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ByJoe Supan Contributor

Joe Supan is a former writer for Reviews.com. He primarily covered all things TV, streaming, and tech, but has written about insurance and a number of other subjects.

The Best TV Streaming Services

For most people, streaming is now the best way to watch TV.

There are more than 200 streaming services available in the U.S. right now — a number that keeps rising as behemoths like Disney and Apple launch their own services — and we watch 8 billion hours of TV on them every month.

But all that choice also breeds confusion. Amid routine price raises, constantly fluctuating libraries and channel lineups, and new options sprouting up daily, streaming TV has never felt more mainstream or more overwhelming.

Our goal was to simplify that process and help you build your perfect replacement for (or supplement to) cable. We focused on two main categories for this review: live TV streaming services that stream cable channels through your internet connection and on-demand services like Netflix and Hulu that let you watch programs when you want them. After 130 hours of research (and more TV-watching than we ever dreamed we’d get paid for), we found the best TV streaming services for every situation.

The 10 Best TV Streaming Services

How We Chose the Best Live TV Streaming Services

Overall channel selection

Companies that stream live TV often promote the raw number of channels in their lineups, but more isn’t necessarily better. PlayStation Vue’s 98 channels sounds impressive until you realize that you’re paying for eccentricities like the Law & Crime Trial Network (“live court video, high-profile criminal trials, crazy crime, celebrity justice, and smart legal analysis”) and BabyTV (“the first 24/7 channel for kids, babies and toddlers”).

Cable subscribers know this dilemma well: According to research from Nielsen, Americans pay for 205.9 channels on average, but only watch 20.9 of them. Some “filler” options are inevitable — since Turner owns TNT and TBS, you’ll never be able to get one without the other, for example — but we wanted to give the most weight to the channels that people actually want.

To gauge a channel’s desirability, we turned to TiVo’s 2017 Q4 Trends Report, which asked over 3,000 American and Canadian adults, “Which channels would you be interested in including in your TV package?” We used those responses to assign a score to each channel: The higher the percentage of viewers who wanted the channel, the higher its score. Then we added up the number of points each package received for the channels it offered.

Most-Desired-Channels-for-Live-Streaming

Availability by location

Big networks like ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC are essential channels for most people who want to stream live TV, but each service’s exact offerings may change depending on where you live. The same goes for regional sports networks, which broadcast your local team’s MLB, NBA, and NHL games. We ran ZIP codes for Seattle, Cleveland, New York, Los Angeles, and Boston and found that Hulu + Live TV, DIRECTV NOW, Playstation Vue, and YouTube TV all had the big four networks in these regions, while our other finalists offered patchier coverage.

Using that information, we gave extra points to the services that had the widest coverage for these local networks. Still, companies are engaged in a streaming arms race right now, each one constantly bidding on the rights to stream local feeds, so coverage is improving every day.

Quality of sports channels

To find the best deal for sports fans, we turned to the Harris Poll’s survey of 2,252 American adults to find out which sports were most beloved. First, we assigned scores to each league — the NFL, MLB, NCAA football, car racing, NBA, NHL, men’s soccer, NCAA basketball, and PGA Golf — based on how many people watched it. The larger the viewership, the higher the score. Then we gave a corresponding amount of points to channels that aired live games for those leagues. Finally, we tallied up the total number of in-demand channels offered by each provider.

Live-Games-for-Streaming

Device compatibility

While price and channel selection are the most important considerations when choosing a live TV streaming service, it’s also important that you actually be able to play your service. Fortunately, at this point, most of the services we tested work with pretty much any streaming device. The most glaring exception is YouTube TV’s incompatibility with Amazon Fire TV. While a YouTube TV app is scheduled to be released on Fire TV sometime in 2019, it’s currently still unavailable.

Supported-Devices-for-Live-Streaming

DVR storage and simultaneous streams

Finally, we evaluated the supplemental perks that each live TV streaming service offers. Cloud DVR storage allows you to record any programs on TV and watch them at your own leisure. PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV, and Philo all offer unlimited cloud DVR storage, each places a different limit on how long you can store videos. Simultaneous streams refers to how many devices you can use to watch the service at the same time, a nice perk for anyone living in a house with diverse TV preferences.

