The number of video streaming services available has increased dramatically over the past few years as everyone, including Apple, Disney and ESPN, decides they want a piece of the pie. The days when Netflix was your only option are long gone now, and while that’s great for all of us itching to discover our next favorite TV show, deciphering the top picks for best streaming service can also be confusing and expensive. You’re now tasked with figuring out which services have the content you want to watch, which fit into your budget, which have the most compelling original series, movies and documentaries, and the best live TV streaming services.
We at Engadget wanted to make that process easier for you so we’ve compiled a list of the best video streaming services you can subscribe to right now, with our favorite picks spanning across all content types and budgets. Now, should you go out and subscribe to all of the services listed here? Probably not, unless you’re a true cord cutter aching for content. But these are the services that offer the best bang for your buck, regardless of whether you’re a live sports buff, a classic movie lover or a general streaming enthusiast.
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, including original programming. 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 dropped its free trial period in the US a while ago 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 four levels of Netflix you can subscribe to. All of them include unlimited access to the same content, work on the same devices and you can cancel or pause them at any time. The Basic with Ads tier costs $7 per month and it’s the only option that includes advertisements. The difference between Basic ($10 per month), Standard ($15.50 per month) and Premium ($20 per month) comes down to picture quality and the amount of simultaneous streams allowed.
With both Basic tiers, 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
Amazon Prime Video
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 $15 per month, or $139 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 The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, as well as highly-regarded genre content like The Boys and The Expanse.
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 Britbox, Showtime, Paramount+ and others. — R.L.
In 2020, 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. Even before the recent merger and rebranding as simply Max, it had 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 and Turner Classic Movies.
If you pay for HBO from one of the major TV providers, then congratulations — you probably already have access to the full Max experience. Just activate your account and start streaming. Otherwise, you can subscribe directly over the internet. Max has a free 7-day trial, and costs $16 per month (or $150 a year) for the cheapest no-ads tier. You can pony up $20 per month, or $200 per year, for a no-ads tier that includes 4K streaming and four simultaneous streams. To get in on the ground floor, the ad-supported tier costs $10 per month.
Since launch, Max has come to more TV platforms and it’s now available on Roku, Apple TV, Android TV, Samsung and others. 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.
Max content 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 Max library speaks for itself, with Game of Thrones, The Wire, Band of Brothers, and Flight of the Conchords or Entourage, and newer shows like The Last of Us and The White Lotus.
We should mention, however, that Max canceled several shows ahead of its Discovery+ merger as a cost-cutting move. It is deprioritizing kid and family content, leading to the removal of Sesame Street spin-offs and a handful of Cartoon Network titles. Movies like Batgirl and Scoob!: Holiday Haunt have also been axed. Despite these changes, Max still has one of the best content libraries of any TV streaming service and is worthy of consideration. — R.L. and Nicole Lee, Commerce Writer
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 Only Murders in the Building), 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.
Hulu subscriptions start at $8 a month (or $80 a year) with ads. You can also bump up to the ad-free plan for $15 a month (worth it for true TV addicts). The company’s Live TV offering is considerably more expensive, starting at $70 a month with ads and $83 a month ad-free, but you do get Disney+ and ESPN+ services bundled in. Hulu allows two of your devices to stream at the same time, and you can also download some content for offline viewing. Hulu 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
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. It’s just The Mandalorian (and things like it) from here on out.
Given the company’s new focus on streaming, Disney+ has quickly become a must-have for families. And at $8 a month (or $80 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.
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.
Apple spared no expense with its streaming platform, launching with high profile series like The Morning Show. While they weren’t all hits initially (See you later, get it?), Apple TV+ has since amassed a slew of must-watch programming like Ted Lasso, Severance, and For All Mankind. Clearly, the iPhone maker is taking a different approach than Netflix or Disney, with a focus on quality and big celebrity names, rather than bombarding us with a ton of content. But that strategy seems to have paid off.
For $7 a month, there’s a ton of great shows and movies to dive into, including a number of National Geographic shows. But if you’re a dedicated Apple user, it may be worth moving up to an Apple One plan, which also bundles Apple Arcade, Apple Music, and 50GB of iCloud storage for $15 a month. Step up to $20 monthly, and you can bring in your whole family with up to 200GB of iCloud storage. And for $30 a month, Apple throws in News+ and Fitness+. – D.H.
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 TV or satellite subscription at all if you switch over. YouTube TV even carries your regional PBS channels, which is a rarity on most live TV streaming services.
Where YouTube TV really shines is in the live 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 Bally Sports regional networks, which means that you won’t get region-specific channels such as Bally Sports Detroit or Bally Sports Southwest.
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.
YouTube TV is on the expensive side at $73 a month, which might not be much more than your basic cable package. If you want to add 4K viewing (which is currently only available through certain sporting events) plus unlimited streaming, you’d have to cough up an additional $20 a month.
It currently offers one of the best cloud DVRs available. 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.
There’s also a plethora of premium channels that you can add for as low as $3 per month, such as Showtime, Max, Starz, Cinemax and EPIX. You can also subscribe to an Entertainment Plus bundle that includes Max, Showtime and Starz for $30 a month. Other niche add-ons include CuriosityStream, AMC Premiere, Shudder, Sundance Now, Urban Movie Channel, and Acorn TV. — N.L.
Hulu + Live TV
Aside from on-demand and original content, Hulu also offers a Live TV add-on that lets you stream over 80 channels without a cable or satellite subscription. It’ll cost $70 a month, but that includes access to both Disney+ and ESPN+. For an extra fee, you’ll also be able to watch on-demand shows without any ads, which can’t be said with YouTube TV. Hulu’s Live TV option also has unlimited DVR storage for up to nine months. That includes on-demand playback and fast-forwarding capabilities.
Hulu allows two simultaneous streams per account, but you can pay $15 more if you want unlimited screens (and up to three remote mobile devices). If you want, you can also add premium add-ons to your Hulu plan, such as Max, Cinemax, Showtime, or Starz.
Hulu’s Live TV service is a great option for sports fans, as it has access to a channel lineup that includes 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. However, Hulu plus Live TV does not carry the NBA TV or the MLB Network, so you could miss out on additional sports coverage. — N.L.
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 college sporting events, plus MLB, MLS, NHL, NBA G League games 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) 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 how you access PPV events.
That’s a truckload of sports included in the $10 a month standard plan. If you splurge for the Disney bundle with Disney+ and Hulu (ad-supported), you can get all three for $14 per month. — Billy Steele, Senior News Editor
Formerly CBS All Access, Paramount+ may get the most attention for originals like Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard and The Twilight Zone, but it’s becoming a sports destination as well. The app began streaming NWSL soccer matches last summer when the league returned to the pitch. CBS also announced that All Access would be the live 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. The 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. Europa League does the same, but with less glory. Paramount+ is now the home of Series A soccer (Italy) and will broadcast CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, which the US Men’s National Team will participate in.
At $5 a month with limited commercials, or $10 a month ad-free, Paramount+ 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.
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. In the US, that means you need the $5/month service and access to NBC Sports network (through cable TV 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.
The Criterion Channel
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.
Sometimes, a good horror movie is the only way to deal with the constant anxiety of 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.