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The best streaming services in 2020

Best streaming services
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Watching movies and TV is easier than ever thanks to the best streaming services. Forget going to the theater or buying an expensive disc, either. Now you can simply boot up you favorite service, according to your preferences, to watch your favorite programs on-demand.

Our favorite picks differ in significant ways. While many offer their own original programming, only one has live streaming TV channels (just like on cable!) and another is built right into Amazon Prime. You're gonna want to keep track of which you're using (and how often) because they're all on monthly plans so you can unsubscribe and resubscribe as you please.

Streaming services are so widely varied at this point that many folks in the Tom's Guide offices keep being surprised by how new entries keep popping up. Did you know there are three AT&T streaming services? It's a hilarious situation because nobody seems to like or want any of them.

The greatest part of this entire streaming revolution is that the cable box is apparently meeting its demise as we type. In its place, we're seeing smart TVs, Rokus and a plethora of other streaming devices take over and provide speedier access to shows — and cloud DVRs that are more reliable than the drives in those boxes.

What are the best streaming services?

The best streaming service overall is Netflix, which offers an excellent selection of TV shows, movies and original programming. But there are plenty of other great options.

If you need something a little cheaper, Hulu is a worthwhile option, and a few dollars less expensive — if you're willing to sit through some commercials, that is. Disney Plus, a relatively new contender, also merits a look, particularly if you like Start Wars, Marvel and Disney's catalog of movies.

And there are even more challengers coming this spring: HBO Max will house the WarnerMedia library (including Friends), while NBC's Peacock will have The Office, SNL and more. Plus, there's Quibi (starting at $5 per month), which launches in April and will feature celebrity-driven, high-budget, short-form content developed just for smart phones, shot in both landscape and portrait orientations.

The best streaming services now

Best streaming service: Netflix

(Image credit: Netflix)

1. Netflix

Starting price: $9 per month | Simultaneous streams: 1-4

Excellent selection
Optimized interface
Good recommendation system
More expensive than other services
Titles come and go frequently

The great-granddaddy in the market remains the best streaming service. As you probably know, Netflix provides unlimited streaming of TV shows, movies, comedy specials and original programming (including Love Is Blind, Glow and Black Mirror) for one monthly subscription fee. 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.

No other service has yet given Netflix an honest-to-goodness run for its money in terms of selection, quality and performance consistency. Recently, it's been easy to see that Netflix is inching away from its original business model of distributing other studios' films and shows, in favor of these above originals. But as these shows and films get better and better — and Netflix owns the conversation on social media — their decision to move from the films they're losing as competitors build their own streaming services, is getting proven as a solid plan. Our Netflix hidden gems guide shows how it's also got a great library of fantastic shows and movies that have somehow gone under the radar for many audiences.

Check out our guide to the best Netflix series

Best streaming service: HBO Go

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

2. HBO GO, HBO NOW

Starting price: $15 per month | Simultaneous streams: 3

Award-winning original programming
Top-tier movies
Original news programming
Pricey
Content phases out frequently

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, as shows like seasons of Westworld, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Veep are available, too. 

For those looking to keep track of current events, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver gives audiences sorely needed laughs — but the network lost Vice News Tonight, which is now back on Viceland. HBO's biggest recent hits are adaptations of Watchmen and The Outsider. At $14.99 per month for HBO NOW, it can be a little pricey.

disney plus

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

3. Disney Plus

Starting price: $7 per month | Simultaneous streams: 4

Reasonable price
Lots of beloved content
UHD resolution options
Some content is in the wrong aspect ratio
Odd gaps in content lineup

Before its release, Disney Plus was one of the most anticipated streaming services on the market. And why wouldn't it be? Disney controls a frankly frightening number of properties, from Marvel, to Star Wars, to Disney's own animated canon, to The Simpsons (all 30 seasons, and counting). At $7 per month, it's among the cheaper of the best streaming services out there, and a lot of the content is available in 4K resolution with HDR color palettes, too. 

