The best streaming services will help you stream great content without having to pay for cable. But the war to be the best streaming service has gotten ever-more complicated. We give HBO Max points for improving its apps (including the once-buggy Apple TV HBO Max app).
And while nobody's happy about Netflix's subscribers trouble, the service just had a huge moment in the sun with Stranger Things 4. Prime Video's also done well with The Boys season 3, and we're plenty hyped.
Our latest entrant to this list is Apple TV Plus, with two of our favorite new shows of the year (The Afterparty and Severance) pushing it up the list. And that's not to mention the live TV entries in our best streaming services list, which help you cut the cord. Check out our guide to cutting the cord in 2022 — this is my top pick to kill cable to learn more about the service that multiple TG staffers use as their cable TV alternative.
These services are just one half of the streaming equation, though. As the cable box slowly withers away, it's being replaced by smart TVs and the best streaming devices, which include Rokus and Chromecasts. And by testing the best streaming services and devices side-by-side, we figure out the best way to build the ultimate streaming setup with the best selection of content and live channels.
Best streaming services back to school deals
Trying to save on one of the more pricy streaming services, such as the increasingly expensive Netflix? Us too. Well, while we doubt big red will have back to school sales, Sling often carries savings, as does Hulu. This can help you stay in tune with the latest shows and events. Be sure to follow our back to school guide for all of your shopping needs this season.
What are the best streaming services?
The best streaming service overall was Netflix, but HBO Max spent the last year in the driver's seat by being a great alternative to the movies. And with Netflix raising prices, big red isn't doing itself any favors — as 2022 began with Netflix losing more subscribers than it gained.
The Tom's Guide streaming team spends a ton of time on both streaming services, watching movies and shows for ourselves, and to stay abreast of which service deserves its flowers. Throughout the last year, we kept coming back to the same surprising answer. For as much as the HBO Max app has been annoying at times, HBO's content — and the app's layout — puts it over the top. The one new issue, though, is that HBO Max seems to be dropping content at a curious clip.
While some of us have canceled our Netflix accounts (only to come back) the big list of the best Netflix shows is long enough to keep some hanging on. Stranger Things 4 is Netflix's biggest recent hit, owning the daily top 5 on a regular basis. Netflix has also had most of the standard features that competitors took years to realize mattered. and it's enough content that you've got plenty of reasons to sign up.
Sling TV is one of the best streaming services for live TV thanks to its customizability and relatively inexpensive price. While it got a price bump to $35 (from $30) in January, that's still just $30 less than the likes of YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV. But its new app design isn't impressing everyone.
The best streaming services now
HBO Max has everything HBO had, and then some. Both HBO and HBO Max pack current-run shows including Euphoria, as well as completed seasons of Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Veep. But for $14.99 per month (or $9.99 with ads, and no big Warner movies), HBO Max adds a lot more to be a compelling competitor to Netflix. We loved The Flight Attendant with Kaley Cuoco, and its imminent return is on our calendars. There's also Friends, the Studio Ghibli library and original shows like Made for Love.
But now that the days of Warner Bros' movies coming out on HBO Max on day 1 are over — it was great to get James Gunn's The Suicide Squad, Dune and King Richard without waiting, we've looked beyond the big films for why we love HBO Max. It keeps offering new and exciting projects, such as Tokyo Vice, the Tony Hawk documentary and shows like Barry and A Black Lady Sketch Show. Check out our guide to the best HBO Max shows and movies to see what it's offering.
Check our our full HBO Max review.
Hulu's one of the most interesting options on this list, and its unique nature makes sure it's one of the best streaming services. While it doesn't deliver as many new originals as say Netflix, its quality to quantity ratio is better. But more importantly, its next-day airings of cable and broadcast TV shows make it a must-have for many cord-cutters who don't want to spend $35 or more on the likes of Sling. And at $6.99 per month, it's a lot cheaper than the $15 standard Netflix plan.
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 Only Murderers In the Building season 2, Fire Island and The Dropout. Even with a paid subscription, you have to sit through commercials, but far fewer than if you watched the same shows on cable. Hulu's live TV streaming option is also a solid aspect of its overall package, and that will let you watch CBS too.