The Best Live TV Streaming Services

Best
Live TV Streaming

Hulu + Live TV

Hulu
Hulu has the most well-rounded channel lineup of any live streaming service, plus it comes with its popular on-demand service
Pros
Best channel lineup
Comes with Hulu on-demand
Carries most live sports
50 hours of DVR storage
Cons
Frustrating interface
Only two simultaneous streams

Why we chose it

Best channel lineup

Hulu + Live TV is the best live TV streaming service for a simple reason: It has more of the channels that people actually want to watch. In TiVo’s survey of the most desired channels in a TV package, Hulu was the only one to include every channel in the top 10. In fact, no other service offered more than eight. You’ll get all the local channels — ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox — plus popular cable networks like Discovery Channel, History, and A&E. No other live TV streaming service can say the same.

Top-Channels-for-Live-Streaming

Comes with Hulu on-demand

Included in Hulu + Live TV is Hulu’s on-demand library, which we named the best on-demand streaming service for network shows, a $5.99 per month value (more on that below). That’s almost 3,000 shows and movies available anytime you want, including Hulu’s critically acclaimed originals like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and shows from ABC, Fox, and NBC the day after they air on TV. You can also upgrade to the $51 plan if you want Hulu on-demand without ads.

Carries most live sports

For most sports fans, Hulu + Live TV carries every channel you need. With every local network, plus ESPN, FS1, TBS, and TNT, you’ll get every major sporting event in the U.S. With Fox Sports and NBC Sports, it also has solid coverage for regional sports networks for your local MLB, NBA, NHL, and MLS teams. The only area hardcore sports fans might find Hulu lacking? It doesn’t have any of the league-run channels from the NFL, MLB, NBA, or NHL. If you’re a diehard fan of one of those leagues, it might be worth upgrading to PlayStation Vue.

50 hours of DVR storage

Hulu’s DVR plan is one of the more generous around. You’ll get 50 hours of space, and it never expires as long as you subscribe. While Philo and PlayStation Vue both offer unlimited space, they’ll only keep your programs for about a month. The only service that tops Hulu is YouTube TV, which provides unlimited space and keeps recordings for nine months. Hulu also offers an upgrade to 200 hours of storage for an extra $10 a month.

Points to consider

Frustrating interface

If you’ve used Hulu’s on-demand service before, you know that it can be a bit of a headache to navigate. The same goes for Hulu + Live TV. The channel guide was especially disappointing. If you’re watching on a streaming device and want to see what else is on: The guide takes up the entire screen, so you can’t channel-surf and watch at the same time. Every other service we tested — and every cable TV guide we’ve used in the past decade — keeps part of the screen on the channel you’re watching. The guide itself only showed about four programs at a time, too, so you often have to do a lot of clicking to find something to watch.

On a laptop, Hulu’s guide takes up half the screen, but on a streaming device, it blocks everything.

For its part, Hulu knows it needs to fix some things. On a recent podcast, CEO Randy Freer admitted, “We built a consumer experience that probably was where things may end up, or where we get to, but it wasn’t as intuitive as we probably should have built.” We’d expect positive changes to happen in the near future.

Only two simultaneous streams

Hulu + Live TV only lets you stream on two devices at once, one of the stingier numbers around. You can upgrade to unlimited screens for an extra $10 a month, but we would have liked to see more streams allowed in its base package.

Best for
Live Sports

PlayStation Vue

PlayStation Vue
If you want sports and nothing else, PlayStation edges out DIRECTV with its offerings. We recommend the Core package ($45/month).
Pros
Nationally televised games
Regional sports networks
Extra perks
Cons
Missing popular channels

Why we chose it

Nationally televised games

No matter which sports you follow, PlayStation Vue meets or exceeds the coverage of its rivals. The Core package (plus all of PlayStation’s higher pricing tiers) has every channel you’d need to watch live sports from the NFL, MLB, NBA, PGA Golf, and NASCAR. And while it didn’t include every possible channel for NCAA basketball and football (the Pac-12 and ACC networks are missing), it’s still more than any of the competition’s packages.

