The best video streaming services that are worth your time and money

Netflix video streaming service

In the last decade, millions of people across the world have cut the cord and said goodbye to cable and satellite television, replacing it with video streaming services. The streaming boom has been so massive that platforms like Netflix are now valued in the billions and regularly produce original high-budget films and series. Others have followed its success. New platforms catering to a variety of different tastes – be it film buffs, TV series addicts, and even anime enthusiasts – are cropping up constantly.

With the growth of new services, cord-cutting has become a lot more complicated. That’s why we’ve created this guide that contains all the info you need on the topic. We’ll take a look at the best streaming services in different categories (originals, movies…) as well as free, new, and small options that are available. We’ll also discuss which are the best streaming devices and whether you need a VPN for Netflix and other services. Let’s dive in.

What is the best video streaming service?

Disney Plus animated movies section stock photo

Every video streaming service has its pros and cons, making it impossible to proclaim one as being the ultimate winner. For example, some are better for those who love TV shows, while others are a better fit for movie buffs. With that in mind, we’ve picked the best streaming service by category, making it easier for you to decide which one to go for depending on your taste. We also included a few alternatives in each category, just to give you more options. You may find the same alternative in multiple categories, since some of them are great at more than one thing.

Editor’s note: We’ll be updating this list of the best streaming services regularly as new ones launch.

Netflix: Best streaming service for originals

What to watch on Netflix

Netflix is the king of original programming. The company has been investing heavily in this area for years with great success. Everyone will be able to find a number of great shows and movies to check out, regardless of the genre they are into.

Some of the more popular Netflix originals include Narcos, which tells the story of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and the DEA agents who are after him, BoJack Horseman, which is an animated story about a talking horse, and the ground-breaking Black Mirror that deals with technological advances that could affect us in the near future. There are plenty of others available, which you can check out in our post linked below.

Read next: The 20 best Netflix originals you can watch

Despite being best known for its originals, Netflix also has a number of great shows and movies on offer that aren’t exclusive to the service. This makes it one of the best streaming services overall, as you’ll always find something to watch.

  • Price: $8.99 – $15.99 per month
  • Streaming quality: Up to 4K
  • Simultaneous streams: 1 – 4
  • Free trial: 30 days
  • Also good for: Movies and TV shows

Alternatives to consider

Netflix may be the best option for original programming, but it’s not the only one. Check out the two alternatives we recommend below.

  • Amazon Prime Video: Amazon’s library of original movies and shows isn’t as big as Netflix’s, but the selection is still quite impressive. There’s a lot of award-winning content to choose from including the police show Bosch, the thrilling Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan starring John Krasinski, and the extremely funny The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, just to name a few.
  • HBO Max: HBO’s original programming is one of the best ones out there thanks to hit TV shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Westworld, and many others. The service also has exclusive rights to the popular sitcom Friends, which was previously only available on Netflix.

Hulu: Best video streaming service for TV shows

Hulu video streaming service

If TV shows are your thing, Hulu is the streaming service for you. You have plenty of great content to choose from including Family Guy, The Good Doctor, and Empire. There are also a ton of older shows available like Seinfeld and How I Met Your Mother, just to name a few. You can check out more Hulu shows in our dedicated post at the link.

The great thing about Hulu is that it has the rights for next-day streaming of new shows from ABC, NBC, Fox, Comcast, and Disney. Netflix, for example, has a completely different strategy, as it usually releases an entire season of a certain show at once.

In addition to a great selection of shows, Hulu has a few great originals available as well, with the best one being The Handmaid’s Tale. The service also offers live TV streaming for those who want it.

  • Price: $5.99 – $60.99 per month
  • Streaming quality: Up to 4K
  • Simultaneous streams: 2 – unlimited
  • Free trial: 30 days
  • Also good for: Kids’ shows and live TV

Alternatives to consider

A lot of streaming services include TV shows, but some are better than others. If Hulu isn’t what you’re looking for, check out the two alternatives we recommend below.

