Netflix really did a number on the way we consume entertainment nowadays. After turning Blockbuster into a distant memory, the internet DVD rental website turned into a full-blown media monolith with on-demand streaming of movies, TV shows, and original content. Soon after, countless more brands joined the race for streaming supremacy. It can be difficult picking out the essentials in such a saturated market, so we’ve compiled the best streaming services.

If you haven’t already cut the cord, there’s no better time to finally jump into the streaming craze, break up with your cable company, and enjoy (in many cases) commercial-free, on-demand streaming.

Best Overall: Netflix
Best Live-TV Streaming: Philo
Best for Movies: Amazon Prime Video
Best for Kids: Disney Plus
Best for Families: HBO Max

How We Picked The Best Streaming Services

Some streaming services are so ubiquitous, they may as well be terrestrial TV channels on basic cable. Despite the popular offerings that come to mind anytime someone says “streaming service,” it’s easy to lose track of the on-demand offerings out there. This goes double for the occasional rebrand, name change, and stark difference of content available across different countries on the same streaming platform. Here are a few of the things we considered when picking out the best streaming services. 

Content: The easiest question to ask yourself when considering a subscription to a new streaming service is “Is there anything on this platform that I actually want to watch?” While many of the larger services like Netflix, Prime Video, and Hulu are constantly updating their libraries, other services pack impressive, albeit niche, content. There’s likely something for everyone on Netflix, but the same can’t be said for ESPN+ or Discovery Plus. Just like buying a new video game console, one should investigate the exclusive content that any given service offers. 

Price: I don’t mean to sound like a salty boomer, but I remember when a Netflix streaming subscription was a mere $7.99 a month. Now, a subscription to 4K content with up to four streamers is $19.99. In the past, dipping into countless services at once didn’t really add up. Now, subscribing to as little as four ad-free versions of streaming services (i.e. Prime Video, Hulu, Netflix, HBO Max) can cost more than a standard cable subscription. So much for the cord-cutting savings. 

User Interface: It’s equal parts hilarious and tragic that despite many of these streaming services being run by gigantic media conglomerates, few of them can design an app that doesn’t lag, buffer, or even crash regularly. It’s a nearly universal experience at this point. Cable, for all its sins, usually doesn’t break down every time you switch channels. Of course, there are variables from user to user, considering that internet connection strength and streaming devices will differ from person to person. But pausing an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” shouldn’t make your app crash, HBO.

The Best Streaming Services: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Netflix

King of Streaming. Jaime Carrillo/Futurism

Why it Made The Cut: The original streaming service still ranks among the best, with some of the widest availability of movies, TV shows, and original content.

Specs:
— Launched: January 2007
— Price: $9.99 – $19.99 per month, depending on video quality
— Selected Exclusives: “Squid Game,” “Lucifer,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Stranger Things,” “The Crown”

Pros:
— Pioneered the streaming model
— Buttery Smooth UI
— Fantastic exclusives

Cons:
— Library is slowly dwindling
— Monthly fee has increased

Would a “best streaming services” article even exist if Netflix had never been invented? It’s difficult to imagine a world where Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph didn’t start their company out of spite from dealing with Blockbuster (RIP) late fees. 

The Netflix model is often duplicated, but there’s no taking down the king. Netflix’s library is growing by the week, with fresh new series and movies across a wide array of genres and audiences. You want highbrow? Gritty dramas like “House of Cards” and “The Crown” are rife with Emmy-worthy performances. If you’ve got a hankering for something blue, Netflix comprises some of the most stand-up comedy specials in one library, featuring popular comics like John Mulaney and Iliza Shlesinger. It’s also the only game in town if you want to stream “Seinfeld” for free. Fans of goofy bass lines and neurotic ‘90s New Yorkers have no choice but to subscribe. Many can argue which service provides the best content, as that’s a matter of opinion for the most part. What isn’t up for debate is how well Netflix runs. Have you ever heard of Netflix crashing on someone? This is sadly not the case with plenty of the other services listed here. Netflix mainstays, including all classic “Star Trek” series, are leaving the platform soon, as more and more companies are getting into the streaming game. A tragedy, but for now, Netflix is still king.

Best Live TV Streaming: Philo

Why It Made The Cut: For those who still need a hit of cable TV now and then, Philo is a fantastic choice, with a few compromises.

Specs:
— Launched: November 2017
— Price: $25 per month, with optional channel add-ons
— Selected Exclusives: N/A

Pros:
— Over 60 popular channels
— Built-in DVR
— Inexpensive

Cons:
— Absence of sports
— Missing major news channels

Cutting the cord takes a few pushes. Hulu, Sling TV, and FuboTV all offer various live cable streaming suites, but Philo has them all beat because of its rock-bottom subscription price. 

