Streaming subscriptions are great, but it seems like every major network and media company has launched a new streaming service.
There’s more great TV to watch than ever, but deciding which ones are worth your time and money can be daunting. Your choices likely depend on which original shows and movies you want, how important a back catalog of older streaming TV shows is to you, whether you need to consider kids, roommates or sports fans, and of course your budget.
That’s where this list of the best streaming service options comes in. We’ve reviewed each of these streaming services individually, and assigned numeric ratings based on content, app design and features and overall value. Certainly, some personal preference regarding content mix influences our decisions, so note that if you love a specific show or style of show, you may have a different favorite.
With that in mind, here’s the list, ranked in order starting with the best streaming services
There’s a reason why Netflix has become shorthand for streaming in general. The veteran service, which launched its DVD-by-mail rentals in 1998, has evolved into the top-tier streaming service that’s a must-have in 2021. When big originals like Squid Games, Tiger King 2 or Stranger Thing drop, they grab the attention of millions of viewers along with critical praise and awards, giving us the closest thing to watercooler conversations we have nowadays.
While Netflix has lost a couple of major back catalog channel titles to other streamers this past year (specifically TV series favorites The Office to Peacock and Friends to HBO Max), Netflix still offers a wide variety of familiar network shows and more original series, films, documentaries and specials than any of its competitors. New shows and movies arrive each week, and 70 new original movies will arrive on the Netflix platform this year alone. Starting at $9 a month, its price is in the middle of the TV service pack, but for the variety you get (and no commercials ever), it’s worth it. Read our Netflix review.
Disney Plus is a phenomenon and Netflix’s closest competitor for good reason. The streaming platform launched less than two years ago and has already amassed more than 116 million subscribers. It’s the only place where you can stream the vast majority of the Disney and Pixar libraries, along with every Star Wars movie, Marvel films and new original TV shows, National Geographic content and 31 seasons of The Simpsons. While The Mandalorian was its only breakout series at first, its slate of Marvel shows WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki have since drawn millions of viewers. Eventually, Marvel’s Eternals will stream exclusively on Disney Plus, where it will join Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Plus, there’s lots more Star Wars and Marvel original programming coming in the next few years.
Amazon Prime Video features lots of ad-free, high-quality original shows and movies, an impressive back catalog of older favorites (and B-movies you haven’t heard of) and NFL on Thursday nights. It lacks the catalogs of Netflix and Hulu, and the star power of Disney streaming platform, and I found its menus more confusing since there’s some paid content mixed in with free content. But for millions of Prime subscribers, the Prime Video channel is already included at no extra cost.
HBO Max is a well-designed app full of popular TV shows and movies. It’s got HBO’s entire catalog, along with favorites such as Friends, Rick and Morty, Sesame Street, the Lord of the Rings movies and almost every Studio Ghibli film. It’s also the only streaming service to debut movies on the same day as theaters at no extra cost, including Godzilla vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat, Dune and Matrix 4. It’s not Disney Plus, but HBO Max has a solid streaming collection for kids too, with the ability to control ratings on kids’ profiles better than most other services.
ESPN Plus is a great streaming service for the tried-and-true sports fans, especially those who follow the NHL, MLS and UFC. This is because ESPN Plus is the new home of all out-of-market National Hockey League games, while also offering out-of-market MLS soccer matches, along with those from other soccer leagues around the world. It hosts exclusive UFC matches and pay-per-view events, such as UFC Fight Night and championship bouts (for additional fees).
Hockey and MLS fans who root for teams that aren’t based where they currently live need ESPN’s streaming service to watch their team’s action. The service won’t be of much use, however, to fans of the home teams. Local games are blacked out on ESPN Plus so you’ll need access to your regional sports network through cable or a live TV streaming service in order to watch them.
Paramount Plus — the streaming service formerly known as CBS All Access — brings together live news and sports with on-demand shows and movies, including originals, leaning on parent company ViacomCBS’ brands like popular channels CBS, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and Paramount Network, plus its Paramount Pictures movie studio.
What else do you need to know?
Chances are you’re already pretty familiar with most of the names on this list, but it’s by no means comprehensive. There are plenty of other ways to stream, and hundreds of other choices out there. As you weigh your streaming choices, keep the following notes in mind.
Want more? Check out Streaming TV Insider for advice on what to watch, the latest streaming news, help, how-to and more.
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