  • CBS All Access: This streaming service offers CBS programming on-demand, which includes great old and new shows like Twin Peaks, The Good Fight, Star Trek: Picard, Young Sheldon, and many others. The service also gives you access to The Late Night Show with Stephen Cobert, as well as The Late Night Show with James Corden.
  • Showtime: You’ll find a bunch of great shows on Showtime, including one of my favorite ones of all time — Dexter. Other highlights include Billions, Homeland, The Borgias, and the extremely funny Episodes starring Matt LeBlanc. The selection of shows isn’t massive, but a lot of what’s there is of great quality.

HBO Max: Best streaming service for movies

HBO Max logo on smartphone stock photo 1

If you’re a movie buff, HBO Max should be your first choice. The service doesn’t have as many movies as a few of its rivals, but there’s more than enough of them available to keep you entertained for a while. Also keep in mind that quality trumps quantity every time.

Whether you’re looking for old or new movies, HBO Max has you covered. The service includes films like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and even the classic The Wizard of Oz. Then there’s the recent An American Pickle starring Seth Rogen, which revolves around a person immigrating to America in 1920 who dreams of a better life for him and his family. Check out more great HBO Max movies at the link.

HBO Max isn’t all about movies, though. It also has a great selection of popular TV shows as well as a few great documentaries.

  • Price: $14.99 per month
  • Streaming quality: Up to 1080p
  • Simultaneous streams: 3
  • Free trial: 7 days
  • Also good for: Original programming

Alternatives to consider

More or less every video streaming service has a movie selection, but some are better than others in this area. In addition to HBO Max, the two services we recommend for movie buffs are Amazon Prime Video and Netflix.

  • Amazon Prime Video: There’s a decent selection of great movies on Prime Video, although there are loads of those you should never watch as well. Regardless of your genre of choice, you should find several good movies on the service. The ones we like include last year’s Farewell, which is arguably one of the biggest Oscar snubs in recent years. Then there’s The Handmaiden that’s loosely based on the Victorian crime novel Fingersmith, and many others.
  • Netflix: Best known for its originals, Netflix also has loads of great movies. We wouldn’t expect anything else from what’s arguably the best video streaming service overall. The movie selection includes gems like Bird Box starring Sandra Bullock, older action movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the kid-focused Despicable Me.

YouTube TV: Best streaming service for live TV

YouTube TV Logo

YouTube TV gives you access to more than 85 live TV channels, including local ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox stations. It includes unlimited cloud DVR storage, so you can record your favorite shows while out and about.

A subscription allows for three simultaneous streams and six accounts per household. It costs $64.99 per month, but you can try it out for free for 14 days before parting with your money. You can also cancel anytime, just like with all the other streaming services on this list.

Related: Here are all the available YouTube TV channels

YouTube TV supports add-ons, which gives you access to additional content for a fee. The selection of add-ons includes HBO Max, NBA League Pass, Cinemax, Starz, and many others.

  • Price: $64.99 per month
  • Streaming quality: Up to 1080p
  • Simultaneous streams: 3
  • Free trial: 14 days
  • Also good for: Sports

Alternatives to consider

The number of live TV services available isn’t huge, but you still have a few great options. If YouTube TV isn’t for you for whatever reason, the two alternatives we recommend are Sling TV and Hulu Live TV.

  • Sling TV: If you’re on a budget, Sling TV is for you. It starts at just $30, making it roughly $35 cheaper than YouTube TV. However, you only get 32 or 45 channels — depending on your plan — as opposed to the 85+ offered by its main rival. The cloud DVR storage is also limited to just 10 hours, and the free trial ends after three days.
  • Hulu Live TV: This streaming service gives you access to more than 65 live TV channels as well as Hulu’s entire streaming library. You can stream on two screens at the same time, although you can get unlimited streams for an additional monthly fee. Pricing starts at $55 for the basic plan, with plenty of add-ons and other services available that can increase the price.

Disney Plus: Best video streaming service for families

Disney Plus video streaming service

Disney Plus has content for the entire family. There are loads of animated feature films available for kids, a number of shows teenagers will enjoy, as well as a lot of content for adults. So whether you’re into Mickey Mouse, Hannah Montana, or Star Wars, Disney Plus has you covered.