If you feel Disney's hegemony on entertainment is crushing pop culture, you might want to steer clear — but if this is the stuff you really want to watch, it's hard to argue that it's one of the best streaming services you can get at its price point. Finished The Mandalorian and debating deleting your account? 

Read our full Disney Plus review.

Best streaming services: Hulu

(Image credit: Hulu; Shutterstock)

4. Hulu

Starting price: $6 per month | Simultaneous streams: 2

Great selection of current TV
Inexpensive
Quality original programming
Frequent commercials
Inconsistent selections from older TV seasons

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. Recent Hulu hits include a remake of High Fidelity that brings the record shop to New York, and swaps John Cusack out for Zoe Kravitz. 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 services: Amazon Prime

(Image credit: Tom's Guide; Amazon Studios)

5. Amazon Prime Video

Starting price: $119 per year | Simultaneous streams: 3

Wide content selection
Included with other Prime benefits
Good original shows
Not available on some platforms
A la carte content costs extra

For those who do most of their shopping online, Amazon Prime is a no-brainer. For $119 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 Video. Like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video is a veritable buffet of movies, television and original programming (the best Amazon shows range from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Man in the High Castle, Bosch and Jack Ryan).

Thanks to a deal with Viacom — which controls Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon — Amazon Prime arguably is the best streaming service when it comes to comedy and children's programming. The service also offers unlimited access to an extensive collection from HBO's back catalog of classics such as The Sopranos and The Wire. You can also rent or purchase movies through Amazon Prime Video, but it's an à la carte service. If you're trying to master your Amazon streaming device, check out our how to use the Fire Stick walkthrough.

Best streaming service: Sling

(Image credit: Sling TV)

6. Sling TV

Starting price: $30 per month | Simultaneous streams: 1-4

Much cheaper than cable
Wide breadth of content
No contract required
Limited on-demand content
Gets expensive very fast with optional packages

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 30 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. Check out our Sling TV guide to packages, channels and more. While most of the popular streaming services start at around $50, Sling stands out with its $30 per month starting price. 

Read our full Sling TV review.

FuboTV

(Image credit: FuboTV)

7. Fubo TV

Starting price: $55 per month | Simultaneous streams: 2-3

Huge number of channels
Niche sports networks
Some 4K content
More expensive than competitors
No ABC/ESPN

Fubo TV is a good, if somewhat expensive, option for anyone looking to have access to cable channels without an actual cable subscription. Fubo’s standard plan is $54.99 and offers 108 channels, including almost every major broadcast and cable network. And unlike other live TV streaming competitors like YouTube TV and Sling TV, Fubo has 4K streaming for select content on demand. The other knock against Fubo, besides its higher price, is the limited Cloud DVR storage.

While Fubo’s channel lineup is the largest among the higher-priced streamers, it is missing Disney-owned networks like ABC and ESPN. For a service that touts its sports programming, that is a pretty big hole. But the lineup does include popular networks like NBC, Fox, AMC, Food Network, MTV, Syfy and TNT, as well as a ton of niche sports channels. 

Best streaming services: Crackle

(Image credit: Sony; Shutterstock)

8. Crackle

Starting price: free | Simultaneous streams: N/A

Free
Amusing content
Good variety of videos
Lots of commercials
Videos rotate very frequently

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.

Crackle originals include Snatch, an adaptation of the Guy Ritchie film, which stars Rupert Grint (yes, Ron Weasley himself). Adam Brody starred in StartUp, Keegan-Michael Key did voice work in the animated Supermansion, and even Chad Michael Murray showed up for CH:OS:EN. There's even Rob Riggle's Ski Master Academy, which bears resemblance to what would happen if you made a real life show out of Archer.

How to choose the best streaming services for you

The good news is that you don't need to limit yourself to just one. It's all about picking the number of services that's right for your budget. And to that matter, all depends on the content you want to consume. While Netflix has a diverse array of content, it's not appealing to any specific audience — which means it's probably a service that most people have. 