Regional sports networks

Aside from the NFL, any local teams you follow probably broadcast their games on a regional sports network. Again, PlayStation Vue has you covered. It carries the most extensive lineup of regional sports networks that we saw, so you can still catch your local MLB, NBA, and NHL teams when they’re not on national TV. You should always run your ZIP code through the provider’s website to verify before signing up, but PlayStation Vue had all the regional sports networks we looked for in our test runs.

Extra perks

PlayStation Vue goes above and beyond with the supplemental features it provides in its live TV streaming service. You’ll get unlimited storage with the cloud DVR, something that was only matched by YouTube TV and Philo. Your recordings will delete after 28 days, but Vue also has a substantial on-demand library where you can catch shows after they air.

Points to consider

Not the best option for casual sports fans

While we thought that PlayStation Vue was by far the best option for sports fans, people who want a more well-rounded streaming experience might find it missing some key channels. The most glaring omissions were History, A&E, Comedy Central, Lifetime, and The CW, which all landed in the top 30 most desired channels in TiVo’s survey. If you don’t need to catch every game, Hulu + Live TV carries most live sports and offers a better overall channel selection.

Best
User Experience

YouTube TV

YouTube TV
YouTube TV is a step above the rest in user experience, but it’s missing several key channels
Pros
Intuitive interface and navigation
Unlimited DVR storage
Great for live sports
Cons
Average channel selection overall
Not compatible with Fire TV or PlayStation

Why we chose it

Intuitive interface and navigation

YouTube TV is an absolute pleasure to use. Most live TV streaming services stick to a fairly similar gamplan: dark backgrounds, cable TV-style channel scrolling, and a smattering of on-demand recommendations. With its clean white interface and bold bold, easy-to-read black lettering, YouTube TV explodes that playbook.

Its guide also did something we didn’t see anywhere else. When you stop on a channel while you’re scrolling, you can see a preview of what’s currently playing without actually opening it up. Still halftime on the game you want to watch? Your show in the middle of a commercial? YouTube TV lets you check in on each program’s status at a glance without fully committing.

Unlimited DVR storage

YouTube TV has the best cloud DVR plan of any streaming service. You’ll get unlimited space and it will keep your recordings for a full nine months. Save as much as you like, and never worry about it deleting that show you’re definitely getting around to soon.

Great for live sports

After PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV is the second-best option for sports fans. It carries all the same local channels and regional sports networks, so you’ll get the same combination of national sports and your local teams’ games. It’s only missing one major sports channel: the NFL Network. That means you’ll miss about seven national NFL games per year. If that’s a dealbreaker for you, PlayStation Vue might be worth the upgrade.

Points to consider

Average channel selection overall

While we loved YouTube TV’s user experience, its overall channel lineup is fairly mediocre. It graded out in the middle of the pack in our evaluation, ahead of Sling Orange + Blue (but $10 more a month) and DIRECTV NOW, but behind Hulu + Live TV, PlayStation Vue, and fubo TV ($5 more a month). YouTube TV is missing big names like History, A&E, Comedy Central, Lifetime, Hallmark Channel, and Nick, but its exceptional interface and navigation could be more important for some people.

Not compatible with Fire TV or PlayStation

As of right now, YouTube TV is compatible with the fewest number of streaming devices of any service, including Amazon’s Fire TV and PlayStation game consoles. YouTube has said that it would be coming to Fire TV in late 2019, but there’s currently no word on when exactly that will happen.

Best
Skinny Bundle

AT&T Watch TV

AT&T
A $15 per month package that’s surprisingly loaded with high-profile channels
Pros
Inexpensive
Includes five of the 10 most popular channels
Cons
No local channels or sports
No DVR or simultaneous streams

Why we chose it

Inexpensive

AT&T Watch’s greatest appeal is its price tag: $15 a month, the cheapest live TV streaming service around. That price is more akin to a Netflix or Spotify subscription than a cable bill. That’s not to say it doesn’t carry any substance — its 43 channels are mostly recognizable names — but WatchTV is clearly designed for channel-surfing on a budget.