The service has a lot of exclusive shows and movies you won’t find on any of its competitors. These include High School Musical, Muppets Now, Lady and the Tramp, Hamilton, and many others. You can check out the master list of movies and TV shows on Disney Plus at the link to learn more.

Disney Plus is a relatively new streaming service and is quite affordable. It’s definitely worth subscribing too if you have kids, regardless of their age. Just keep in mind that the service doesn’t have a free trial available at the moment.

  • Price: $6.99 per month
  • Streaming quality: Up to 4K
  • Simultaneous streams: 4
  • Free trial: No
  • Also good for: TV shows

Alternatives to consider

If Disney Plus isn’t available in your location or you just don’t like it, there are a few alternatives to consider. The two listed below aren’t quite as family-focused as Disney Plus, but they do offer plenty of animated shows as well as other content.

  • Hulu: You get a lot of 90s family comedies with Hulu including Family Matters and Step by Step. Hulu also offers a bunch of other great binge-worthy TV series like Futurama, as well as cartoons like The Powerpuff Girls and Rugrats. Of course, there is plenty of action and other content available for adults to watch when the little ones go to sleep.
  • Boomerang: This streaming service is geared more towards kids than adults, although I can think of worse things than spending my nights watching Tom and Jerry. Boomerang has tons of cartoons available including classics like Scooby-Doo, The Jetsons, Looney Tunes, Popeye, and many others. It will set you back $4.99 per month.

ESPN Plus: Best streaming service for sports

ESPN Plus subscription stock photo

If you’re a sports fan, subscribing to ESPN Plus is the way to go. The video streaming service offers a great variety of sports content, including NHL and MLB games, college sports, soccer, and much more. It also has exclusive rights to UFC pay-per-view events.

ESPN Plus also has a bunch of originals like The Boardroom with KD, Peyton’s Places with Peyton Manning, NBA Rooks with Zion Williamson, and more. With that in mind, you should always have something interesting to watch on ESPN Plus.

One of the biggest drawbacks is that neither ESPN’s Monday Night Football nor its live NBA coverage can be viewed on ESPN Plus. So this video streaming platform is not a true replacement for all of ESPN’s channels, but it still offers plenty of great content at a reasonable price.

  • Price: $5.99 per month
  • Streaming quality: Up to 1080p
  • Simultaneous streams: 3
  • Free trial: No
  • Also good for: Original programing

Alternatives to consider

  • FuboTV: This live TV sports-focused streaming service offers up to 197 channels, including regional sports networks. However, you also get access to various news and entertainment channels including ABC, CBS, and FOX. There are 500 hours of cloud DVR space included in every plan, so you can record the games you don’t want to miss. Regardless of which sport you’re into, FuboTV likely has content for you.
  • NBA League Pass: If you’re only into basketball, NBA League Pass is a great streaming service. It lets you watch NBA games live or on-demand. You can also get access to NBA TV, so you can check out popular shows like Inside the NBA with Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and the rest of the gang. There are different plans available to choose from depending on things like whether you want to watch all games or just the ones played by your favorite team.

Amazon Prime Video: Best value streaming service

Amazon Prime video streaming service

This category isn’t for the cheapest streaming service out there, but for the one that gives you the most bang for your buck. Without a doubt, that title goes to Amazon Prime Video, but only if you regularly shop on Amazon.

Prime Video is part of Amazon’s Prime subscription that gives you access to a ton of services. In addition to Prime Video that has great originals as well as plenty of great movies and shows, you also get free delivery on most orders, access to the Prime Music streaming service, unlimited photo storage, and more.

Read next: The 16 best original series on Amazon Prime Video

All of this will set you back just $12.99 per month or $119 per year if you pay up-front. You can get Prime Video as a standalone service for $8.99, but we think the full Prime membership is a much better value.

