The very best streaming services for your home, offer a wide variety of content for the subscription fee, an easy interface for browsing and playback, plus lots of original content that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s also an added bonus if the service makes it easy to watch live TV or at least keep up on your favorite shows without waiting months afterward.
While the best TV streaming apps do one or two of these things well (one that is beyond evident is cutting the cord), Netflix stands above the rest for doing almost all of them perfectly. It has one of the best interfaces, a ton of movies and shows to get invested in, and a never ending amount of original content that is frequently updated over time. There’s something for kids, teens, adults students, and fans of every genre. You can also get 4k streaming quality for any available shows if you like! Make sure to check our full list of streaming services for our complete recommendations.
Award: TOP PICK
WHY WE LIKE IT: Offering the best overall choice in content, Netflix reigns as the top streaming service for all kinds of users. It’s intuitive interface and multiple resolution options only help solidify this app as the best!
Netflix continues to have the largest streamer subscription base, and it’s easy to see why. The service has an incredible amount of content for both movies and shows, includes offerings from all sorts of networks (past and present), and has an interface that’s easy to manage whether you’re looking for a particular show or checking out recommendations. Then there’s original content, where Netflix has some of the best ongoing TV shows around and a huge library of unique content for both kids and adults.
The service also makes it easy to customize the quality of your stream. Choose between basic, standard, and premium plans ($9 to $16 per month) based on the resolution quality you want. Those who haven’t tried Netflix before can easily check it out with a one month free trial! Once you’ve got your subscription, you’ll have to watch 53 of the best movies streaming on Netflix for 2012.
Award: HONORABLE MENTION
WHY WE LIKE IT: Featuring award-winning original shows, Amazon Prime Video combines original content with movies and shows that have fallen through the cracks elsewhere. The service also makes it very easy to add other features, including specific video channels like Starz, content like Kindle books, and much more.
When Amazon started growing its Prime Video service into something more, it took an interesting approach: Gathering fan favorite and cult classic shows that Netflix and Hulu had missed, while working to build its own library of high-quality original content. The result is a very strong streaming service, especially for fans of sci-fi and indie works. However, it’s Amazon’s original content that really shines, whether it’s new work like Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, adaptations like The Boys, or rescued shows like The Expanse.
Prime Video requires an Amazon Prime, but that’s an advantage in this case as you also get Prime shipping benefits, as well as the ability to add on other services like Kindle books and Amazon Music Unlimited. Prime on it’s own costs $9 per month, but there are several payment options. Original content does usually support 4k resolution. Amazon is one of the best for streaming movies and shows, because you can find literally anything (if you’re willing to pay 2-3 dollars). A lot of their free shows are worth watching as well.
Award: BEST VARIETY
WHY WE LIKE IT: Hulu’s excellent connection to live TV networks allows the service to air the latest episodes soon after they show up, perfect for keeping track. The service also has a growing number of interesting original shows and access to certain special live events.
Owned by Disney, the Hulu streaming services app is both affordable and filled with plentiful content. While its movie select may not be quite as robust as Netflix, it does an excellent job of adding TV shows – especially live TV shows that are still ongoing, in which case Hulu will add the newest episode one day to one week after it airs…an excellent way to get caught up on your own time.
Hulu also supports a number of original shows and events, including some live sports and concerts to check out. A lot of the original shows tend towards comedy, but Hulu also has highly acclaimed serious shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, and continues to grow this content in an effort to rival Netflix and Amazon more directly. Hulu is also easy to bundle with other Disney services like Disney+ if you are interested. Prices start at $6 per month. If you already have a Hulu subscription, then you might want to look into 10 of the best streaming media players to consider from 2014.
Award: BEST FOR KIDS
WHY WE LIKE IT: Kids (and many adults) will love the full access to Disney properties, Marvel movies and shows, everything Stars Wars-related, and much more. This is the perfect service for entertaining the family with movies and shows you know they’ll love.
One of the newest major streaming services, Disney+ focuses solely on the properties owned by Disney: That means Disney’s own cartoons and movies (Frozen 2, Tangled, and so on), Pixar, Marvel, National Geographic, and Star Wars. You won’t get everything from all these brands (except possibly Star Wars, which does seem to have just about all licensed content), but you will get a lot – all at excellent streaming quality and with one of the best interfaces right after Netflix.