Includes five of the 10 most popular channels

We were surprised how many popular channels WatchTV fit into its $15 a month budget. You’ll get five of the 10 channels consumers said they wanted the most — Discovery Channel, History, A&E, TNT, and TBS — a combination it shares with only Hulu and Sling. For comparison, DIRECTV NOW has seven of the top 10 channels, and it costs $40 more per month.

Points to consider

No local channels or sports

WatchTV is able to keep prices so low because it skips the TV that’s most expensive to carry, namely local and sports channels. Because they air things like awards shows, news, and sporting events that must be viewed live, networks can charge the most for them. If you go with WatchTV, you can still access ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC through a TV antenna or Locast.org.

No DVR or simultaneous streams

Unsurprisingly given its cheap price point, WatchTV doesn’t offer any cloud DVR storage or simultaneous streams. If these are a must for you, Philo offers a slightly worse channel selection, but unlimited DVR storage and three simultaneous streams for $20 a month.

Best
Free TV Streaming

Pluto TV

Pluto TV
While the experience is a bit clunky, Pluto TV offers plentiful sports and news coverage, all without charging a dime
Pros
13 news channels
Old shows from MTV, Nick, and BET
Several popular sports channels
Cons
Few recognizable cable channels
Inopportune commercial breaks

Why we chose it

13 news channels

If you love politics but hate your cable bill, check out Pluto TV. It has 13 channels devoted to covering current events, including versions of name brands like CNN, CBS, and NBC. While it doesn’t always carry the same programming as their pay-TV versions, it does overlap a surprising amount. If you just want to catch major press conferences or breaking stories, Pluto TV has several good options for live news.

Old shows from MTV, Nick, and BET

Because of Pluto’s partnership with Viacom, it has a wealth of shows from the company’s cable channels: five versions of MTV, two Comedy Centrals, two Nicks, one CMT, and one BET. Most of the programming is from the late 90s/early 2000s era (including an entire channel devoted to MTV’s “The Hills”), but that might be a plus for certain nostalgia-minded millennials.

Several popular sports channels

We were surprised to find several sports channels in Pluto TV’s lineup that you usually have to pay for. Sports news channels like Fox Sports 1 and Stadium are included, and you can even catch live games from the MLS and NCAA’s Big Sky Conference. If you don’t want to pay the estimated $9 a month it costs to add ESPN to your cable package, Pluto TV is a worthy alternative.

Points to consider

Few recognizable cable channels

While it has plenty of names you’ll recognize, don’t expect Pluto to deliver the same shows and movies you get out of a paid service. Networks generally use it as a place to house older shows and movies that aren’t as in demand as their core programming.

Inopportune commercial breaks

Unlike paid TV, Pluto hasn’t quite figured out how to insert its ads into the flow of the program. When we were watching its news channels, the anchors would often be cut off mid-sentence as Pluto went to commercial. This was annoying, to be sure, but it’s hard to complain about a service you’re not paying for.

How We Chose the Best On-Demand TV Streaming Service

Large content budget

One of the appeals of on-demand streaming services is their reputation for high-quality content — both original and licensed. Shows like "Stranger Things" and "Orange Is the New Black" have turned into such massive successes that they’ve drawn bigger audiences than traditional cable network programming like "The Bachelor". To evaluate our three contenders, we first wanted to find out how committed they were to continuing this trend.

Unfortunately, each streaming service is incredibly cagey about its data. They don’t willingly share ratings, exact library volume (and when it changes), or subscriber numbers. But we do have some idea of how much money they’re investing. And while spending the most money obviously isn’t a guarantee of the best shows and movies, if you’re only going to subscribe to one service, it’s reasonable to pick the one that will reinvest more of your monthly fee back into content.

High-quality original programming

As behemoths like Disney begin to pull their catalogues from streaming services in order to promote their own platforms (essentially going the HBO route), original content will become more and more important for TV streaming providers as a way to attract and keep customers. But we wanted to make sure we weren’t recommending junk. For every "Stranger Things", there’s a "Girlboss" or "The Get Down," both cancelled after just one season. So, for every piece of original content that Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu produced, we evaluated the response. We aggregated critic ratings from Rotten Tomatoes, audience ratings from IMDb, and nominations and wins in Golden Globes, Oscars, and Emmys to figure out what kind of quality, on average, each on-demand TV streaming service offered.

