The days of having to tune in live or buy expensive discs in order to watch your favorite shows and movies are gone. Now, you can simply boot up one of the best streaming services, and watch your favorite movies and shows on-demand. Our favorite service overall is Netflix, offering an excellent selection of TV shows, movies and original programming. Check out our guides to the best shows on Netflix and best family movies on Netflix for more details.
If you need something a little cheaper, however, Hulu is a worthwhile alternative, and a few dollars less expensive — if you're willing to sit through some commercials, that is. If you're on the fence about which live TV streaming service to try, check out our Hulu Live vs YouTube TV vs Sling vs PlayStation Vue vs DirecTV Now face-off.
Be sure to also check out our best streaming devices picks, in case you need some hardware to help you watch and our best smart TVs, which provide instant access to at least some of these services.
|Streaming Service||Best For||Starting Price|
|Netflix||Overall||$11 per month|
|Hulu||Network TV||$8 per month|
|Amazon Prime Video||Families||$99 per year or $8.99 per month|
|Playstation Vue||Cable TV Replacement||$35 per month|
|Sling Orange||Budget Cable TV Replacement||$20 per month|
|HBO GO, HBO NOW||Premium Content||$14.99 per month|
Latest News and Updates (August 2019)
- Netflix wants to track your physical activity on mobile devices. There's a sensible reason, although you may find the practice invasive.
Stream live TV from popular channels with packages that start as low as $15 a month. This is a limited-time offer.
Best Overall Streaming Service
The great-granddaddy of streaming services remains the best. As you probably know, Netflix provides unlimited streaming of TV shows, movies, comedy specials and original programming (including Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards and the fourth season of Arrested Development) for one monthly subscription fee. No other service has yet given Netflix an honest-to-goodness run for its money in terms of selection, quality and performance consistency. You can even create up to five different profiles on a single account to make sure that your favorite content doesn't mess up recommendations for your friends and loved ones.
Best Streaming Service for Network TV
If you want to keep current with the latest TV shows but don't feel like investing in a cable subscription or an HD antenna, Hulu is the best solution. This service provides access to most major network shows (aside from CBS' programs) and a handful of cable shows the day after they air. It also lets subscribers access a show's current season — or often all of the program's seasons. In addition, the service hosts a number of original shows (including joint ventures with the BBC, like The Wrong Mans and season 4 of The Thick of It), a selection of offbeat movies and a surprising amount of classic anime series. Even with a paid subscription, you have to sit through commercials, but far fewer than if you watched the same shows on cable.
Best Streaming Service for Families
3. Amazon Video
For those who do most of their shopping online, Amazon Prime is a no-brainer. For $99 per year, you get free two-day shipping on your purchases, a free Kindle book each month, and unlimited access to both Amazon Music and Amazon Prime Instant Video. Like Netflix, Amazon Video is a veritable buffet of movies, television and original programming, like Alpha House, Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle. Thanks to a deal with Viacom — which controls Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon — Amazon Prime arguably has a better selection of comedy and children's programming than its competitors. The service also offers unlimited access to an extensive collection from HBO's back catalog of classics such as The Sopranos and The Wire. The separate Amazon Video provides easy access to current movies, but it's an à la carte service.
Best Cable TV Replacement
4. PlayStation Vue
PlayStation Vue the best streaming service for cable TV aficionados who just can't leave the multi-channel live TV setup behind. The service, which is available on a wide variety of systems, is Sony's first foray into delivering live TV to its customers. Choose from four different packages: Access ($50 per month), which gives you basic channels, Core ($55 per month), which adds sports, Elite ($65 per month), which adds niche programming and Ultra ($75 per month), which adds certain premium channels. Although the service is expensive, it provides up to 90 live channels - including local sports and news - and lets you record your favorite shows.
Best Budget Cable TV Replacement
5. Sling Orange
If you like the idea of a cable subscription but feel it's just too expensive and offers more content than you want, Sling TV might provide a happy medium for you. On paper, Sling sounds a lot like a traditional cable service: Pay a monthly subscription fee in exchange for about thirty real-time channels. But there's no contract and no set-top box rental fee. Sling is especially handy for sports fans, as it offers a variety of ESPN channels. For cord-cutting sports fans, this alone is worth the price. Other popular networks, like NBC, BBC America, CNN, Cartoon Network, TBS and the Food Network, sweeten the deal. If you sign up for Sling Blue, which is the service's multi-stream option, and bundle it with the more bare-bones Orange, the combo will cost you $40 per month.
NOTE: For a more comprehensive comparison of cable replacement services, check out the Tom's Guide rankings.
Best Streaming Service for Vegging Out
If you yearn for the halcyon days of cheesy action movies and anime on afternoon cable, Crackle will take you back in time at no cost. The Sony-owned platform broadcasts movies, TV shows and original programming on a rotating basis. There's no subscription or à la carte fee, although you do have to sit through a fair amount of commercials. While the programming is not usually blockbuster material, it's stuff you've heard of — think Total Recall rather than The Terminator, or Pitch Black rather than Riddick. Some of the original shows are good, too, like Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
Best Service for Premium Content
7. HBO GO, HBO NOW
HBO, the original premium content channel, now offers two ways to stream: HBO GO (if you have HBO from a cable or satellite package) and HBO NOW (for cord-cutters). Don't worry about any differences, as the service's dual streaming services offer the same top-shelf content you get from the cable channel itself. And it's library isn't just limited to only Game of Thrones (the premiere water-cooler-talk TV show), as new seasons of Westworld, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Veep are coming up in following seasons. For those looking to keep track of current events, Vice News Tonight offers beautifully produced nightly programming and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver gives audiences sorely needed laughs. At $14.99 per month for HBO NOW, it can be a little pricey.
Best Streaming Service for Gamers
Back in the day, watching video games was reserved for the unfortunate player without his or her own controller, but now it's a pastime on par with gaming itself. Twitch is the most popular game-broadcasting service out there, and you can find thousands of streams at any given time. Whether you want to watch live eSports broadcasts of League of Legends or casual playthroughs of single-player adventures, Twitch should be your first stop. You can even find gaming talk shows with expert commentators, and follow famous Let's Play personalities as they game in real time.
Best Streaming Service for Music Fans
MTV gave up on music videos years ago, but that doesn't mean the days of music videos, filmed concerts and band documentaries are gone forever. Vevo is every bit the spiritual successor to the music-centric networks of the '80s and '90s. Not only can you look up music videos for all of your favorite bands, but you can also follow ongoing documentary series, check out up-and-coming artists and even watch a live stream of curated music videos that runs 24/7. The service skews a bit heavy on pop and hip-hop, but then again, doesn't all music television?
What Streaming Services Cost
The best streaming services vary considerably in price. Options like Crackle are free and ad-supported; cable replacement services like PlayStation Vue can range up to $75 per month. Generally, services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video cost between $8 and $12 per month. (Amazon Prime members get complimentary Amazon Video access). Looking to pay for just one network? Amazon Channels provides this option.
Cord cutters should also check out our best HDTV Antennas page to make sure they never miss local sports and weather.Cord cutters should also check out our best HDTV Antennas page to make sure they never miss local sports and weather.