Since the lockdowns all over the world caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, more and more people are staying at home and binge-watching TV shows and movies. It’s more than likely that one of the biggest holiday gifts this year are new smart TVs or streaming media devices so that people can stay at home and entertain themselves. But what are the best streaming apps and services you should get for your new streaming device or smart TV?
Read more: Best video streaming services
Since there are so many different streaming platforms, we decided to break down the best apps and services for each of them.
Channels for Roku devices and smart TVs
The Roku OS is by far the most popular of the streaming TV platforms. Not only does the company sell its own streaming sticks, set-top boxes and soundbars, but the OS is pre-installed on a ton of smart TVs.
Read more: Best Roku channels
We start our list by checking out Roku’s own content channel. It offers tons of free streaming movies and TV shows, plus some live TV news, sports and channels as well. You will likely find a great movie or show to watch. In addition, you can sign up for other premium services in the Roku channel, like Starz, Showtime, and others. You can even watch selected episodes from these premium services for free via the channel. Starting May 20, it will also be the new home to content that was previously available on the now shut down streaming service Quibi, under the name Roku Originals.
Price: Starting at $8.99 a month
Netflix started the video streaming trend, and it remains the biggest premium service with over 200 million subscribers worldwide. The Netflix Roku channel allows you to access the service and all of its exclusive series and movies, with tons more original content being added every month.
Price: $7.99 a month
While it doesn’t have a ton of original content (yet), Disney Plus has lots of great classic and more recent movies and TV shows from the vast Disney library (with a few 20th Century Fox titles thrown in for good measure). The family-friendly service is slowly building up its original content library, include the first two seasons of the hit Star Wars show The Mandalorian. 2021 will be an even bigger year for the service, with several Marvel Cinematic Universe series debuting, and much more. It’s a must for your Roku channels list.
Apps for Amazon Fire TV sticks and TVs
Amazon’s Fire TV sticks are also popular streaming devices, and the Fire TV OS is also available on a few smart TVs, although not as many as the ones that use the Roku OS.
Read more: Best Amazon Fire TV apps
Amazon Prime Video
Price: Included with Amazon Prime for $12.99 a month, with free 30-day trial
Of course, the biggest Fire TV app is for Amazon Prime Video. You will have to pay to get it, but once you do, you will be able to stream thousands of TV shows and movies, including original series like the hit superhero show The Boys. Amazon Prime Video also offers a limited number of live sports events as well. The truth is if you do own a Fire TV device, you have to get Amazon Prime Video.
Along with Amazon Prime Video, the company also offers an ad-supported free streaming service, iMDB TV. Classic TV fans will have lots to stream on the service, and it also has some great older and even more recent movies to show. It even is starting to branch out into original content, starting with the new spy series Alex Rider, with more to come in 2021.
Amazon also happens to own Twitch, the game-oriented streaming service. You can watch live or archived “Let’s Play” videos from your favorite video game streamers. However, Twitch is not just for gamers; it also has other content you can watch as well. You can also support some popular streamers by subscribing to their channels.
Samsung smart TV apps
Samsung uses its own Tizen OS to power its smart TVs. The popularity of its televisions means that nearly all the major streaming apps and services have made their way to the platform.
Read more: Best Samsung smart TV apps
Samsung TV Plus
In a world where just about everything comes with a monthly fee, Samsung TV Plus is a great free alternative. This Samsung smart TV app grants a unique, geographically based mix of content for you to sink your teeth into at no cost. United States users are the best off, with over 100 channels to choose from, and there are more than 500 total channels worldwide. Have we mentioned that it’s completely free?
Price: $14.99 per month
This is more of a catch-all recommendation to download your favorite video streaming apps, but Samsung smart TVs are some of the few that support a native HBO Max app. If you haven’t made the move to HBO Max, you can also tap into other services like Netflix, Hulu, and Apple TV. Your costs will vary — HBO Max is particularly expensive — but it’s great to have all of your content in one convenient place.
Price: Free / Plex Pass for $4.99 per month
Plex is less of a single app and more of a way to amass your own media fortress. You can stream more than 100 TV channels at no cost, enjoy free movies, and store all of your purchased content in one safe location. Plex is essentially an easy way to cut the cord from your cable box, but you can grab a Plex Pass for premium features at just $4.99 per month. The Plex Pass grants the ability to skip TV intros, enjoy higher-quality streaming, and more for far less than the price of cable.