Check out our full Hulu with Live TV review.
The great-granddaddy in the market remains near the top of our list of the best streaming services. As you probably know, Netflix provides unlimited streaming of TV shows, movies, comedy specials (check out Bo Burnham's Inside) and original programming (we need Stranger Things 5 now) for one monthly subscription fee. Netflix is constantly adding and taking away movies, so you'll want to check our our what's new on Netflix guide to see what's coming soon, and what you should watch before it's gone. Thanks to a new Netflix price hike, many are debating canceling the service.
I personally come back and forth to Netflix, because if one month doesn't have a new show or film I want, the next definitely will. So while early 2022 didn't have a whole lot for us, March brought new Drive to Survive, and April offered delivering Russian Doll season 2, the end of Ozark and more. That said? HBO Max seems to get movies in ways that Netflix just does not.
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. Still, though, we see frequent additions of licensed shows, such as Hannibal, Moesha and Community, making Netflix the home for those looking to catch up on beloved shows they missed the first time around. 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. The only thing we don't love about Netflix is the big list of Netflix's canceled shows.
Read our full Netflix review.
Disney Plus is a dominant player in the category, 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 its normal price of $8 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.
While we like the Disney Plus apps — they're all snappy and responsive and well made — we've always wanted more from the service. Sure, its content fits the $7.99 per month price when there's something new, but we find ourselves waiting for the next big thing too often. This is why movies like Turning Red and the new Chip n Dale movie are valuable to Disney Plus.
We're also curious about what will change with the addition of TV-MA content in the U.S., as Disney Plus getting the Netflix Marvel shows and improved parental controls (formerly restricted to the Star Channel in international versions of Disney Plus). Netflix and HBO Max have long outranked Disney Plus when it comes to a wide variety of content for adults, and we're hoping this changes soon. Fans of Disney, Marvel, Pixar and/or Star Wars have no choice but to subscribe, which makes Disney Plus one of the best streaming services.
Read our full Disney Plus review.
Unlike the above on-demand services that outrank it, Sling TV is a streaming service to replace cable, offering many of the most popular live TV channels. We (two of TG's streaming writers) cut the cord with Sling TV for the following two reasons: its competitive price is married with a decent assortment of channels. Sling is especially handy for sports fans, as it offers a variety of ESPN channels — and this alone is worth the price for some. The only real problem is that Sling TV's recent buffering issues have randomly ruined a good night here or there — supposedly, though, they're fixed.
Other popular networks, like NBC, BBC America, CNN, Cartoon Network, TBS and the Food Network, sweeten the deal. If you want a live TV service with more channels (such as ABC and CBS), we say consider Fubo TV, unless you need TNT. In which case, Sling may be the best for you. Check out our Sling TV guide to packages, channels and more. While most of the popular streaming services start at around $65, Sling stands out with its $35 per month starting price. In 2021, while YouTube TV found itself having trouble staying on all of the best streaming devices (most notably the best Roku devices), Sling didn't have this problem, part of the reason why we're so high on the service. If you never make us question your ability to keep top channels, you'll keep your confidence high.
Sling keeps changing its new offer deal. It's currently at 50% off for your first month, and that's the best deal. Sometimes it goes to $10 off the first month (which is at least $7.50 less savings than the half-off deal).
Read our full Sling TV review.
When we first named Apple TV Plus one of the best streaming services, it entered this list at the very end, in last place. In the months since? We keep going back to Apple TV Plus, as its hot streak is almost unparalleled outside of HBO Max. Severance is arguably the show of 2022, The Afterparty was a great surprise and Apple TV Plus even took home the best picture Oscar for CODA. So for anyone who says Apple TV Plus is for "Ted Lasso and little else," tell them they need to check out the best Apple TV Plus shows and movies. It's serving up programming that continues to surprise and charm, while Netflix almost feels routine and boring.