Philo works like any great cable subscription, only better. Directly from your favorite streaming device, you can watch live cable television including popular channels. There are popular entertainment destinations like Comedy Central, FYI, Game Show Network, Vice, four different MTV and three different Hallmark channels. Somewhere, right now, your mom just squealed with delight. There are tons of education offerings too, with three different Discovery networks, History, HGTV, and Investigation Discovery. With these in tow, you’ll be able to get your fix of the best in non-fiction, from true crime to house renovation. There’s even three Nickelodeon channels for the youngn’s. Aside from the bevy of channels, a built-in DVR lets you save shows for up to 365 days, and there’s even plenty of on-demand content from your favorite shows to watch whenever you want. Sadly, there are no sports or big news channels here to speak of, and like an actual cable subscription, expect a fair amount of commercials.

Best for Movies: Amazon Prime Video

Better Thank Blockbuster. Jaime Carrillo/Futurism

Why It Made The Cut: The internet superstore ranks among one of the best destinations for streaming content, but it’s unmatched when it comes to the vast selection of films in its library.

Specs:
— Launched: February 2011
— Price: $8.99 per month for Prime Video, $139 per year for Amazon Prime, which comes with Prime Video
— Selected Exclusives: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Bosch,” “The Boys,” “The Man in the High Castle”

Pros:
— Massive library of films
— Easy on-demand payment
— Comes complimentary with Amazon Prime

Cons:
— Rentals only last 48 hours

Amazon Prime, the service you use to get everything from smart TVs to Mexican candy delivered to your door in two days, is also a great destination for streaming. But where Prime Video truly sings is its on-demand movie rental service. 

The prices vary from film to film, but on average, renting a movie in seconds will run you less than five dollars. That’s worth the price of not having to schlep to your nearest Redbox machine. And the library of films to rent is much larger than any previous movie rental destination, virtual or otherwise. The 1959 Doris Day romantic comedy “Pillow Talk” is available, but so is the underrated Timothy Dalton Bond film “The Living Daylights.” Many films are available in 4K UHD, which looks great on new smart TVs. Sadly, in the event that you have to pay for the rental, you only have 48 hours to watch before Prime Video yanks the permissions away from you again. Still, should you accidentally rent and get instant sour grapes, Amazon is pretty fast and loose with giving you a quick refund. Aside from the massive movie library, Amazon Prime Video has plenty of great original content like “The Marvelous Ms. Maisel,” and the forthcoming “Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” series.

Best for Kids: Disney Plus

Kid Tested, Parent Approved. Jaime Carrillo/Futurism

Why It Made The Cut: The internet superstore ranks among one of the best destinations for streaming content, but it’s unmatched when it comes to the vast selection of films in its library.

Specs:
— Launched: November 2019
— Price: $8 per month, $80 per year, $14 per month when bundled with ESPN+ and Hulu
— Selected Exclusives: “The Mandalorian,” “Hamilton,” “Artemis Fowl,” “WandaVision,” “The Book of Boba Fett”

Pros:
— Huge Disney library, even some deep cuts
— Piles of Marvel and Star Wars content
— Excellent value

Cons:
— Occasionally slow and buggy

It was only a matter of time before Disney, the child-friendly monolith since your grandpa’s heyday, got into the streaming wars. Disney Plus landed with a bang, and continues to churn out some of the best content for kids. 

While it’s missing a handful of movies and TV shows (“Aladdin: The Series,” “Song of the South,” to name a few), just about everything in the Disney Vault is available here. Disney Channel original movies like “Smart House,” Saturday morning nostalgia bombs like “Pepper Ann,” and even two different “Ducktales” series. There’s also Disney films spanning all the way back to the “Steamboat Willie” days, along with new releases like “Turning Red,” “Enancto,” and “Soul.” But wait, there’s more! Disney now owns Marvel and “Star Wars,” expanding its library to near galactic proportions. Every piece of “Star Wars” media is available to stream, including the new movies and classic series like “The Clone Wars.” Everything but “The Star Wars Holiday Special,” of course. Same goes for Marvel, with the exception of a few properties still owned by Sony. The app is occasionally buggy, especially if you decide you want to pause, fast-forward, or rewind any given program. But when it comes to tots, kids, and teens, this is the premiere streaming service.

Best for Families: HBO Max

Max Value. Jaime Carrillo/Futurism

Why It Made The Cut: What makes HBO Max so great is that its content casts such a wide net, providing must-see content for just about everyone.

Specs:
— Launched: May 2020
— Price: $9.99 per month/$99.99 per year with limited ads, $14.99 per month/$149.99 per year
— Selected Exclusives: “Harley Quinn,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “The Righteous Gemstones,” “Euphoria,” “The Gilded Age”

Pros:
— HBO library full of prestige content
— Massive library of movies and TV for everyone
— Ever expanding

Cons:
— Some of the worst UI in any streaming service

Remember when HBO was simply “the home box office,” and wasn’t anything more than a dusty, deep-cable repository for stand-up comedy and movies you could rent at Blockbuster? Tony Soprano changed all that, and since the late ‘90s, HBO became a prestige television powerhouse. However, HBO Max packs way more than just HBO shows and movies.

