Price: Starts at $9 per month
Number of simultaneous streams: Up to 4, depending on subscription tier
Breadth of content library
Available in most countries and on most devices
Free portal to try out service
Compared to other streaming services, no one offers more high-quality content at a single price than Netflix. Pick any category you can think of and Netflix probably has something that will fit the bill. Plus, new content is released every week and as a worldwide service, Netflix is consistently adding movies and TV shows from around the globe that can change the viewing experience in ways you may not have considered. (Are you sure you’re not into K-Dramas, Finnish detective thrillers or British home improvement shows?)
Netflix is available in almost every country on the planet, and its app or website runs on most of the devices that connect to the internet. Those apps are also some of the most easy-to-use of any service. That doesn’t mean it’s always simple to choose something to watch, but when it comes to swapping profiles or simply picking up where you left off, it doesn’t get better than this. If you’re heading off the grid — or onto a plane — then you can easily download most (but not all) of its content to watch on your iOS or Android device.
If you somehow don’t have Netflix already (or someone to share a login with) then getting a taste of it is a little more complicated than it used to be. Netflix quietly dropped its free trial period in the US earlier this year — there is a free portal where you can check out some of its original content without paying a dime — so it’s important to have all your information in order before going in to create an account.
The other thing to keep in mind is that maybe if you’ve let your account lapse, the service that exists now is very different from what you would’ve seen two years ago, or five, or ten. Remaining the dominant player in subscription streaming has required adjustments to stay on top with a changing mix of content and plans to choose from.
In the US, there are three levels of Netflix you can subscribe to. All of them include unlimited access to the same content, work on the same devices, none of them include advertisements and you can cancel or pause them at any time. The difference between Basic ($9 per month), Standard ($13 per month) and Premium ($16 per month) comes down to picture quality and the amount of simultaneous streams allowed.
At the Basic level you can expect 480p, aka DVD quality, and only a single stream available. If you’d like to watch streams in HD and allow for the possibility of up to two streams at once, then you’ll need to step up to the Standard package. If you share your account with multiple people or have a newer 4K display, then you may want the Premium package. You can watch content in the highest quality available going all the way up to 4K/HDR (F1 Drive to Survive, Stranger Things and Altered Carbon are some of my favorites at the level) and have four streams at once on one account. — Richard Lawler, Senior News Editor
Price: Starts at $9 per month
Number of simultaneous streams: Up to 2
Included in a Prime subscription or as a standalone service
Available on most devices including Alexa smart displays
No extra charge to stream in 4K HDR
Ability to subscribe to premium channels
If you think of Amazon’s Prime Video package as a Netflix-lite, or even if you’ve only used it once or twice then you may be underestimating the options available. The ad-free (other than trailers) subscription service is available as part of Amazon Prime, which you can purchase for either $13 per month, or $119 annually. While the subscription started out as a way to get free shipping on more purchases, Amazon has tacked on benefits that extend across books, music, games and even groceries. If you’d prefer to get Prime Video only, it’s available as a standalone for $9 per month.
We’ll focus on the video service, which includes a selection of original and catalog content that is a lot like what Netflix and the others offer. In recent years Amazon Prime has increased its original output with award-winning series like Transparent and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, as well as highly-regarded genre content like The Boys (which just wrapped season two) and The Expanse.
As for licensed offerings, Amazon’s content is a mixed bag. Like Netflix, it has selections across almost every category, but you may find that scrolling down the lists runs into straight-to-video quality releases quickly. On the other hand, if you’re looking for content that Netflix used to have a few years ago that hasn’t been snatched back by studios launching their own streaming setups, there’s a good chance you’ll find it hiding out on Amazon. Highly bingeable series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bones and the UK version of The Office are just a few that have made the shift.
When it comes to where you can watch Amazon Prime Video, the list of options rivals Netflix. Streaming boxes and smart TVs, whether they’re part of Amazon’s Fire TV platform or not, are almost a given. Game consoles? Check. The only major gap in compatibility was Google’s Chromecast, and it closed that hole in the summer of 2019.
Amazon also has a significant amount of content that’s available to watch in 4K and HDR and unlike Netflix it won’t charge you extra for the privilege. The same goes for simultaneous streams — Amazon’s rules say you can have up to two running concurrently. When it comes to downloads, Amazon allows offline viewing on its Fire devices, Android and iOS.