From Schmigadoon! to The Velvet Underground, and from Beastie Boys Story to Mythic Quest, there's something for everyone. Want drama? For All Mankind and The Morning Show scratch the prestige and tabloid itches, respectively. Family content is in full force with Charlie Brown specials and And the reasons to spend the modest $4.99 per month on Apple TV Plus keep showing up, as it's now streaming Friday Night Baseball.
Check out our full Apple TV Plus review.
Peacock can finally be considered one of the best streaming services, as parent company NBCU finally got things to work with Amazon — and the service is on Fire TV. Yes, it took almost a year, but it's finally here. In that time, the Tokyo Olympics were significantly delayed — and while that's not Peacock's fault, it did take away one of the major reasons to consider the service. The subsequent Winter Olympics, though were magnificently handled by Peacock, which also streamed this year's Super Bowl. Peacock's improving at live events.
We at Tom's Guide subscribe to Peacock for a variety of reasons. Some like the Peacock Originals Girls5eva and Vigil, which proved to be two of our favorite new shows — the kind of shows that get you to move from Peacock's free tier to its paid tier. One staffer (Henry) only has Peacock for the WWE live events and content. Also, the Saved By The Bell reboot was much better than expected.
Read our full Peacock review.
Fubo TV is one of the best streaming services for anyone looking to have access to live sports without an actual cable subscription. Fubo’s standard plan is $69.99 and offers 120-plus 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 and select live events. The other knock against Fubo, besides its higher price, is the limited Cloud DVR storage.
When we tested Fubo TV, we found that its multi-screen view was the biggest differentiator outside of its surplus of international sports. Those features work really well together, though, as we got to watch races and futbol simultaneously.
While Fubo’s channel lineup is the largest among the higher-priced streamers, they just got a major pair of gaps filled, including ABC and ESPN. By adding ESPN, Fubo makes itself the top streaming service for NFL fans, offering all the major broadcast networks, and the NFL Network too. In addition, the lineup includes popular networks like NBC, Fox, AMC, Food Network, MTV and Syfy, as well as a ton of niche sports channels. Its only big sports flaw is TNT, which is a must for NBA playoffs.
Check our our full Fubo TV review.
For those who do most of their shopping online, Amazon Prime is a no-brainer. For $139 (formerly $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 and The Man in the High Castle to Reacher and The Boys). But unlike Netflix, Prime Video's new shows are seemingly few and far between, as its output rates don't quite stack up to the big red streaming machine, or HBO Max.
Amazon Prime Video's biggest hit is The Boys, which has already had one animated spinoff (a college-based one is also coming). The thing we don't love about Prime Video is how its apps vary greatly across platforms. When we tested Prime Video on Roku or Apple TV or Chromecast, we saw fewer sorting and discovery options than we did on a Fire TV device. 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.
Read our full Prime Video review.
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 Max. 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. But there are a lot of other devices, so check out our Nvidia Shield TV vs. Nvidia Shield TV Pro face-off to see the difference between them.
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.
We also spend a fair amount of time keeping up with the latest entrants into the streaming wars. A newer live TV streaming service is Philo TV, which costs just $25 a month for 59 channels.
One of the biggest new names in streaming is NBCU's Peacock. Its strategy is simple: free ad-supported content you love, but the debate over NBC Peacock Free vs Premium is more about getting people in the door and hooked. Shows such as Girls5Eva are here to make you pay more. Peacock has The Office, SNL and much more, plus it's the exclusive home for many Premier League soccer games and the WWE Network.
HBO Max arrived with the WarnerMedia library (plus Friends), after that, though, it earned a lot of attention for its "day-and-date" releases that brought huge blockbuster movies on the same day they arrive in theaters. This started with Wonder Woman 1984, but ended when 2022 began. Still, HBO Max is the service we love the most, as it keeps delivering great TV shows.
Apple TV Plus earned its spot on the best best streaming services by becoming more than just a service you watch Ted Lasso on. The likes of Pachinko, Severance, CODA, The Afterparty and Shining Girls have proven that Apple has an eye for good content. Annoyingly, we've found that it isn't on all brands of Smart TVs.
For more information, check out our how we test page for Tom's Guide.