  • Price: $12.99 per month
  • Streaming quality: Up to 4K
  • Simultaneous streams: 3
  • Free trial: 30 days
  • Also good for: Originals and movies

Alternatives to consider

  • Disney Plus Bundle: The bundle includes a subscription to Disney Plus, Hulu (ad-supported plan), and ESPN Plus. This gives you access to a ton of content for the whole family — movies, shows, cartoons, sports, and more. The Disney Plus bundle will set you back $12.99 per month, saving you $6 compared to signing up for all three services individually.
  • Hulu (with ads): If you want to subscribe to a popular streaming service on the cheap, Hulu has you covered. Its basic plan that contains ads will set you back just $5.99 per month and gives you access to the same content as the company’s more expensive plan that doesn’t contain advertising. Sure, commercials suck, but that’s the price you have to pay to save money.

CuriosityStream: Best streaming service for documentaries

CuriosityStream video streaming service

CuriosityStream has thousands of both exclusive and licensed documentaries on different topics including history, science, and technology. It was founded by John Hendricks, who also founded the popular Discovery Channel cable TV network back in the day.

There are plenty of great documentaries to watch on the service. These include The History of Home that looks back at how shelters for humans has evolved, The Story of Maths that examines the history of mathematics, and many others.

The service is cheap, at least when compared to the likes of Netflix and HBO Max, and can be tried for free for seven days. However, the free trial is only available if you sign up for the service via a channel on Amazon Prime Video or the Roku Channel. You won’t get a free trial when signing up via CuriosityStream’s website.

  • Price: $2.99 per month
  • Streaming quality: Up to 4K
  • Simultaneous streams: Unlimited
  • Free trial: Seven days
  • Also good for: /

Alternatives to consider

More or less every popular streaming service has a selection of documentaries, although some offer more in this area than others. In addition to CuriosityStream, the two alternatives we recommend are the Smithsonian Channel Plus and Netflix, both of which you can learn more about below.

  • Smithsonian Channel Plus: You get tons of entertaining documentaries with this service, including Mighty Trains, Epic Warrior Women, and many others. It’s relatively affordable at $4.99 per month and supports 4K streaming. There’s also a seven-day free trial available.
  • Netflix: It’s great for originals and has a massive selection of shows and movies. Additionally, it also has a large selection of documentaries, making sure you’ll always find something to watch. A few documentaries worth highlighting include Making a Murderer, Casting JonBenet, and Icarus, although there are plenty of other great ones to choose from.

New and niche streaming services you should know about

Acorn TV free streaming service

The streaming services listed above are the biggest and most popular ones, but there are plenty of others to choose from. We’ll focus on smaller ones that you may have not heard of in this section, as well as a few new ones that were released in the last year or so — excluding new services like Disney Plus and HBO Max that are already listed above.

Apple TV Plus: Apple launched its video streaming service back in November 2019. Since it’s relatively new, Apple TV Plus doesn’t have as many originals (or content in general) as Netflix, Hulu, and other industry giants. But it still has several great shows and movies available, the best of which you can check out in our dedicated post here. The service is also affordable, coming in at just $4.99 per month. And if you buy a new Apple product, you get a free subscription for one year.

Peacock: Launched in July of this year, Peacock is a new streaming service run by NBCUniversal. It is home to classic and recent shows from NBCUniversal’s various broadcast and cable networks, along with films from Universal Pictures, Dreamworks Animation, and Focus Features. In addition, Peacock plans on launching a number of exclusive new TV shows and movies for the service, which will include reboots of well-known properties. The service starts at $4.99 a month. There’s a free plan available as well, but it doesn’t offer all the content you get when you pay up.

Quibi: This video streaming service has been available since April and has a lot going for it. What makes it special is that it’s only available on mobile devices, meaning you can’t use it on your PC, TV, or gaming console. What’s also interesting is that the app lets you watch any of its shows in either landscape mode or portrait mode, filling the entire screen in both cases. Quibi launched with over 50 scripted, unscripted, and daily news shows to stream, with more being added in the near future. Pricing starts at $4.99 a month (with ads).

Acorn TV: If you love British programming, Acorn TV is for you. It’s home to a number of British shows and movies including Midsomer Murders, George Gently, and Doc Martin, among others. There’s also content available from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and a few other countries. A monthly subscription will set you back $5.99, but you can get a discount if you pay up-front for a year. There’s also a 30-day free trial available, so you can test out the service before parting with your money.