The only downside is that Amazon’s apps aren’t quite on par with Netflix in terms of usability. While all the features are there, simple things like reading an episode summary, enabling closed-captions or jumping out of one show and into another are frequently more frustrating on Amazon than on other platforms. The company also frequently insists on bringing its Fire TV-style interface to other platforms instead of using their native controls. That can make it harder to use, although on platforms where it hews to the built-in controls, like Roku, can be easier to use.
One other thing to think about is that Amazon’s video apps link to its on-demand store, and include access to Channels. For cord-cutters who just want a consistent experience across different devices, that means you can easily buy or rent content that isn’t part of the subscription. Amazon Channels lets you manage subscriptions to HBO, Showtime, CBS All Access and others, but without going through a cable provider.
Last but not least, there’s one thing Amazon has that you won’t get from Netflix, and can’t get from Hulu or YouTube without paying extra for a cable-like package: Thursday Night NFL action, PGA tournaments, pro volleyball and more are all part of the subscription. — R.L.
This year, HBO decided to take the fight to its streaming competitors with HBO Max. It supplanted the existing HBO channels, as well as streaming via HBO Go or HBO Now by refocusing on original content and rebuilding the service for the modern era. HBO Max has the advantage of linking to one of the deepest (and best) content libraries available, drawing from the premium cable channel’s archives, the Warner Bros. vault, Studio Ghibli, Looney Tunes, Sesame Street, Crunchyroll and Turner Classic Movies.
However, being a newcomer that’s attached to a legacy video brand and owned by telecom giant AT&T means a tripwire of licensing issues that make HBO Max tougher to access than most of its competitors.
If you pay for HBO from one of the major TV providers, then congratulations — you probably already have access to the full HBO Max experience. Just activate your account and start streaming. Otherwise, you can subscribe directly over the internet. HBO Max has a free 7-day trial, and costs $15 per month for the only package available, which has no advertisements.
Currently, HBO Max only offers HD streaming, with no 4K or HDR options available. It can support up to three streams simultaneously, and offers individual profiles.
The tricky part of HBO Max comes when you’re ready to watch, because it might not be available on your favorite streaming hardware. Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV are two major streaming platforms that, as of this writing, don’t have access to the app. While there are reasons for that, there’s no indication on when or if it will change.
The only smart TV platforms with apps for HBO Max are Apple TV, Android TV and Samsung. You can also stream it via a browser, Sony and Microsoft’s game consoles or with mobile apps on Android and iOS. It also includes support for AirPlay and Google’s Cast feature, which help it work with more smart TVs than just the ones listed here.
If you can stream HBO Max, then you have a decent content library to choose from. Some of it includes premium stuff that Warner yanked back from Netflix and others, like full series runs of Friends and The Fresh Prince, or DC Universe-related TV series and movies. The HBO library speaks for itself, with Game of Thrones, The Wire and older stuff like Band of Brothers, Flight of the Conchords or Entourage.
More recently, HBO has put out acclaimed series like I May Destroy You, Insecure and Barry. It’s even investing in all-new content for HBO Max, like its update of The Witches and a Game of Thrones spin-off, House of the Dragon. HBO Max has a higher price and fewer features than some other streaming services, but it’s also the only one with HBO, which might be enough to make it worth the hassle. — R.L.
Hulu started out as a bit of a curiosity — a joint venture by NBC, News Corp and a private equity firm to compete with Netflix by offering new episodes of TV shows. Then, after Disney joined up in 2009, bringing along its content from ABC and the Disney Channel, Hulu became a streaming network worth paying attention to. Today, Hulu’s focus is still on recent TV episodes, but it also has a strong library of original series and films (like The Handmaid’s Tale and Palm Springs), as well as an archive of older TV and movies that often puts Netflix to shame.
Now that Disney owns a majority controlling stake in Hulu, following its acquisition of 21st Century Fox, the service is less of a collaboration between media giants. (Comcast still offers NBCUniversal content, but it can choose to have Disney buy out its shares as early as 2024.) Instead, it’s yet another feather in Disney’s increasingly important digital empire, alongside Disney+ and ESPN+. That may not be a great thing for the competitiveness of streaming services in general, but for subscribers it means they can look forward to even more quality content, like all of the FX shows that hit Hulu earlier this year. (Including Alex Garland’s Devs, one of the best shows of 2020.)