Licensed TV shows and movies

While original content is important — and will only continue to grow in importance as ore companies launch their own services — we also wanted to evaluate each service’s library as a whole. After all, while Netflix touts its originals, data from Nielsen shows that 72% of viewing minutes on the service is spent on licensed shows and movies. With that in mind, we used IMDb’s list of the top 250 shows and movies and scored how many titles each service offers.

The Best On-Demand TV Streaming Services

The Best
On-Demand Streaming

Netflix

Netflix
The biggest library of original content, and the biggest budget to continue cranking out hits.
Pros
Best selection of popular shows and movies
Original content
Investment in content
Family programming
Cons
Fewer network shows
Expensive

Why we chose it

Best selection of popular shows and movies

By every metric we looked at, Netflix came out on top as the TV streaming service with the most shows and movies that people want to watch. Of IMDb’s top 250 TV series, Netflix has 73 in its library, nine more than next-best Hulu. What’s more, the names at the top, like “The Office” and “Friends” aren’t available on any other service.

It was the same story when we looked at movies. Netflix had the most in IMDb’s top 250 with 38, while The Criterion Channel came in a distant second with 30. If you want to watch the most popular titles out there, Netflix is clearly the best option.

IMDb-for-Streaming

Original content

Since each service keeps its ratings extremely close to the vest, it’s impossible to tell which shows are being watched the most. But it’s safe to say that Netflix has dominated the streaming conversation with its original series. Shows like “Stranger Things,” “Narcos,” and “Orange Is the New Black” have all been enormous hits, while Hulu and Amazon have struggled to produce anything that’s resonated on the same level.

In Emmys for original series, Netflix has racked up 135 nominations and 24 wins since 2015, while Amazon has only received 21 nominations and 12 wins, and Hulu just 19 nominations and five wins over the same period. 2018 marked a changing of the guard at the Emmys, with Netflix receiving more nominations than HBO for the first time ever.

Awards-for-Streaming

Investment in content

In the fierce competition for your entertainment budget, Netflix consistently spends more on original and licensed TV shows and movies than Amazon, Hulu, and HBO. In 2018, Netflix spent $12 billion on content, with $15 billion projected for 2019. By comparison, Amazon’s 2018 content budget was $5 billion, Hulu’s was $2.5 billion, and HBO’s was $1.5 billion. Spending the most money obviously isn’t a guarantee of the best shows and movies, but if you’re only going to subscribe to one service, it’s a safe bet that Netflix is going to reinvest more of your monthly fee back into content than Amazon, Hulu, and HBO.

Library-Size-and-Budgets-for-Streaming

Family programming

If you’re a parent with younger kids, Netflix is by far the best choice for content the whole family can enjoy. It has 81 original shows and movies for kids, compared to only 22 for Amazon, 13 for HBO Now, and two for Hulu. It also has a bunch of 90s classics like “Goosebumps” and “The Magic School Bus” that parents might enjoy, too.

Points to consider

Fewer network shows

If keeping up with your favorite cable shows is your top priority, you might find Netflix lacking. It doesn’t have much in the way of network shows, and when it does, it doesn’t put them up until a few months after the season ends. Hulu On Demand has more content from the major networks than either Netflix or Amazon, and it puts them up the day after they’re aired on cable. As it’s owned by Disney (and by extension ABC and Fox), and NBC, Hulu is essentially the platform of choice for streaming content from major networks. It’s the only on-demand service where you can find hit shows like "Empire", "Modern Family", and "This Is Us." In fact, of the 10 highest-rated TV shows of 2018, the only one Netflix has is “NCIS,” and the most recent episode aired on TV more than a year ago.

More expensive than competitors

While we thought it was the best on-demand streaming service by far, you’ll pay a little more for Netflix than Amazon Prime Video or Hulu. It costs $9 per month for standard-definition streaming, but high-definition is a necessity for most viewers these days. (For reference, TV shows stopped airing in SD in 2014.) Netflix in HD runs $13 per month for HD streaming and two simultaneous streams and $16 for 4K streaming and four simultaneous streams. For comparison, Hulu and Amazon start at about $6 and $9 per month for HD, respectively.