The content Disney+ offers is naturally slanted more towards kids than adults. While you may enjoy catching up on the latest Marvel or Pixar movies, it’s undeniable that most of Disney+ is made for entertaining the little ones – no matter how many times they want to rewatch their favorite movie. Prices start at $7 per month, with bundling available with Hulu, etc.
Award: BEST ORIGINAL CONTENT
WHY WE LIKE IT: With a wealth of favorite shows, tuning into the excellent HBO Now is almost a cultural event – as long as it has something you like. Great streaming quality, access to unique sports events, and one of the best selections of popular movies complete HBO’s powerful streaming service.
The contest for best original content is a tough one, but HBO’s work in this area cannot be denied. Game of Thrones, Westworld, Veep, True Detective, Watchmen, and many other shows are familiar to everyone, and there’s no other place you can catch them except HBO Now. The service also excels at getting the higher box office movies for you to stream, with an ever-rotating selection that ensures there’s always something new to try.
Outside of these two strengths, HBO’s offering is a little scarce, although it does carry a selection of comedies and stand-up, indie shows, sports events (although rarely live action), and kid’s content (if you can’t find a kid’s movie on Disney+, there’s a great chance you’ll find it here instead). It’s eclectic, high-quality, and a little random – but no one can deny HBO’s cultural appeal or the quality of their own content. Streaming quality also tends to be excellent across the board. Costs start at $14.99. Note: HBO has also released HBO Max, which is a similar price point and offers slightly different content. If you only want to spring on one subscription, consider 30 of the best action movies streaming on Netflix.
Award: BEST LIVE TV
WHY WE LIKE IT: Sling TV lets you watch TV live – just pick one of its great packages and access your favorite channels! It’s the perfect solution for those who want to drop cable without giving up on some of their favorite entertainment.
Sling TV takes a different approach: This app provides live TV viewing for a select number of channels based on the package you can get. You can then add extra channels for things like Showtime, Starz, kids networks, and more to get the exact live TV you want to watch, and nothing you don’t. Sling TV streaming services provide customization like few other options we’ve seen!
It’s a great system, but you do have to be aware of the channel limitations. Choosing the more affordable “Orange” channel will net you channels like CNN, ESPN (ESPN 2, and ESPN 3 as well), Fuse, AMC, TNT, HGTV, History Channel, Comedy Central, Food Network, Vice, and more. The more expensive Blue channel adds options like MSNBC, A&E, FX, Lifetime, IFC, Syfy, NBC, and more. They are comprehensive offerings, but you won’t find options like CBS or FX here. However, the pricing is far better than cable, with options that start at $30 per month.
Award: BEST SPORTS
WHY WE LIKE IT: With streamed sports from around the world, game replays, and access to premium ESPN content, this app is a sports-lover’s dream – especially if they’re worried about cancelling cable. You can make it even better with bundling options, too, this should achieve the equivalent of most sports channels.
For many viewers, dropping cable for streaming is difficult because it means giving up live sports – especially if you don’t have a TV antenna. ESPN+ is a service specifically designed to fix this problem, with live events, a backlog of popular content, ESPN films, game replays, fantasy league tools, and even extra website content to explore premium analysis.
This is obviously the best streaming service for sports fans and a way to keep current on games, but it’s even better with bundles. Alone you can get ESPN+ for $5 per month. But you can also choose to combine it with Hulu and Disney+ for $13 per month in all, a deal that has something for everyone.
Well, we sat down and watched some TV! Really, the best way to review a streaming service is to jump in and explore all it has to offer, moving through different categories and settings to see what we like. This is a great way to both test out the interface and see how it functions (finding titles, recommendations, etc.) and see just what content the service offers – the variety and span of each category.
Then it’s time for a deeper dive with several very important questions. Is there a great kid’s section for the service for parents? (Disney+ has an obvious answer, Netflix is surprisingly competent here, etc.). Can you watch live events, especially things that are meant to be watched live like sports? How well does the service update its shows – do you have to wait a day, a week, or a year to catch the latest season of your favorite show. And, of course, one of the most popular questions: How much does it cost per month, and how does that compare with other fees?
Then we focused on technical aspects. For example, are 4k and HDR supported for high quality viewing on your big screen TV? Is it easy to filter content if necessary? How does playback – starting, stopping, and rewinding – work? Can you enable additional audio features if necessary? Is streaming itself smooth, especially for those who may have broadband issues? We added all this together to get an excellent look at exactly what these streaming services can do.