Hulu subscriptions start at $6 a month (or $60 a year) with ads. You can also bump up to the ad-free plan for $12 a month (worth it for true TV addicts). The company’s Live TV offering is considerably more expensive, starting at $55 a month with ads and $61 a month ad-free. Hulu allows two of your devices to stream at the same time, and you can also download some content for offline viewing. Live TV subscribers can also pay $10 a month for unlimited streaming at home (and for up to three remote mobile devices).
Given that it’s one of the longest-running streaming services out there, you can find Hulu apps everywhere, from TVs to set-top boxes. The company has been slow to adopt newer home theater technology, though — we’re still waiting for surround sound on Apple TV and many other devices, and there’s no HDR at all. — Devindra Hardawar, Senior Editor
Price: Starts at $7 per month
Number of simultaneous streams: Up to 4
Good content library, especially for children
No ads in any subscription tier
Disney+ came out swinging, leveraging all of the company’s popular brands, like Star Wars, Pixar and Marvel. It’s your one-stop-shop for everything Disney, making it catnip for kids, parents, animation fans and anyone looking for some classic films from the likes of 20th Century Pictures. And unlike Hulu, which Disney also owns, there aren’t any R-rated movies or shows that curious kiddos can come across.
Given the company’s new focus on streaming, now that the pandemic has made theater-going dangerous, Disney+ has quickly become a must-have for families. And at $7 a month (or $70 a year), it’s a lot cheaper than wrangling the kids for a night out at the movies (or even buying one of the Disney’s over-priced Blu-rays). You can also get it bundled with ESPN+ and Hulu for $13 a month. Some Verizon FiOS and mobile customers can also get Disney+, Hulu and ESPN for free. (Note: Verizon owns Engadget, but doesn’t influence our coverage.)
Disney+ supports four simultaneous streams at once, and also lets you download films and shows for offline viewing. (That’s particularly helpful when you’re stuck in the car with no cell service and a crying toddler. Trust me.) You can access Disney+ on every major streaming device and most TV brands. While the service launched without support for Amazon’s Fire TV devices, it’s now available there as well. — D.H.
Price: Starts at $65 per month
Number of simultaneous streams: Up to 3
Lots of sports-carrying channels and dedicated sports networks
Add-on packages for niche content
Unlimited cloud DVR at no extra cost
YouTube TV is a great option for cord cutters who still want to watch live TV without having to sign up for a contract. It carries over 85 different channels, so it’s highly likely that you won’t miss your cable or satellite subscription at all if you switch over.
Where YouTube TV really shines is in the sports department. Not only does it offer sports-carrying channels like CBS, FOX, ESPN, NBC, TBS and TNT, it also offers specific sports coverage networks like the MLB Network, NBA TV and the NFL Network. You can even opt for a Sports Plus package for an additional $11 a month if you want specific sports channels like NFL RedZone, FOX College Sports, GOLTV, FOX Soccer Plus, MAVTV Motorsports Network, TVG and Stadium. Unfortunately, however, YouTube TV recently lost the rights to carry FOX regional sports networks, which means that you won’t get region-specific channels such as FOX Sports Detroit or FOX Sports Florida.
One particularly strong selling point for sports fans is that instead of always remembering to record a particular game, you can just choose to “follow” a specific team and the DVR will automatically record all of its games. Plus, if you happen to have jumped into the match late, there’s a “catch up with key plays” feature that lets you watch all the highlights up until that point so that you’re up to speed.
But there’s a lot more to YouTube TV than sports. It includes a lot of channels that aren’t on Hulu’s Live TV service, such as BBC America, MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon. YouTube TV even carries your regional PBS channels, which is a rarity on most streaming services. However, it’s one of the most expensive options available at $65 a month, which might not be much more than your basic cable package.
Still, YouTube TV currently offers the best cloud DVR available. Unlike a lot of other services, YouTube TV’s DVR has unlimited storage plus you have up to nine months to watch your recorded content before they expire. There are also no DVR up-charges here; you can rewind or fast forward through the recorded content as you please by default. We should note, however, that the on-demand content on YouTube TV does have ads which you can’t fast-forward through.
