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.
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. Disney Plus, a relatively new contender, also merits a look, particularly if you like the massive amount of stuff under Disney's umbrella.
Before you can say "HBO Max," there's yet another new challenger coming in 2020. Quibi (starting at $5 per month) launches in April and seeks to find an audience with celebrity-driven high-budget, short-form content developed just for smart phones, shot for both landscape and portrait orientations.
Best streaming services compared
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.
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 one of the cheaper 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 with the value proposition.
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.
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.
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 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.
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, as shows like seasons of Westworld, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Veep are available, too. 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.
What streaming services cost
The best streaming services vary considerably in price. Options like Crackle are free and ad-supported; cable replacement services like Sling TV can cost more than $100 per month, depending on your package options. Generally, services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video cost between $8 and $12 per month.