If you’re looking to expand your TV viewing options, or perhaps even replace your current cable subscriptions with something cheaper and better, rest easy in knowing that there are tons of options from which you can choose.
However, with so many options, and with each one costing between $7-$15, not much individually, but collectively, a hefty sum, it’s smart to take some time to figure out what you’re trying to get from your streaming service, and also what each one offers because, unfortunately, there is no one single “best” streaming service. Each one offers something slightly different and is therefore more suited for some people over others.
To help make things easier, we’ve identified the many differences that separate the streaming options on the market so that it will be easier for you to find the one that’s best for your home.
Netflix: Best Original Programming
Netflix has long stood atop the streaming world, and while it faces much more competition now than it ever has in the past, it still remains the best, at least if original programming is what you use to judge streaming services.
It seems Netflix is coming out with new content nearly all the time, and what they produce tends to be good. In 2019, a Netflix film, Roma, won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and this year, The Irishman, another Netflix original film, was nominated. And this doesn’t even include the many award-winning television shows the company has produced over the years, such as House of Cards, 13 Reasons Why, and Orange is the New Black, among many, many others.
Part of the reason Netflix’s original content is so good is that it spends more money producing it than anyone else; in 2020, it’s projected the company’s budget for original content will exceed $17 billion, a number that has been going up in each of the last five years and that also helps attract the best talent and make the best stuff.
In addition, Netflix still has a lot of other content it didn’t produce, including full seasons of some of the most popular shows of the last decade, such as Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead. But if you’re going to pay for Netflix (which costs $15 per month for the most popular plan that includes high-quality videos), then know that what you’re paying for is the original content.
Of course, not everything they produce will be to your liking, but if what you want is to try out new shows, watch different things, and not get bored of the same old, same old, then Netflix is the streaming service for you.
HBO Now: Excellent Original Programming
If you already have an HBO subscription, you can get HBO Go, which is a streaming platform for subscribers, for no additional cost. But if you don’t have a subscription, you can get HBO Now for just $14.99 per month and access all the content you would be able to watch if you were in fact an HBO subscriber.
In terms of quality of content, it’s tough to beat HBO. The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and much, much more, all make their homes on HBO, and they are widely considered to be some of the best television programs ever made. HBO is routinely in the running for multiple awards, and they always seem to know how to make that next big thing.
However, for some, paying $14.99 per month just for HBO shows might seem steep, and it’s true that spending the same amount of money with Netflix will get you access to way more content. But, if you’re looking for a less is more approach and want to experience all that HBO has to offer, definitely consider choosing HBO Now as your streaming provider.
Hulu: Best for Current Television Shows
If you’re someone who still likes to keep up with the hit shows broadcasting on the major networks and cable, then Hulu is without a doubt going to be the streaming service for you. For just $5.99 per month (ads included) you can get access to new episodes within 24 hours of their original airing, and sometimes this happens even sooner.
You can also add on subscriptions to Showtime, HBO, and Starz to get even more content, and if there is ever a time where you realize you can’t wait until the next day to watch the newest episode of your favorite TV show, there’s Hulu Live, which costs around $60 per month but can effectively replace your cable subscription.
There is some original content on Hulu, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, but the real draw to this service is its connections to network TV, so, if this is important to you, then know Hulu is the service for you.
Disney+: Best Streaming Service for Families
Disney’s streaming service, Disney+, launched back in November 2019. It’s catalog includes all of the Disney classics, such as The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Mulan, among others, as well as television shows and movies from The Disney Channel, Pixar productions (Finding Nemo, Toy Story, The Incredibles, etc.), Lucasfilm movies (Star Wars) and everything from Marvel (think: The Avengers).
In addition, Disney+ will be home to some pretty cool original series from both the Star Wars and Marvel universes.
At the moment, it costs just $6.99 per month, although this may go up soon, and is a great service to have if you have younger kids at home and don’t want to worry about what they might be watching when they stream television (Netflix and HBO tend to feature a lot more adult content that isn’t going to be appropriate for all viewers).
This doesn’t mean you need to have kids to get value from Disney+, but it will certainly help, and if you do have children, you will probably find this service to be a wonderful investment.
Hoopla and Crackle: Best Free Streaming Services
Streaming tends to be cheaper than regular paid TV (although not always) but if you’re still not interested in paying any money to watch TV, then consider Hoopla and Crackle. Both are free streaming services that are actually quite good.
Hoopla is run through your public library membership, and while you are limited in how much you can “rent” each month, the catalog on Hoopla is quite good, and the limits are still pretty high. This is a great option for casual viewers who want to be able to check out a new movie or television show every few months.
Crackle is more similar to Hulu in that it focuses on serial television shows, and it’s free because you have to watch ads. However, the catalog is constantly changing, and there is always something to watch. And it costs you nothing, so if you’re not happy, just don’t use it!
Amazon Prime: Best for Non-TV Lovers
When looking for streaming services, Amazon Prime will no-doubt come up in your search. And while the Amazon Prime catalog is huge, there is a real quantity over quality thing going on here. It’s tough to find really exciting stuff to watch, and you have to pay a good bit more to get access to new episodes of currently airing shows.
It has some original content, including the hit The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but this is definitely not the platforms strong suit.
That being said, when you consider what else you get from Amazon Prime, mainly the discounts and free shipping, all this video content really does feel like a free bonus. As a result, if you’re someone who is really going to benefit from Prime and you’re not a huge TV person, then by all means get a subscription. But if you’re looking for a service that’s going to deliver you great TV to watch, then you may want to look elsewhere.
Time to Stream
It should now be clear to you why there are so many streaming services out there; each one offers something slightly different. Of course, the best thing to do is to get together with a group of friends and share accounts, but this isn’t always possible. Hopefully now, though, it will be much easier for you to choose the service that is best for you and your home.