YouTube TV allows three simultaneous streams per account. There’s also a plethora of premium channels that you can add for as low as $3 per month, such as Showtime ($11 a month), HBO Max ($15 a month), Starz ($9 a month), Cinemax ($10 a month) and EPIX ($6 a month). It even offers niche add-ons like CuriosityStream ($3 a month), AMC Premiere ($5 a month), Shudder ($6 a month), Sundance Now ($7 a month), Urban Movie Channel ($5 a month), and Acorn TV ($6 a month). — Nicole Lee, Senior Editor
Price: Starts at $49 per month
Number of simultaneous streams: Up to 3
Limited dedicated sports networks
Limited cloud DVR, must pay extra for Enhanced DVR
Aside from on-demand and original content, Hulu also offers a Live TV add-on that lets you stream over 60 channels without a cable or satellite subscription. It’ll cost $49 more a month (it’s $54.99 a month compared to Hulu Basic’s $5.99 a month) but that’s still cheaper than YouTube TV, which does not have any of those aforementioned Hulu originals. Pay about $5 more and you’ll also be able to watch on-demand shows without any ads, which can’t be said with YouTube TV.
Like YouTube TV, Hulu’s Live TV option also has a DVR, but it’s comparatively limited. The standard DVR doesn’t allow fast-forwarding or rewinding on recordings and is limited to 50 hours worth of storage. You’d have to pay an extra $10 a month for the Enhanced DVR option, which increases storage to 200 hours and unlocks the ability to rewind and fast-forward through commercials.
Hulu allows two simultaneous streams per account, but you can pay $15 more if you want unlimited screens. If you want to add both the unlimited screens as well as the enhanced DVR option, then you can bundle the two for $15 a month. If you want, you can also add premium add-ons to your Hulu plan, such as HBO Max, Cinemax, Showtime, or Starz .
Hulu’s Live TV service is a great option for sports fans, as it has access to channels like CBS, FOX, ESPN, NBC, TBS, TNT and more, all of which should deliver content for fans of most major sports like football, basketball and baseball. It also carries regional sports networks from NBC and FOX, the latter of which is missing from YouTube TV. However, Hulu plus Live TV does not carry the NFL Network, NFL RedZone, NBA TV or the MLB Network, so you could miss out on additional sports coverage. — N.L.
Price: Starts at $6 per month
Number of simultaneous streams: Up to 3
Available as part of The Disney Bundle
Lots of sports content
MLS matches, plus additional soccer content
Includes ESPN originals
Without a doubt, ESPN’s standalone service is the best deal in sports streaming. No one can compete with the network when it comes to the sheer volume of content. The platform hosts thousands of live events that span a plethora of college sports, MLB, MLS, NHL, the NBA G League and more. There’s plenty of pro tennis as well, and ESPN+ is an insane value for soccer fans.
On top of select MLS matches, ESPN+ is the US home of the Bundesliga (Germany), Serie A (Italy) and the EFL cup (Carabao Cup). It’s also the spot for the UEFA Nations League international competition in Europe.
ESPN offers a slate of original shows and the full catalog of its 30 For 30 series on the service. And lastly, ESPN+ is the home of UFC. Fight Nights, Dana White’s Contender Series and other shows stream weekly or monthly, plus the app is now how you access PPV events.
That’s a truckload of sports for $6 a month. If you splurge for Disney’s bundle with Disney+ and Hulu (ad-supported), you can get all three for $13 per month. — Billy Steele, Senior News Editor
The CBS standalone streaming service may get the most attention for originals like Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Pickard and The Twilight Zone, but it’s becoming a sports destination as well. The app began streaming NWSL soccer matches earlier this summer when the league returned to the pitch in an isolated environment for a tournament. At that time, CBS announced that All Access would be the streaming home of the US women’s league. Unfortunately, you can’t watch every match there, but it’s a start.
Soon after, CBS added UEFA Champions League and Europa League soccer to its sports slate. Champions League is the biggest competition in club soccer, pitting teams from various countries around the continent against each other to see who’s the best that season. Europa League does the same, but with less glory.
At $6 a month with limited commercials, or $10 a month ad-free, All Access isn’t a must have sports destination just yet. You can stream NFL and other games that air on your local CBS station inside the app, but the network is still filling out a well-rounded slate. For now, it’s more of a necessity for soccer fans than anything else. — B.S.