Best for
Network Shows

Hulu

Hulu
For fans of network TV, Hulu puts up shows from ABC, Fox, and NBC the day after they air
Pros
Network shows
Shows available the day after they air
Ad-supported plan
Cons
Less original content
Weak movie library

Why we chose it

Network shows

Hulu has more shows from cable and network TV than any other TV streaming service. Because it’s owned by the duo of Disney (which owns ABC and Fox) and NBC, it covers the vast majority of TV’s most popular shows. Of the top nine most-watched series of 2018, Hulu has four of them in its library, compared to only one for Netflix and zero for Amazon.

Shows available the day after they air

Hulu typically puts up episodes of shows up the morning after they air on prime time TV, while Netflix waits until the entire season is finished, and then adds an extra few months. If you want to keep up with network shows without a cable subscription, Hulu is the only on-demand streaming service that gives you this option.

Ad-supported plan

We appreciated that Hulu gives you some options with its pricing. Its HD ad-supported plan costs $6 per month, less than half the price of Netflix’s HD plan. We didn’t find the commercials to be too much of an annoyance, either — about three 90-second blocks of ads for every half hour TV show. If you’d rather bypass commercials altogether, you can upgrade to the ad-free plan at $12 a month.

Points to consider

Less original content

While Hulu leads the pack when it comes to shows that originally air on TV, it’s had less success with its original content. It’s only produced 51 of its own shows and movies, compared to 161 for Amazon, and 832 for Netflix. It has had one major success with “The Handmaid’s Tale,” but outside of that, its original library is fairly thin.

Weak movie library

Hulu currently only has 1,469 movies in its library, compared to 3,922 for Netflix and 19,382 for Amazon Prime Video. That smaller selection doesn’t translate to better quality, either. Of IMDb’s Top 250 movies, Hulu only had nine overall, and only one in the top 30. Hulu’s library clearly favors TV shows instead of movies. If movies are more your thing, Netflix and The Criterion Channel are much better options.

Best
Perks

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon
In addition to the largest library in streaming, you’ll also get perks like free two-day shipping and unlimited photo storage
Pros
Amazon Prime benefits
Enormous library
HBO back catalogue
Cons
No new network shows
Weak original content

Why we chose it

Amazon Prime benefits

You can subscribe to Prime Video on its own for $9 a month, but most people get it as a part of their Amazon Prime membership ($119 a year), where it’s just one of the many perks. If you subscribe to Prime, you’ll also get free two-day shipping on Amazon orders, unlimited photo storage, membership to Prime Music, and one free e-book a month.

Enormous library

Prime Video dwarfs the competition when it comes to the sheer number of titles in its library: 19,382 movies and 1,646 TV shows, more than Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and The Criterion Channel combined. However, even with all those titles, Prime Video still doesn’t have as many of the most popular movies and shows. Out of IMDb’s top 250 TV shows, it only has 53, fewer than both Netflix and Hulu. Of the top 250 movies, it also came in third behind Netflix and The Criterion Channel, with 28.

HBO back catalogue

Aside from HBO Now, Prime Video is the only way you can stream titles from HBO’s back catalogue. It includes a number of classic TV shows like “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” and “Sex and the City.” Unfortunately, you won’t get any newer shows like “Game of Thrones,” but it’s still a nice bonus.

Points to consider

No new network shows

Prime Video doesn’t carry many shows that are currently airing on network TV. If you want to watch ABC, CBS, Fox, or NBC shows without a cable subscription, Hulu carries three out of the big four networks, and usually puts episodes up the day after they air on TV.

Weak original content

Amazon has failed to make much of a splash when it comes to original content, even though it’s spending an estimated $6 billion this year to make its own shows and movies. It has only 21 Emmy nominations and 12 wins over the past four years — half of what Netflix has received. While it’s had a handful of critical darlings like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Prime Video’s 77% average Rotten Tomatoes critic score for originals was lower than HBO’s, Netflix’s, and Hulu’s.