While Netflix is pivoting more to original shows and movies with each passing week, it's still constantly adding licensed movies and shows. That means it's not only the place you'll re-watch The Good Place, but it's also got its own hits like Glow and Love Is Blind.

Alternatively, do not sleep on HBO Now and HBO Go. Not only does the service get top-tier movies, but it's continually getting some of the latest and greatest and most prestigious TV shows, such as Watchmen and The Outsider.

How we test streaming services

Testing streaming services is both serious work and good fun. When we test the quality of these platforms, we use them on multiple devices, including game consoles, web browsers and mobile devices. You'd be surprised at how differently Sling TV can look between a Roku, the Apple TV box and Chrome. 

We then compare the services based around the number of simultaneous streams they allow, if they throw in 4K streaming for free (or charge extra), and what other special features they allow. We also keep a strong eye on the new channels coming to each service, with articles such as our Sling Orange vs Blue face-off.

And as pricing constantly changes (not in the right way, most of the time), we have to rethink how each competitor sits in the landscape. Sling, for example, has stayed near the low-end of the field, even though it too has gone up over time.

  • seoguy
    Archived comments are found here: http://www.tomsguide.com/forum/id-2519718/streaming-service-2015-netflix-hulu-amazon.html
    Reply
  • vgrandja
    I can think of another "Cons" for most of the online streaming services: available only within USA!
    Reply
  • JaxChampion
    Netflix is NOT more expensive for those who have more than one TV. I happen to have 4 in my large family. For this I pay $20.00 a month for Netflix. On Hulu I would be paying $32.00 for the same level of service. Also, Amazon prime is sharable as well with my family so Hulu is the most expensive option not Netflix.
    Reply
  • mwaldrep4571
    Now with new HDCP 2.2 requirements and HDMI 2.0 requirements, you can't watch HD or UHD streaming unless all hardware meets that standard with Amazon Prime. I also heard that Netflix is starting that also. The only service that appears to still offer HD is Hulu. Unless you make good money and can afford to purchase a New HDTV that meets requirements and if you want to stream via PC or MAC you have to buy a new PC or buy a new video card that meets that standard you are not able to stream at HD or UHD quality. Oh, and Apple doesn't have a mac that meets those standards yet. Not even the Mac Pro.
    Reply
  • guganye
    think of another "Cons" for most of the online streaming services: available only within USA!
    Reply
  • rlndsz
    lol so Hulu has "Subpar movie selection" and Netflix has "Excellent selection". You got that backward, unless you mean the number of titles. Netflix selection of movies however large it is, 80% of it are pure trash. On Hulu side you have superior quality movies and also the whole Criterion collection, with excellent titles, nothing comes near that on Netflix side.
    Reply
  • Vault101
    Marshall Honorof, You missed one - VUDU allows you to purchase and rent .Keeping a large library of movies and TV seasons available for viewing. the downside to them is that they use ports that certain firewalls will block. Check them out, I would love to get your feedback.
    Reply
  • Justin_87
    Playstation Vue is available on Amazon Fire TV, as well as Playstation. Also, the prices are $29.99 for Access Slim (55+ channels), $34.99 for Core Slim (70+ channels), and $44.99 for Elite Slim (100+ channels). I live in Austin and it is available here, so I'm not sure why you are misquoting this stuff. If you actually wrote and published this article on May 4th, then you source of info is bad, because these have been the prices well before May 4th and included many more markets.
    Reply
  • gordokc77
    Hulu is nothing but crap all they do is send you to other sites so you're paying $8 to $10 a month for what to be sent to a website you could have went to anyway if you want to stream something you need to get on a good site like Showbox are YouTube rest of them are no good HBO is okay but they want so much money and they don't even play dirty movies
    Reply
  • Chris_C_K
    Hulu is jammed packed with adverts! They just don't get the whole pay for streaming paradigm.
    Reply