Along with HBO, Max also packs movies and shows from these popular channels and brands: Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, DC, Sesame Workshop, Turner Classic Movies, Studio Ghibli, and Looney Toons. Not only can you watch every Miyazaki film, but two different Space Jams. Because of the sheer amount of content, there’s something here for the entire family. Plucky young minds can delight to “Sesame Street” and “Peppa Pig.” Teens can get their fill of action, with superhero flicks like “Batman Begins,” or laugh out loud with Adult Swim classics like “Space Ghost: Coast to Coast” and “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.” After the kiddos are put to bed, mom and dad can catch up on their stories, with dramatic appointment television like “The Gilded Age” or uproarious comedy “The Righteous Gemstones.” What a library! But that UI…oh boy. It’s gotten better over the years, but HBO Max is still synonymous with bugs and crashes that force you to restart the app, sometimes in the middle of a show or movie. So close, yet so far from being perfect.

Things to Consider Before Subscribing to a Streaming Service

Streaming Device

While many streaming services can be accessed via any internet browser, this isn’t exactly the best way to take in cinematic media. To watch them on a bigger screen, you need either a dedicated streaming device like Roku or Apple TV, or one of the best smart TVs, like the ones made by Amazon or Samsung. Picking the right device could use its own proper full-blown guide, but here are three good options for your streaming needs:

For Apple Fanatics: Apple TV 4K not only syncs up with your macOS and iOS devices, but it streams everything in glorious 4K. It’s also packing serious power with its built-in A12 Bionic chip with 64-bit architecture. 

For On-The-Go Streaming: Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ can fit in most pockets, and all suitcases, even when you include the companion remote. It can be plugged into any HDMI port, so you can take all your streaming services with you, wherever you go. It’s even got built voice controls and private listening capabilities. 

For Complete Media Hubs: Xbox One S is the more affordable, scaled-down offering from Microsoft for the current console generation. For those who game as well as stream, Xbox One S has plenty of popular streaming apps available for download, including Netflix and Apple TV. I also can’t stress this enough: navigating through clunky user interfaces is much easier when using a 16-button gaming controller.

Do I Really Need This Streaming Service?

“In the future, every nut will have their own streaming service.” Andy Warhol never said that. But think about how prescient he would have sounded if he did? In the beginning, when there were only a handful of players in the streaming wars, subscribing to just a few services could not only satisfy your need for fresh, must-watch content, but let you say goodbye to cable forever. No more cable box, no more appointment television, and no more massive monthly bill. The glory days of streaming past are so equal parts wholesome and tragic that they deserve their own Springsteen ballad. Now, overspending on services you barely touch is far too easy to do. As a dedicated gamer, I often ask myself this question whenever I consider buying a new console: Are there at least 10 games I absolutely need to play that will be exclusive to this new device? If the answer is “No,” I give it a hard pass. Same goes for streaming services. Consider for a moment if there’s a couple handfuls of shows and movies that you absolutely can’t miss on any given service. 

The annoying thing that just about every service does is the way they stagger new episodes of TV shows instead of dropping an entire season at once, like they used to do. Appointment television is an antiquated concept that just won’t die. Luckily, you can make it work for you. Paramount+ is the only game in town to watch new episodes of new “Star Trek ‘ shows like “Star Trek: Picard” and “Star Trek: Lower Decks.” In order to save on scratch, simply subscribe during the time that new episodes drop. Unlike cable, streaming services don’t require you to pick up a phone and talk to a customer service representative giving you a hard sell before letting you cancel your subscription. I’ve canceled services directly from my phone, in bed even. If only Comcast was that flexible. 

FAQs

Q: How much do streaming services cost?

Streaming services cost anywhere from $8.99 to upwards of $60 if you’re subscribing to a live-TV streaming service. Some services like Pluto TV and Crackle are totally free and supported by ads.

Q: What is the most reliable live streaming service?

The most reliable live streaming services known for their stable UI include Amazon Prime and Netflix.

Q: What is the most popular streaming service?

Netflix is the most popular streaming service with almost 222 million global subscribers.

Final Thoughts on the Best Streaming Services

The glory days of streaming are long gone, and the selection of services can be tricky to navigate. Luckily, services couldn’t be more clear on the sort of content they offer. For kids and families, Disney Plus and HBO Max offer the widest selection of content. Netflix, the original streaming leader still remains unmatched, for its constantly updated library and its smooth UI. If you’re looking to capture some of that Blockbuster or Redbox magic, Amazon Prime Video is a fantastic place to rent movies old and new.

This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post. 


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