Price: Starts at $5 per month
Number of simultaneous streams: Up to 3
Some free content
Includes Premiere League soccer (when you have access to NBC Sports)
Olympics, tennis and other sports coverage
NBC made it clear before Peacock’s debut that Premier League soccer would be available on the standalone service. What we didn’t expect was that the network would put so many games there, basically forcing anyone who’s more than a casual fan to subscribe. This is partially due to PL scheduling. Since the UK still prohibits in-person attendance, Premier League games are currently more spread out so they can all be on TV. In the US, that means you need the $5/month service and access to NBC Sports network (through cable or live TV streaming) to follow comprehensively.
NBCUniversal had a similar structure in the past where one game per time slot was broadcast on NBC Sports and NBC Sports Gold was used as the overflow. Gold was also the home to cycling, Olympic sports and more. Now the Premier League is being used to push the new service Peacock, and with the current scheduling format, even more games are relegated to streaming only. Thankfully, Peacock does offer match replays, so there’s some added value there if you can’t be parked in front of your TV all day on Saturday and Sunday. Games currently run from about 7:30AM ET to around 5PM ET (matches usually at 7:30AM, 10AM, 12:30PM and one around 2:30 or 3:00PM).
Peacock also shows coverage of US Open tennis, NFL Wild Card games and will host “select events” from upcoming Olympics in Tokyo and Beijing. There’s also a smattering of sports talk shows available for free with paid users getting on-demand replays of Triple Crown horse racing and more. — B.S.
While it’s easy to find modern films on Netflix and other streaming services these days, classic cinema is often tougher to find. FilmStruck tried to solve that problem, but it couldn’t find a large enough audience to survive. Now there’s the Criterion Channel, which delivers a rotating array of its cinephile-approved library for $11 a month or $100 a year. (Where else can you stream something like the incredible ramen noodle Western Tampopo?)
It’s a service that’s built for movie lovers: It’s chock full of commentary tracks, conversations with writers and directors, and some of the company’s renowned special features. The Criterion Channel also does a far better job at curating viewing options than other services. Its double features, for instance, pair together thematically similar films, like the classic noir entries Phantom Lady and Variety. What’s more, its editors make it easy to find all of the available films from a single director, for all of you auteur theory connoisseurs.
Sure, it costs a bit more than Hulu and Disney+, but The Criterion Channel gives you access to a library that’s far more rewarding than the latest streaming TV show. You can watch on up to three devices at once, and there’s also offline viewing available for iOS and Android devices. It also supports major streaming devices from Apple, Amazon and Roku, but as far as TV’s go, it’s only on Samsung’s Tizen-powered sets. Unfortunately, The Criterion Channel is only available in the US and Canada, due to licensing restrictions. — D.H.
If you’re into anime, pretty much every major streaming service has a solid lineup. But if you want to watch the newest shows straight from Japan, or the really weird shows, you’re going to need a more specialized anime streamer. While Crunchyroll is still the biggest name with a vast catalog of old favorites and new releases, you’ll get the best bang for your buck if you sign up with Crunchyroll’s sister service VRV.
For only $10 a month you’ll not only get access to all of Crunchyroll’s offerings, but also old cartoons from Boomerang, indie animation via Cartoon Hangover and Mondo, weird cult films from VRV Select and even more anime courtesy of HIDIVE. You get unlimited simultaneous streams per household, which should help with all the devices you’re probably going to watch it on, including iOS and Android devices, Rokus, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. — Kris Naudus, Buyer’s Guide Editor
Sometimes, a good horror movie is the only way to deal with the constant anxiety of a global pandemic, a potential climate apocalypse and the seeming downfall of modern society. If that describes your personality, it’s worth taking a look at Shudder, AMC Network’s streaming service dedicated to everything spooky. You’ll find plenty of horror classics, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but Shudder has also gotten into the original content game with unique films like Host, which takes place entirely over a Zoom call.
If you’re a bit squeamish, Shudder probably won’t sell you much on horror. But for fans of the genre, it’s a smorgasbord of content to dive into. You can try it out free for seven days, and afterwards it’s $6 per month (or $57 annually). Shudder only supports viewing one stream at a time, and there’s no support for offline viewing yet. You can find Shudder on major streaming device platforms, but since it’s so niche, don’t expect to find it on smart TVs anytime soon. — D.H.