You’ve likely heard of “the big six” streaming service—Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock, and Prime Video—but what does each one really offer? It’s easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole of paying for multiple services, so let’s take a closer look at each one so you can easily pick which ones work best for you.
What to Look for in a Streaming TV Service
Each service has its own strengths, but choosing one (or two) ultimately comes down to what type of content you like above anything else. There are a few other features worth taking a look at, however, just so you fully understand how to evaluate each service:
- Content Selection: Like we said, a streaming service’s main asset is its library of shows, and each service’s is unique. So, for example, if you love Marvel movies and live sports, consider going with a Disney+ and Hulu bundle. We recommend taking a moment to think about the type of content you want to watch and exploring what each option offers before making your decision.
- Pricing & Plans: Many of these services offer tiered plans with varying price points, allowing you to choose the one that best fits your budget. Basic plans generally cost about $5-$10 per month, while premium plans can run anywhere from $15-$65 per month. Most offer free trials, however, so if you’re not sure which service or plan you want, we recommend signing up for a few first. Keep in mind that pricier tiers usually offer more features as well, such as the removal of ads, the ability to download shows for offline viewing, and even higher-quality streams. Middle and premium tiers are often worth the upgrade if you care about that kind of stuff.
- Multiple Profile Support: You like indie films, gramps likes the news, and your kids like sports. Any streaming TV service worth its salt knows this and allows users to create multiple user profiles. This way you can keep track of only the shows you care about, and your profile’s algorithm will only recommend content you’re interested in. Some services even offer restricted accounts for kids, with plenty of shows that are age-appropriate and zero access to stuff that isn’t.
- Streaming Quality & Limits: Does your streaming platform allow for simultaneous streams so that everyone in your family can watch what they like? Does it support HD content, Dolby Vision and Atmos, or let you download shows? Well, it should. Some services restrict these types of things to their premium tiers, and some may not offer them at all. Be sure to double check before signing up if these features are must-haves for you.
- Wide Platform Support: You’re not always going to be at home on your couch when using these apps, so it’s important that these services make it easy for you to watch their content on any device from anywhere. We favor services that work on every device from mobile devices down to gaming consoles.
Netflix: An Extensive Library and Great Originals
Netflix (Plans start at $8.99 per month) is the classic streaming video service, with its solid selection of TV shows, movies, and unique original programming. It also offers all of the basic features one could want from such a service, such as multiple individual user profiles, content downloads, captions, parental controls, and more.
The service’s interface is gorgeous and bold, well-organized, and easy to use. You can save your favorite titles to “My List” for easy reference, and there are tons of categories for you to browse though. You can watch Netflix on smartphones, tablets, computers, gaming consoles, smart TVs, and most streaming sticks.
The subscription-based streaming service is home to popular originals such as Stranger Things, The Witcher, Glow, Daredevil, The Queen’s Gambit, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and more. Netflix is known for churning out tons of original shows in addition to its vast library of older content, but it isn’t the service you should choose if you’re more interested in brand-new releases. That said, the frequent turnover of its content library goes a long way to keeping things fresh.
Netflix offers three plans: Basic, Standard, and Premium. The Basic plan starts at $8.99 per month and allows you to watch and download standard definition content only on a single screen. The Standard plan is $13.99 per month, unlocks HD viewing, and allows for downloads and simultaneous viewing on two devices. And the Premium plan will run you $17.99 per month, but it gives you the option for viewing UHD (4K) content, storing downloads on four devices, and watching content on four devices simultaneously.
Hulu: A Huge Library, a Live TV Option, and a Good Deal
If you’re looking for tons of options, Hulu (Plans start at $5.99 per month) is the one to beat. The feature-rich service offers all kinds of plans, including bundles and an affordable option for students. Heck, it even has bundle options with Disney+ and ESPN+ for you to choose from. Hulu has a fantastic selection of movies and TV shows, both older and brand new, and is one of the better services out there offering a live TV option, making it a great option for cord cutters.
For Hulu’s nonlive TV plans, you’ll get access to many new episodes one day after they air, which is terrific for those who absolutely must stay up to date with TV shows such asThe Bachelor or Barkskins. Of course, Hulu also has a fun variety of original content, such as The Great, The Handmaid’s Tale, Little Fires Everywhere, and Marvel’s Runaways.
Hulu has three main plans available, all of which give you access to its full library on any device you want to watch it on. All plans support up to six user profiles and allow you to watch on two different screens simultaneously. Its basic Hulu plan runs $5.99 per month, has some ads, and doesn’t offer downloads or live TV. The Hulu (No Ads) plan is $11.99 per month, with no ads or live TV, but with enabled downloads for offline viewing. And if you do want live TV, you’ll need to cough up a bit more for the Hulu + Live TV plan, which is $64.99 per month. And despite this steep price point, it still has ads and doesn’t allow for downloads.
If you’re a student, don’t despair! Hulu has a discounted monthly plan for verified students that only costs $1.99 per month. It’s ad-supported, but you’ll have access to the full library and Hulu’s Watch Party feature.