Original-Show-Ratings-for-Streaming

Amazon did have the edge on movies with a 73% Rotten Tomatoes critic score compared to Netflix’s 72%. But with ten times fewer original movies in its library, that was a less impressive feat.

Original-Movie-Ratings-for-Streaming

Best for
Original Shows

HBO NOW

HBO
Prioritizing quality over quantity, HBO gives you exclusive access to some of the best TV ever made
Pros
Hit shows
Great selection of documentaries
Cons
Fewer titles overall
Expensive

Why we chose it

Hit shows

More than any other streaming service, HBO Now houses the shows that get people talking. From “The Sopranos” to “Game of Thrones,” the premium network seems to always have at least one show that’s a must-have for viewers. You can see this clearly in Emmy wins and nominations over the years, too, where HBO has completely dominated the competition. In the past four years alone, it has six out of eight Emmys for Best Drama and Best Comedy — the highest honors in TV.

Great selection of documentaries

HBO’s original documentaries are in a class of their own. It currently has 251 feature-length documentaries on HBO Now, and they’ve received an average Rotten Tomatoes critic score of 91%. The next closest streaming service is Netflix with 93 titles and a 90% Rotten Tomatoes score.

Points to consider

Fewer titles overall

If you’re searching for specific movies on HBO Now, you’ll more often than not come up empty. With fewer than 1,000 titles available to stream, HBO Now isn’t close to Amazon, Netflix, or Hulu in terms of sheer breadth of movies and shows. HBO would probably spin this as a positive — unlike Netflix’s “try everything” approach, HBO’s seal of approval signifies quality — but there’s no denying that you’re getting a lot less for your money with HBO Now. It’s banking on the “must-see” appeal of a handful of shows, not its library as a whole.

Expensive

Even though HBO spent $10 billion less in 2018 than Netflix — and has more than 3,000 fewer titles — it still charges $2 more per month for its HD plan. At $15 per month, it’s the most expensive on-demand streaming service on our list, and is understandably hard to justify for a lot of people. If you want HBO without paying the full price, one option is to replace your cable package with DIRECTV NOW, a live TV streaming service that includes HBO (and by extension, HBO Go) in all of its plans, which start at $50 a month.

Best for
Classic Films

The Criterion Channel

Criterion Channel
For serious film buffs, The Criterion Channel has an unparalleled library of arthouse, foreign, and indie cinema
Pros
Classic films
Bonus features
Four simultaneous streams
Offline viewing
Cons
Fewer new or popular movies
No TV shows

Why we chose it

Classic films

A subscription to The Criterion Channel is like a course in film history: It has more than 1,600 “important classic and contemporary films” in its catalogue, from some of the first movies ever made to more recent Cannes darlings. Of IMDb’s top 250 movies, The Criterion Channel had 30 of them, second only to Netflix’s 38.

That was impressive, but when you shift the focus to critics’ lists, it absolutely dominates. We used Sight and Sound’s top 100 list, which polls 846 critics, programmers, academics and distributors every 10 years, and which Roger Ebert called, “by far the most respected of the countless polls of great movies — the only one most serious movie people take seriously.” On the most recent 2012 list, The Criterion Channel had 52 films; the next closest was Amazon with six. If you’re looking for classic, arthouse, and foreign films, Criterion has a library you won’t find streaming anywhere else.

Bonus features

Most of the films in The Criterion Channel’s library come with supplemental videos that go behind the scenes with iconic filmmakers, actors, and movie critics. We especially loved their curated collections like “Killer Couples” and “Columbia Noir.” If you want to go deep on a specific subject, The Criterion Channel is a wonderful guide.

Four simultaneous streams

The Criterion Channel allows you to stream on up to four devices at the same time, more than any other on-demand streaming service. If you live in a house full of movie buffs, you’ll all be able to use one account without interrupting each other.

Offline viewing

Along with Prime Video and Netflix, The Criterion Channel is one of the few services that lets you download movies to watch offline. Just download the app on iOS or Android and you can store titles on your device.