Shudder: This streaming service is aimed at fans of the horror genre. It has a ton of classic, obscure, indie, and more recent horror films and TV shows. It also has a small but growing list of exclusive movies and TV series. That includes the recently launched Creepshow, the new series based loosely on the 1982 anthology film that was written by Stephen King and directed by George Romero. Shudder is currently available in the US, the UK, Ireland, and Canada, and will set you back $5.99 per month.

Sundance Now: For $6.99 per month, Sundance Now gives you access to loads of original and exclusive dramas, comedies, and true crime series. Some of the content worth highlighting include the thrilling McMafia and the documentary about the chess master Magnus Carlsen, among many others. No matter the genre you’re into, you’ll find something to watch on Sundance Now. You can also try out the service for free for seven days and then opt for an annual subscription that will save you a few bucks.

BritBox: Similar to Acorn TV, BritBox is focused on British programming. You get loads of shows to choose from including the popular EastEnders, MI-5, and The Victim. Created by the BBC and ITV, the service boasts to have the biggest collection of British TV in the streaming world. It costs $6.99 per month and can be used for the first seven days free of charge.

Fandor: This one is for all you movie buffs out there. Fandor is home to more than 4,000 movies from different genres including comedy, crime, drama, and more. There’s a large selection of international films, which you can sort by country. The company is very generous when it comes to its revenue model, giving a 50% share to the films’ rights holders. A monthly subscription goes for $5.99, but there’s also an annual plan available that will save you money.

The 5 best free video streaming services

Sony Crackle video streaming service

If you don’t want to pay a monthly subscription for a video streaming service, you’ll be happy to hear there are a few great ones available that are free. One of them is Peacock, which I’ve already mentioned in the previous section, while five other great options are listed below. They don’t offer as much content as Netflix, Hulu, and other industry giants, but there’s still plenty to watch.

Crackle: This free streaming service includes cult classics, critically acclaimed Hollywood films, and popular TV shows. These include the action-packed Stolen starring Nicholas Cage and the hilarious 3rd Rock From The Sun, among many others. It is ad-supported, meaning you’ll usually have to sit through a 30-second commercial before your movie or show begins, followed by up to three additional ads for shows and nine for movies longer than an hour and a half.

IMDBtv: Owned by Amazon, IMDBtv has an impressive library of movies that include Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts, Ali that shows the biography of one of the greatest boxers in history, and There’s Something About Mary that will surely make you laugh. There are a lot of great TV shows available as well, including Mad Men, White Collar, and Psych, just to name a few. It’s a great service, but it’s not available globally.

Tubi: Arguably one of the highest quality free movie streaming services available, Tubi will not disappoint you. A few highlights worth mentioning include Magic Mike XXL, Southpaw, and Cradle 2 the Grave. There’s content available in all the major genres including action, comedy, and romance, among others. There’s even a category named “Not on Netflix� that includes movies not even the most popular video streaming service has. There are more than 20,000 movies and TV shows on the platform, which are ad-supported.

Pluto TV: Pluto TV has a section where you can stream content on-demand, but it also features more than 250 channels that you can tune in to watch at previously scheduled times. Naturally, that comes with a few downsides, but if you are looking for a free replacement for your existing cable service, Pluto TV has you covered. You can watch live news coverage from several outlets. There are also channels for sports fans, kids, and Spanish-language audiences. The best part is that you don’t even need to create an account to get started.

Vudu: Best known as a digital marketplace for buying or renting movies and TV shows, Vudu also gives you access to a lot of free content. There are more than 10,000 movies and TV episodes available that are supported by ads. A lot of them are older, but they are still worth watching. They include gems like Roseanne, Hell’s Kitchen, Scary Movie, and many others. You don’t have to spend a dime when using Vudu, but you do need to make an account to access its content.

These are the five best free video streaming services we recommend, in addition to the already mentioned Peacock. There are a few others that are worth your time, all of which you can check out in our dedicated post here.

Do you need a VPN for streaming?

VPN stock photo 3

Video streaming services offer different content in different regions due to licensing rights. For example, Netflix offers a much bigger library of movies and shows to users in the US than to those based in most other countries. The difference in the amount of content available is massive in some cases.