Of course, Hulu also has outstanding bundle options, centered around those three primary plans. These plans include both Disney+ and ESPN+, so just choose whether you want the basic Hulu, Hulu (No Ads), or Hulu + Live TV bundle plan and go from there. Monthly pricing for these, runs $12.99, $18.99, and $71.99, respectively.
Disney+: Family-Friendly and Perfect for Marvel and ‘Star Wars’ Fans
You’ve probably already got a pretty solid idea of the type of stuff that’s on Disney+ (starts at $6.99 per month). But if not, here’s a recap. The vast majority of Disney’s cartoons and live animation programming along with impressive properties such as Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic. Oh, and things such as Hamilton, The Simpsons, National Treasure, 10 Things I Hate About You, Home Alone, and Avatar, too.
With its robust library of easy-going movies and TV shows, Disney+ is a great pick in general and the best one for families. It’s got tons of content in 4K with HDR, and it allows you to set up multiple user profiles for everyone in the family. Plus, with the success of its live-action Mulan movie, Disney+ is likely going to be the home for new PPV flicks from its properties in the future, such as Marvel’s Black Widow.
As you’d expect, Disney+ is all Disney all the time. This means no options for live TV or sports unless you opt for one of the bundles with Hulu and ESPN+ for an additional cost (see the Hulu section above for more details). Disney+ is available on iOS and Android devices, gaming consoles, smart TVs, streaming sticks, and of course, online. And best of all, it supports as many as four simultaneous streams, so everyone can watch what they want.
HBO Max: All HBO Content Plus Studio Ghibli and New Movies
Since its debut in May 2020, HBO Max ($14.99 per month) has been a hit. It’s the latest addition to the HBO family and the service for watching everything in HBO’s extensive catalog. It’s the place to go when you want to enjoy fan favorites such as Doctor Who, Friends, Adventure Time, and the wondrous Studio Ghibli library. It’s even got solid picks for the kiddos, such as Looney Tunes and Sesame Street.
Of course, landmark original programming is still a thing with HBO Max. You can find new titles—such as The Flight Attendant and Euphoria—alongside older favorites such as The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Lovecraft Country, Westworld, Watchmen, Silicon Valley, Succession, Game of Thrones, and The Wire. In 2021, the service will also play host to all of Warner Bros.’ movies starting on the same day they’re released in theaters.
HBO Max’s app is gorgeous, easy to use, and ad-free. It allows you to create individual user profiles and control content accessibility through robust parental controls. And best of all, it just offers one single plan instead of locking content and functionality down unless you pay for a premium plan. HBO Max does cost a little more than basic plans elsewhere, but its extensive (and consistently excellent) catalog is flat-out worth it. HBO Max works on most streaming sticks, iOS and Android devices, gaming consoles, computers, and smart TVs.
Peacock: It’s Free, Plus It Has ‘The Office’
Peacock (Free, with paid plans starting at $4.99 per month) has two main draws. It has a solid free plan, and it’s the new home of beloved TV show The Office. Of course, it’s home to tons of other great shows, such as 30 Rock, Saturday Night Live, Downton Abbey, Friday Night Lights, and Suits. The service also has plenty of originals including Saved by the Bell, Psych 2, Wilmore, A.P. Bio, The Amber Ruffin Show, and Departure. You can save your favorites to your watchlist or even bookmark movies to watch later.
All you need to get started with the service’s free plan is an email address and password. You don’t even need to enter a credit card. And with your ad-supported account, you can enjoy hundreds of TV shows and movies, along with 24/7 Peacock Channels, sports, daily news, and kids’ programming.
Peacock’s Premium plan is $4.99 per month and unlocks full seasons of shows, exclusive original shows, next-day airings of current NBC and Telemundo programming, and live sports such as Premier League. Peacock also offers a Premium Plus plan for $9.99 per month that gives you everything the Premium plan does without the ads and adds the ability to download certain shows for offline viewing.
The service has robust parental control options that are based on age and maturity levels—such as Little Kids, Older Kids, Family, Teen, and Adult—so you can ensure your little ones aren’t viewing anything they shouldn’t be. You can even lock down your settings with a PIN. Peacock works on a variety of iOS and Android devices, smart TVs, gaming consoles, streaming sticks, and most web browsers.
Prime Video: You’re Probably Already Paying for It
Prime Video (included with Amazon Prime for $12.99 per month) is a solid choice for anyone who already pays for Amazon’s feature-rich subscription service. The service has a creative curation of movies, TV shows, and original programming, including The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Boys, Hanna, Tales from the Loop, Fleabag, and Jack Ryan.
Prime Video subscribers can also enjoy content from Nickelodeon, MTV, and Comedy Central, and it’s a great resource for buying and renting movies and TV shows as well. Subscribers can also take advantage of the service’s many 4K titles, extensive movie collection, and easy-to-download content. It allows for three simultaneous streams.
You can enjoy the service’s catalog on virtually any device, including iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, streaming sticks and boxes, smart TVs, computers, and gaming consoles. And remember, to enjoy all of Prime Video’s features, you’ll need to sign up for Amazon Prime, which runs $119 per year. Its fast shipping and myriad other benefits make it worth the cost, however.