Points to consider

Fewer new or popular movies

The Criterion Channel doesn’t have much in the way of blockbusters or recent releases. Of its 1,604 titles, only 106 were made this decade — fewer than the number of films it has from the 1930s. If keeping up with the latest hits is important to you, you’re better off going with one of the bigger names.

Criterion-Channel-for-Streaming

No TV shows

Unlike most on-demand services, The Criterion Channel doesn’t offer a mix of TV shows and movies. It’s devoted entirely to films, so you won’t get the same well-rounded library you’ll find with Netflix or Amazon.

Guide to TV Streaming Services

How to find the right TV streaming service for you

Decide which channels you need

Before you start comparing packages, it’s good to have an idea about which channels you want to prioritize. Do you just want to follow your local sports teams without paying a huge cable bill? Make sure the service you choose has your regional sports network, as well as local channels like CBS, Fox, and NBC for NFL games. Don’t care as much about the local networks or sports channels? You can save by going with a skinny bundle like AT&T WatchTV that skips these popular channels. Check out our full review of live TV streaming services for more info.

Check your ZIP code

To avoid surprises, we suggest entering your ZIP code on your provider's website and checking the exact channel lineup offered. Local channels — the ones that are essential to most TV viewers — often have different availability depending on where you live. And many times, they’re only available on-demand, defeating much of the purpose of live TV streaming.

Sign up for free trials

Every live TV streaming service we saw offers a free trial of at least one week, and it’s absolutely worth taking advantage of. Once you’ve narrowed down your list to a few services, take each one out for a test run to see how it feels in your day-to-day life. Many times, little quirks like how a service sets up its channel guide can have a big effect on the overall experience. Of course, you’ll never be locked into a service for longer than a month, but it’s still a good idea to experiment before you break out the wallet.

Invest in a smart TV, gaming console, or streaming device

Once you’ve settled on a streaming service, you’ll still need a way to get the content to your TV. For this, you’ll need two things: a strong internet connection (more on that below) and a way to access the internet through your TV. If you bought your TV in the past few years, chances are it came with some streaming apps pre-loaded, although it might not be compatible with the service you settled on. Gaming consoles like Xbox One and PlayStation 4 also have the ability to download streaming apps, although compatibility is, again, fairly limited. The best option for most people is to invest in a dedicated streaming device like a Fire TV or Roku. These typically cost around $50, plug into a TV’s HDMI port, and use a Wi-Fi connection to stream video apps.

TV Streaming Services FAQs

What does a streaming device do?

Streaming devices plug into your TV’s HDMI port and access your Wi-Fi. This allows you to download the app through which your programs run, whether Netflix or DIRECTV NOW.

What internet speed is recommended for live streaming?

The FCC recommends 5 to 8 Mbps download speeds for HD streaming and 25 Mbps for 4K Ultra HD. Keep in mind, that number will need to go up if you plan to stream on more than one device at a time. Ookla’s Speedtest.net is a great way to measure your internet speeds if you’re unsure about your service.

What if my TV doesn't have HDMI ports?

If you have an older TV, you might find that it doesn’t have an HDMI plug-in. This leaves you with three options for streaming TV: Buy a new television, invest in an HDMI to AVI converter, or purchase a Roku Express+. Converters generally cost around $20 and let you use any streaming device out there, although there have been complaints about converters not working as smoothly as advertised. The Roku Express+ is the only streaming device on the market that plugs into the red, white, and yellow composite jacks found on older TVs.

Compare the Best TV Streaming Services

  Hulu + Live TV PlayStation Vue YouTube TV AT&T Watch TV Pluto TV Netflix Hulu Amazon Prime Video HBO Now The Criterion Channel
Best Live TV Streaming Best Sports Streaming Best User Experience Best Skinny Bundle Best Free TV Streaming Best On-Demand Library Best for Network Shows Best Perks Best for Original Shows Best for Classic Films
Starting at $45/month $45/month $50/month $15/month Free $9/mo $6/mo $9/mo $15/mo $8/mo
Simultaneous streams 2 5 3 1 1 1 for Basic ($9), 2 for Standard ($13), 4 for Premium ($16) 2 3 3 4

More TV Streaming Reviews

Check out our in-depth reviews of everything you’ll need to start streaming:

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