Over the past few years, the number of video streaming services has grown by a lot, as everyone, including Apple, Disney, and ESPN, wants a piece of the pie. No longer is Netflix your only choice. This is great for those of us who can’t wait to find our next favorite TV show, but it can also be hard and expensive to figure out which streaming service is best. Now it’s up to you to figure out which streaming services have the shows and movies you want to watch, which ones fit your budget, which ones have the best original shows, movies, and documentaries, and which ones have the best live TV viewing.
We at Engadget wanted to make it easier for you to choose, so we put together a list of the best video streaming services you can sign up for right now. Our favorite picks cover a wide range of content types and prices. Should you now go out and sign up for all of the services on this list? Most likely not, unless you’re a real cord-cutter who can’t get enough material. But these are the services that give you the best value for your money, no matter if you like live sports, old movies, or just watching in general.
Netflix is the only streaming service that has more high-quality material for one price than anyone else. Netflix probably has something for you in any category you can think of, even if it’s something they made themselves. Also, new content is added every week, and since Netflix is a worldwide service, movies and TV shows from all over the world are constantly being added. This can change your viewing experience in ways you might not have thought of (Are you sure you don’t like Korean dramas, Finnish detective thrillers, or British home improvement shows?).
Netflix is available in almost every country on Earth, and most internet-connected gadgets can use its app or website. These apps are also among the easiest services to use. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy to choose something to watch, but this is the best way to switch settings or just pick up where you left off. You can easily download most (but not all) of its material to watch offline or on an airplane on your iOS or Android device.
If you don’t already have Netflix or someone to share a login with, it’s a little harder to try it out than it used to be. The free trial time for Netflix in the US ended a while ago, so it’s important to have all your information ready before you sign up.
Another thing to think about is that if you’ve let your account expire, the service might be very different from what it was two, five, or ten years ago. To stay on top in the subscription streaming market, where material and plans are always changing, the leader has had to make changes.
In the US, you can sign up for Netflix at three different levels. All of them give you unlimited access to the same material, work on the same devices, and you can cancel or pause them at any time. The Standard with Ads plan costs $7 per month and is the only one that includes ads. The difference between Standard, which costs $15.50 per month, and Premium, which costs $20 per month, comes down to the quality of the picture and the number of streams that can be watched at the same time.
Amazon Prime Video
If you think of Amazon’s Prime Video package as a “lite” version of Netflix, or if you’ve only used it once or twice, you might not realize how many choices it has. The service is part of Amazon Prime, which you can get for $15 a month or $139 a year. It doesn’t have any ads (except for clips) and you can subscribe to it. The subscription started out as a way to get free shipping on more orders, but Amazon has added benefits for books, music, games, and even groceries. If you’d rather just get Prime Video, you can get it on its own for $9 per month.
We’ll focus on the video service, which has a mix of original and catalog material that is similar to what Netflix and other services offer. In the past few years, Amazon Prime has made more original material, including award-winning shows like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “The Boys” and “The Expanse,” which are popular genre shows.
There are almost as many places as Netflix where you can watch Amazon Prime Video. Streaming boxes and smart TVs are almost a given, whether they work with Amazon’s Fire TV app or not. Game systems? Be sure. Google’s Chromecast was the only big connectivity hole, but it was fixed in the summer of 2019.
Amazon also has a lot of 4K and HDR material that you can watch for free, unlike Netflix. Same thing with multiple streams. Amazon’s rules say you can have up to two feeds going at the same time. Amazon lets you watch downloads offline on its Fire devices, as well as on Android and iOS.
The only bad thing is that Amazon’s apps aren’t quite as easy to use as Netflix’s. Even though Amazon has all the features, it’s often harder to do simple things like read a description of an episode, turn on closed captions, or switch from one show to another. The company also often insists on putting its Fire TV-style interface on other platforms instead of using the tools that come with those platforms. That can make it harder to use, but on systems like Roku where it uses the controls already built in, it can be easier.
Also, remember that Amazon’s video apps connect to its on-demand store and give you access to Channels. For cord-cutters who just want a consistent experience across different devices, this means it’s easy to buy or rent material that isn’t part of the subscription. You can control your subscriptions to Britbox, Showtime, Paramount+, and other services through Amazon Channels.
In 2020, HBO Max was made to compete with other streaming services. It took the place of the other HBO channels and streaming services like HBO Go and HBO Now. It did this by putting more emphasis on original material and rebuilding the service for the modern age. Even before it merged with another company and changed its name to just “Max,” it had access to one of the largest and best libraries of material. It pulled from the archives of the premium cable channel, the Warner Bros. vault, Studio Ghibli, Looney Tunes, Sesame Street, and Turner Classic Movies.
Congratulations! If you pay for HBO through one of the big TV companies, you probably already have access to the full Max experience. Just turn on your account, and you can start viewing. If not, you can sign up straight through the Internet. Max has a free 7-day trial, and the cheapest plan without ads costs $16 per month, or $150 per year. For $20 a month, or $200 a year, you can get a plan with no ads, 4K streaming, and four streams at the same time. The ad-supported tier costs $10 per month and lets you join at the start.
Max is now available on Roku, Apple TV, Android TV, Samsung, and other TV systems since its release. You can also watch it through a browser, game consoles from Sony and Microsoft, or apps for Android and iOS. It also works with Google Cast and AirPlay, so it can be used with more smart TVs than just the ones on this list.
Max material includes the full runs of Friends and The Fresh Prince, as well as TV shows and movies set in the DC Universe that Warner pulled back from Netflix and other services. Game of Thrones, The Wire, Band of Brothers, Flight of the Conchords or Entourage, and younger shows like The Last of Us and The White Lotus speak for themselves in the Max library.
We should note, though, that Max dropped a few shows before it merged with Discovery+ in order to save money. It is giving less importance to kid and family material, which is why it is getting rid of Sesame Street spin-offs and a few Cartoon Network shows. Movies like “Batgirl” and “Scoob! : Holiday Haunt” have also been canceled. Even with these changes, Max still has one of the best collections of TV shows and movies of any streaming service.