Gibson posted: "Every time my movie starts it flips back to my home screen. I have a Sharp Roku TV." Three months ago, user Bear3825 posted: "Amazon Prime shuts down and goes to Roku home screen after about 20 min of viewing. Roku Stick 3600X."
These problems are even making people think they're going crazy. On the subreddit r/television, in January 2019, user Sarahndipity101 wrote: "Just this past weekend, I have noticed a significant drop in details [quality] compared to weeks before! So naturally I assumed it was an issue on my end...I started trying different devices, calling support, etc...but nothing really helped. Billions continued to look like a blurry mess, almost like I was watching a standard definition DVD instead of the crystal clear HD I paid for and have experienced in the past! ... Amazon support tells me they don't think nothing (sic) has changed and it's likely a problem on my end so I am hoping it is just this week but I feel like I'm going crazy... Am I? Is everyone else still experiencing crystal clear quality while I'm getting a blurry product?"
On website isdownrightnow.neta month ago, user Alice posted: "I have had this problem for months!! Video lagging, voice off, hanging up, out of sync - on every video with Prime! I'm using Roku and have absolutely no problem with Netflix, Hulu, AcornTV or any of the free channels. I have tried every solution on line (sic), on youtube, on this feed - NOTHING works to fix it!!! Thousands of complaints all over the internet. AMAZON.COM TAKE NOTE!!"
Amazon's response to these complaints
Amazon's response to these posts is pretty much the same: "Have you checked to see if both your Prime Video app and Roku device are up-to-date with the most recent software versions available?"
Amazon's troubleshooting advice includes the following:
- Restart your device
- Ensure that your device or web browser has the latest updates
- Ensure any external device is connected to your TV or display using a HDMI cable that is compatible with HDCP 1.4 (for HD content) and HDCP 2.2 (for UHD and/or HDR content)
- Pause other internet activity – especially if other devices are using the network at the same time
- Check your internet connection
- If you are attempting to control a device using Alexa, try to unpair then re-pair the device in the Alexa app
- Disable any VPN or proxy servers
Maybe the problems aren't a coincidence
It is perhaps not a coincidence that Amazon Prime competitor Netflix is an investor in Roku. In April 2007, Roku founder Anthony Wood was named a vice president of Netflix, and in February 2008, Roku was re-incorporated, with Netflix investing $6 million. In 2015, Roku began sub-leasing buildings in Los Gatos, California from Netflix.
On January 13, 2020, Interesting Engineering reached out to Amazon for comment on this article, but we have not heard back from them yet.
Roku and Fire devices
Roku sells four devices:
- Roku Express - its least expensive model at $24.99, it includes a High-Speed HDMI Cable
- Roku Premier - at $39.99, it allows 4K and HDR streaming and includes a Premium High-Speed HDMI Cable
- Roku Streaming Stick+ - priced at $49.99, it can be used for 4K and HDR TVs, has 4 times the wireless range and includes a voice remote with TV controls
- Roku Ultra - Roku's best streaming device and priced at $99.99, it includes fast channel launch, lost remote finder, and an enhanced voice remote with personal shortcut buttons.
Amazon Fire devices include:
- Fire TV Stick with Alexa built-in - at $34.99, it includes an Alexa Voice Remote and HD
- Fire TV Stick 4K with Alexa built-in - at $49.99, it includes Ultra HD, Dolby Vision, and an Alexa Voice Remote
- Fire TV Cube Hands-Free with Alexa built-in - at $119.99, it includes 4K Ultra HD, and a streaming media player.