Here’s where a VPN comes in. By using it, you can get access to a lot more content on streaming services like Netflix. All you have to do is connect online using a US VPN, which will trick Netflix’s website into thinking you’re actually based in the US. The result is that you’ll get to watch the same movies and shows as users who live in the US.

Another example is a streaming service that’s not available in your country. For example, if you live outside the US and want to access a service like IMDBtv that’s only available in the states, you’ll have to use a US VPN. So a VPN is definitely helpful in a lot of cases, although it’s not really required for streaming.

Also read: VPNs for Netflix — what are your best options?

While a VPN for streaming does come in handy, there are a few drawbacks you have to know about. The first one is that it costs money. There are free ones available, but we generally don’t recommend, especially when it comes to streaming. Then there’s the fact that using a VPN takes its toll on your internet speed, which may or may not be a big deal depending on how big the drop is.

The biggest drawback of VPNs for streaming is that services like Netflix and others don’t like it when you use them. They are working hard on blocking as many of them as possible, so a VPN that works today for your streaming service of choice may not work tomorrow.

In case the drawbacks don’t turn you away, we recommend one of the three VPNs below. All of them are packed with features, have a no-logging policy, and offer great speeds.

What is the best streaming device for my needs?

google chromecast remote

You can watch Netflix and other streaming services on your smartphone, tablet, PC, laptop, smart TV, and Chromebook. But if you want to watch it on your regular TV, you’ll need a streaming device.

There are a bunch of them available, the best ones of which you can check out in our post here. However, the three we want to highlight here are the Google Chromecast Ultra, Amazon Fire TV Stick, and Roku Streaming Stick Plus.

Google’s Chromecast Ultra allows you to stream 4K content directly from a streaming app to your TV. The device itself does not have an interface, so using it with your phone is a must. Its main drawback is that you can’t use it with a VPN.

Amazon’s Fire TV Stick has an interface and doesn’t need to be paired with a phone to work. It comes with a remote control, making it easy to use. It also works with VPNs that have an app for the platform, like NordVPN. This device is especially good for those who are subscribed to Prime Video.

The Roku Streaming Stick Plus has more in common with the Fire TV Stick than the Chromecast, as it has a UI and doesn’t need to be paired with a phone to work. It supports up to 4K streaming and has a more advanced Wi-Fi receiver compared to the cheaper Roku models. That means it has up to four times the wireless range.

Alternatively, you can also use a gaming console like the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.

Frequently asked questions

Streaming videos on Hulu app for Android

Q: Why are video streaming services so popular?
A: Because — unlike cable TV — they allow you to watch what you want, when you want it, and where you want it. There are also no ads in most cases, although this depends on the service.

Q: Which streaming service has the most subscribers?
A: Netflix is the biggest premium video streaming service in the world, boasting around 193 million subscribers globally as of July 2020.

Q: Do streaming services offer the same content in all regions?
A: Depends on the service, but the answer is usually no. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, for example, offer a different selection of movies and shows in different countries due to licensing rights. Users in the US usually have the largest selection of content available.

Q: Are all streaming services available globally?
A: Streaming services aren’t available in every country in the world, although Netflix, Prime Video, and HBO are present in loads of countries across North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Others, like Hulu, for example, are only available in the US.

Q: Do I need to sign a contract to use a streaming service like Netflix?
A: No, you don’t. You can cancel your subscription to any streaming service whenever you want. You’re not locked into a contract for a specific period of time like with mobile carriers.

Q: When I cancel a subscription to a streaming service, do I lose access to it right away?
A: No, not usually. You lose access at the end of your billing cycle. So if you signed up on August 15th and you cancel your subscription on September 2nd, you’ll still have access to the service until September 15th.

Q: Can I watch Netflix and other video streaming services on a TV?
A: It’s possible, but you may need additional hardware. If you have an Android smart TV, you can download the app of the service you use and start watching it. You can do the same if you have a gaming console and the app is available for it. Alternatively, you can use a streaming device like the Chromecast, Roku, or Fire TV Stick.

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