LG smart TV apps
Like Samsung, LG decided to develop its own WebOS for its smart TVs. It actually has its roots in the old OS made for Palm smartphones.
Read more: Best LG smart TV apps
Spotify (and other music services)
Price: Free / Premium service varies
We’ll tackle one of the easiest categories first — music. Plenty of people are turning to apps like Spotify and Pandora to blast their favorite songs, so why not add one to your TV? The LG Smart TV version of each app functions much like your mobile version, just blown up to fit the television. Right now, Spotify is by far the top-rated music service on LG’s Content Store, but Pandora is available as well, and each option packs an extensive library of songs to choose from. Of course, you’ll have to spend a little cash if you want to escape from ads.
There are too many video services to count, and it’s even worse when you have to switch between apps to access your favorite flicks. Movies Anywhere challenges that notion by bringing all of your downloads into one handy app. You’ll have to connect all of your accounts to this LG Smart TV app, but then you’ll be able to watch all of your favorites with ease. Movies Anywhere is similar to Plex, which is also available in LG’s Content Store. Best of all, Movies Anywhere is completely free and it can help you to discover new deals on content from your other services.
Price: $64.99 per month
Maybe you’re looking at your new LG Smart TV as a way to ditch your cable box entirely. If so, there are a few live TV apps to consider. Chief among them is YouTube TV, though Sling TV and Hulu TV are also available. YouTube TV might be the most expensive app on this list of LG Smart TV must-haves, but it offers over 85 channels as well as a few premium bundle options. No matter which live TV app you choose, it should provide a new, cost-effective way to beat back boredom.
Android TV apps for streaming boxes and TVs
Google’s Android TV has slowly but surely found its way to more set-top boxes and smart TVs, including the ones made by Sony. It has also made its own dongle, Chromecast with Google TV, that we highly recommend. It also has most of the major streaming apps and services.
Read more: Best Android TV apps
Price: Free trial / $20-$25 per month + add-ons
Sling TV is probably the best of the live TV apps right now. It’s also the most customizable. There are two basic packages that go from $39 to $45 per month. You can then add on a bunch of packages depending on your needs. They have stuff for comedy, sports, kids, and even HBO. The app includes Chromecast support and is one of the better live TV apps.
Crackle is one of the better free options for video streaming. It has a variety of movies, TV shows, and other content. The app supports itself with adverts and there are quite a bit of adverts. The UI is manageable and the selection isn’t bad for its price tag. Once owned by Sony, it’s now owned by Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment and has been slowly beefing up its original content by importing shows and movies from overseas.
Price: Free / $9.99 per month
VRV is probably the best streaming service for indie content, anime, and other unusual types of TV. The service is a conglomeration of other services. They include Crunchyroll (anime), HiDive (anime), Rooster Teeth (indie), Geek and Sundry (indie), Nicksplat (old cartoons), Nerdist (indie), Cartoon Hangover, and many others. You get all of them for a single monthly price. With Crunchyroll simulcasting anime from Japan, this is as close as it gets to live TV for that genre. It’s otherwise an outstanding source of old and indie television. We heartily recommend it to any and all anime fans.
Apps for Apple TV boxes
We can’t leave out the Apple TV platform. Its set-top boxes are expensive, but the tvOS inside is very robust with nearly all the major streaming apps and services available.
Apple TV Plus
Price: $4.99 a month with free trial
Apple TV Plus launched just over a year ago. Since then, the premium streaming service has added a small but highly acclaimed number of original movies and TV shows. The best thing is that if you buy a new Apple TV set-top box, you can get a year of Apple TV Plus, which normally costs $4.99 a month, for free.
Price: $9.99 a month, with free trial
Apple Music is one of the biggest streaming music services with tens of millions of songs to listen to and download. It also offers features like lyrics view, which lets you actually see the lyrics of the song that’s playing, along with online live “radio” stations with real DJs curating the music. You can also dial into your local radio stations in the app, and watch music videos as well. Best of all, new subscribers get a very generous three-month free trial.
That’s our look at the best streaming apps and services for your smart TV or streaming device. We will update this post with additional apps when they are launched.