As you’ve probably noticed, there are so many streaming services out there! In the past year alone, several new services have joined the party, and even more are on the horizon. And subscribing to all of them would cost more than even cable TV!
As more streaming services compete for our budgets, it’s now more important than ever to choose wisely. So which ones are the best?
That’s a complicated question that depends on who you are and what you want to watch. It makes a difference whether you’re a cord-cutter or a movie buff. And if you’re a House of Cards super-fan or Amazon shopaholic, those factors will surely sway you as well.
But individual needs aside, we’ve tried to sum up what we think are the best streaming services for everyone, with some of the highlights and need-to-know facts for each.
There are of course many more great streaming services out there, many of which offer free trials, so definitely check them out and see which ones you like best.
Factors considered include the selection and quality of their content, the services’ prices and flexibility of pricing options, and exclusive features that set them apart from the growing field of competition.
Here are the top 5 streaming services:
Hulu brings a lot to the table that other streaming services don’t. So as streaming gets more competitive, we think that’s an important edge.
Most of Hulu’s content comes from the major broadcast networks, with some shows available on the service as soon as the day after they air on television. That means that you won’t have to be left out of the water-cooler conversation if you’re a cord-cutter. You can follow the same currently-airing shows as your friends only have to dodge spoilers for one day. Most other streaming services only offer past seasons of current shows.
In addition to television favorites, Hulu’s also been testing the waters with original content. Though they haven’t put quite the same massive amount of resources into developing their own shows and movies like Netflix, Amazon, and others have, The Handmaid’s Tale stands out as a Hulu original with a claim to fame.
Hulu also offers flexible pricing options, giving users the choice between their on-demand library or their virtual pay-TV service. And for both, consumers get the choice between paying up to eliminate ads or save a few bucks by allowing them. And there are a number of paid extras, including premium movie packages like Showtime and HBO to a cloud DVR service.
The combination of timely content and customization makes Hulu our top choice.
Changes could be afoot at Hulu though. Once a joint venture between several media companies, amid recent mergers in the television industry, Disney is poised to take a controlling interest in the service. This could mean the eventual loss of content from NBC Universal and Time Warner. It’s also worth noting that Disney is also launching Disney Plus, a service that would appear to compete with Hulu. Whether the two will co-exist or one will get preferential treatment remains to be seen.
Amazon Prime Video offers loads of quality content, but the online retail giant gives its library an edge over many rivals.
Because Amazon sells digital video in addition to offering a streaming library, Prime Video creates a seamless experience with more titles than rivals like Netflix and Hulu, if you count the videos that it offers that aren’t included with Prime.
Consumers can browse Prime’s library, along with content that they already own from Amazon, and pay-per-view options for other shows and movies, all within the same platform.
And like Hulu, Amazon offers add-on channels like HBO, Starz, Showtime, and others.
Amazon’s own content has been well received. They’ve spent big and worked with some high profile talent, including hiring Woody Allen to direct a series and recreating a beloved British automotive show. Other exclusive shows like Transparent and The Man in the High Castle have been praised by viewers and critics alike.
Consumers looking to save can opt for a video-only subscription, rather than the total Amazon Prime package, but even if you’re primarily interested in video, Prime is one heck of a package, including free shipping on Amazon purchases, a variety of discounts online and in Whole Foods stores, eBooks, and more.
3. Select TV
Select TV is the most interesting service on our list. It starts at the hard-to-believe low price of $30 per year, or $2.99 per month. But that doesn’t buy you access to an exclusive library of content like Netflix or Amazon Prime does. Instead, SelectTV supercharges those other offerings from free, subscription, and pay-per-view content sources.
Anyone familiar with streaming has probably experienced the frustration of not knowing which streaming service carries a show or movie or having to switch between apps during their evening TV routine. SelectTV eliminates that by putting everything, the entire contents of multiple online libraries and storefronts, into a single searchable guide that takes away all the guesswork.
You can tell it what other services you subscribe to, Netflix, Hulu, even cable and satellite TV providers, and then filter based on what you can see for free. But if you want to watch something else, like say… the latest Game of Thrones episode, you don’t necessarily have to shell out for HBO. SelectTV shows pay-per-view prices from multiple providers, so you can always find the best price. Even for shows and movies that are ‘exclusive’ or original to other providers, SelectTV will at least show you what options you have for watching.
Even without any other video subscriptions, SelectTV offers a rotating selection of thousands of free shows and movies, and even streaming channels. A cord-cutter on a tight budget would never run out of things to watch, even if they never spent more than the base $3 per month.
If you’re a media maven, SelectTV’s value proposition far outweighs its miniature cost; bargain hunters, you know you’ll always get the best deal on pay-per-view content; and if you’re looking to cut the cord, it’s a one-stop-solution for doing just that.
Netflix practically invented the modern streaming experience. They’re the first name most people think of. And with good reason.
Everything that’s made Netflix great, it still has going for it. Lots of content, an easy-to-use interface, no ads, and apps on virtually every device with a screen. Netflix is the tried and true option. A familiar household name that’s hard to go wrong with.
One of the big draws to Netflix continues to be its original content. The company is investing more and more into making its own shows and movies, giving it high-quality content that you can’t find anywhere else. Narcos, Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black, and House of Cards are all Netflix originals that even the least tech-savvy folks will recognize. And with billions of dollars earmarked to develop more original programming, you can count on Netflix to keep it coming.
The company’s always been great at curating licensed TV shows and movies too, so you’ll be sure to see some classics that you know and love as you browse.
Though Netflix is an ad-free service, those looking to save can opt for a standard-definition only account, or pay up for access to 4K content on as many as 4 devices at a time. Though it’s worth mentioning that Netflix’s price has been on the rise, with multiple hikes in recent years.
Still, ranging from $9 to $14, it’s still a plenty good deal. And if you’re feeling nostalgic or don’t have a reliable internet connection, Netflix is even still offering DVD rental plans.
5. HBO Now
Pre-dating the streaming revolution, HBO has long been a content powerhouse. Until recently, many consumers continued paying hundreds of dollars a month for cable TV just because that was the only way they could watch HBO and its perennial lineup of hit shows.
From Game of Thrones to Westworld, The Sopranos to Band of Brothers, HBO Now’s $15 a month buys you access to the most talked-about TV shows and a top-tier library of movies that live up to the network’s Home Box Office acronym. And perhaps best of all, that great content won’t be interrupted by ads.
Beyond its instantly recognizable titles, HBO Now offers a surprising breadth of content. It’s got sports, documentaries, stand-up comedy, and even content for kids. A whole household of different ages and tastes could likely all find something worth watching.
HBO Now is a premium streaming service. With a higher price than most other on-demand libraries, there’s no denying that you’re paying for the prestige of HBO and its content. But with the network’s long track record of producing mega-hits and must-see TV, we don’t think that’s unfair.
Whether a luxury streaming experience will ultimately stand out among the crowded online video market is yet to be seen, but for now, HBO Now at least seems like a worthy splurge.