Best Online TV Streaming Services: Your definitive guide to the best, most worthwhile streaming services you should subscribe to after cutting the cord
There’s a reason that the cord cutting movement has only grown over the years: Cable bills are becoming unreasonably expensive. They’re expensive because cable companies are padding their services with channels we never watch, and features that we’ll never use. It’s a all an expensive ploy.
The good news for us cost-sensitive cinephiles out there is that there are dozens of new streaming services on the market, each of which offering a cornucopia of content that we can stream any time, any where: There are your cable alternative mainstays like Netflix and Amazon, plus HBO Now for your Game of Thrones fix, and if you’re still interested in live TV without the bill at the end of the month, services like YouTube TV, Hulu and Sling TV are happy to fill in the gaps.
Here’s the problem: All this choice is great. Almost too great. If you were to subscribe to everything, you’d wind up paying more than you did for cable. So, with that in mind we set out to find the best online TV streaming services, a definitive list of the services you absolutely need to subscribe to plus a few more that are well worth your consideration.
Are you ready to kill off cable and step into the world of streaming? Pick your poison from the list of services below.
If you’re a connoisseur of movies and/or TV, there’s only one game in town – Netflix. It is, unequivocally, the biggest and best streaming service, despite not always stocking its digital shelves with must-have new movies and TV; that said, this is the staple streamer you need to own if you ever plan on cutting the cord.
Most smart TVs have Netflix apps and finding a streaming box without it is the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack. The quality of the movies and TV we tried – mostly streamed in Ultra HD – on both TV and on tablets is exquisite.
Since launching its own content in 2013, Netflix’s originals library has swelled to an enormous size, boasting dozens of award-winning shows including Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black, The Crown, Master of None and House of Cards.
Netflix runs on a PC and Mac, Apple TV, Xbox One, PS4, Amazon Fire TV (and Amazon Fire TV Stick), Android phones and tablets, Windows Phones, iOS devices, internet-enabled TVs and Blu-ray players, and streaming players from Philips, Roku and Western Digital.
Don’t forget you can also give Netflix a spin with the 1-month free trial to see if it’s worth your money.
2. Amazon Prime Instant Video
Amazon and Netflix, two sides of the same coin. Usually where there’s one, there’s the other, and saying one is better than the other is kind of like saying jelly is better than jam.
That’s not to say they’re identical – they most certainly are not – but the differences are few and far between.
First off, in terms of availability, Prime Instant Video is available for PC and Mac, the Kindle Fire HD, iPad, Xbox One, PS4, internet-enabled TVs and Blu-ray players, Sony’s Home Cinema system, Sony’s Network Media Player and myriad other minor devices that will go unmentioned.
Like Netflix, Amazon has its own set of original series – Transparent, Alpha House and Mozart in the Jungle among others – but, generally speaking, they don’t receive the same fanfare as their Netflix-bred brethren.
The two big differentiators between the services are the fact that access to Prime Instant Video comes standard with a subscription to Amazon Prime, and Amazon has its own proprietary set-top box, the Amazon Fire TV.
The £69/$69 (around AU$90) streamers aren’t the only connected devices with access to Amazon obviously, but engulfing yourself into the Amazon ecosphere greatly improves your chances of falling in love with Instant Video.
As far as its cost, a subscription to Amazon Prime will run you $99/£99 a year – which is even less than Netflix, though like Netflix, Prime Instant Video also offers a 30-day free trial so you don’t have to pony up any money when you first start.
3. Hulu and Hulu Plus
If you would’ve told us back in the ’90s that a video streaming service called “Hulu” would be the best way to watch shows like The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live and South Park in the 21st century, we would’ve thought Y2K succeeded in corrupting the human consciousness.
Yet here we are in 2018 and the Douglas Adams-sounding Hulu is indeed the best way to watch our favorite shows from NBC, FOX and Comedy Central.
Hulu comes in two flavors: the standard on-demand streaming service you’ve always known and loved, and the new Hulu with Live TV.
The former works well and is well worth its cost of entry. Sure, it’ll run you $7.99 and air with a few advertisements, but it’s nothing you’re not used to coming from traditional cable. On the homepage you’ll find highlighted shows based on your past visits to the site as well as curated content from Hulu HQ. This includes game trailers, new movie trailers, popular clips from last week’s new episodes as well as a few themed playlists.
The other option on the table is Hulu with Live TV, a cable alternative that will run you around $39.99 a month – which is, unfortunately, limited to the US. The service fulfills its name by offering you a bevy of live TV channels and 50 hours cloud DVR service and two simultaneous screens. This is a bit less than the next contender on our list – YouTube TV – which offers more screens and unlimited DVR space.
The biggest problem with Hulu is that it lets users run head first into the paywall, keeping you from the content you’re most apt to pay for.
Some call this good business. Some call it extortion. Wherever you stand on the subject the fact that you get so much free content upfront means that the old adage of “you get what you pay for” definitely does not apply here.
4. YouTube and YouTube TV
Ask someone what they think was the biggest internet revolution of the 21st century and they’ll probably say it was YouTube. And with good reason – the user-generated video-blogging site has changed the online landscape forever.
It lets anyone, however well known they are (or not), whatever the quality of their content and wherever they hail from, upload their weird and wonderful videos for anyone around the world to watch at their convenience. The beauty of YouTube is that in the blink of an eye it’s taken the broadcasting power from the bigwigs and placed it right in our hands.
OK, so it might not have stopped people wanting to watch a high quality, professionally made production in their living room TVs, but it’s an insight into how TV might be produced in the future. After all with YouTube you don’t need a big budget – or indeed any budget at all – to produce your own TV series and establish a massive following.
While the free portion of YouTube will always remain the most popular (the latest statistic says that a whopping eight years’ worth of content is uploaded each and every day to the site), but if you’re looking for quality content, YouTube TV is also an excellent option worth considering.
A subscription to YouTube TV is on the expensive side at $40 a month, but you’re treated to a fair amount of content – around 60 channels replete with cloud DVR functionality. The service is available only in the US for now, however, and even here it’s only available in around 100 markets around the country. Still, if you’re lucky enough to be in one of those areas, it’s the best live TV streaming service out there right now.
5. HBO Now and HBO Go
HBO Go? More like HBO-Do-Not-Pass-Go-Without-a-Cable-Subscription, amiright?
But no, seriously, in order to get into the member-only club that is HBO Go you’re really going to need the login info of a paying cable subscriber. If you’ve got one of those, subscribing to HBO Go is an absolute no-brainer – it’s free for you! Go on, download it right now and put our word to the test.
If borrowing mom and dad’s cable account info isn’t in the cards and the ominous cable bill is too threatening to even consider, there’s HBO Now, a $15 per month service that gives you access to HBO’s entire content library.
Alongside the new shows of Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley and West World you’ll also find heaps of big-budget films, new and old, and the stable of HBO classics like The Sopranos, Deadwood, Oz, True Blood, Sex in the City, Rome and The Pacific. The service doesn’t get as many updates as say, Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon do, but episodes are typically added within hours of them airing on cable.
HBO is a bit more selective about which device it interfaces with than Netflix and YouTube, but so far you can find it on Amazon Fire TV, Android/iOS, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and the whole line of Samsung Smart TVs.