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In the last decade, video streaming services have supplanted cable boxes as the best way to find great content. The streaming boom has ballooned platforms like Netflix to billion-dollar valuations and given them license to produce tons of shows and movies. Others have followed its success. New platforms catering to various tastes – be it film buffs, TV series addicts, and even anime enthusiasts – are still cropping up almost monthly.

With the growth of new services, cord-cutting has become a lot more complicated. That’s why we’ve created this guide that contains all the info you need on the topic. We’ll look at the best streaming services in different categories and free, new, and small options available. We’ll also discuss the best streaming devices and whether you need a VPN for Netflix and other services. Let’s dive in.

What is the best video streaming service?

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Every video streaming service has its pros and cons, so it’s impossible to name one as the outright winner. For example, some are better for those who love TV shows, while others are a better fit for movie buffs. With that in mind, we’ve picked the best streaming service by category, making it easier for you to decide which one to go for, depending on your taste. We also included a few alternatives in each category, just to give you more options. You may find the same choice in multiple categories since some are great at more than one thing.

Editor’s note: We’ll be updating this list of the best streaming services regularly as new ones launch.

See also: The best streaming shows on Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and more

Netflix: Best streaming service for original content

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Netflix is the king of original programming, no doubt about it. The company has invested heavily in both films and series for years, and there’s something for almost any genre.

Some of the more popular Netflix originals include The Witcher, which tells the story of Geralt of Rivia as he navigates the Continent slaying monsters, BoJack Horseman, which is an animated story about a talking horse; and Ozark, which sees Jason Bateman move to Missouri to launder money and escape drug cartels. There are plenty of others available, which you can check out in our post linked below.

Read next: The best Netflix originals you can watch

Despite being best known for its originals, Netflix also has several great shows and movies on offer that aren’t exclusive. This makes it one of the best streaming services overall, as you’ll always find something to watch.

  • Price: $8.99 – $17.99 per month
  • Streaming quality: Up to 4K
  • Simultaneous streams: 1 – 4
  • Free trial: No
  • Also good for: Movies and TV shows

Alternatives to consider

Netflix may be the best option for original programming, but it’s not the only one. Check out the two alternatives we recommend below.

  • Amazon Prime Video: Amazon’s library of original movies and shows isn’t as extensive as Netflix’s, but the selection is still impressive. There’s a lot of award-winning content to choose from, including the superhero show The Boys, the police show Bosch, the thrilling Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan starring John Krasinski, and the extremely funny The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It’s also a great place to look for low-budget flicks like Velocipastor.
  • HBO Max: HBO’s original programming is one of the best ones out there, thanks to TV shows like Game of Thrones, The Wire, Last Week Tonight, and many others. The service also has exclusive rights to the popular sitcom Friends, previously only available on Netflix.

See also: Get Netflix for free and save as much as $190 per year

Hulu: Best video streaming service for TV shows

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Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

If TV shows are your thing, Hulu is the streaming service for you. You have plenty of great content to choose from, including Bob’s Burgers, The Good Doctor, and Empire. Many older shows are available, like Seinfeld and How I Met Your Mother, just to name a few. You can check out more Hulu shows in our dedicated post at the link.

The great thing about Hulu is that it owns the rights to next-day streaming of new shows from ABC, NBC, Fox, Comcast, and Disney. Netflix, for example, has an entirely different strategy, as it usually releases an entire season of a specific show at once.

In addition to a great selection of shows, Hulu has a few great originals available as well, with the best ones being The Handmaid’s Tale and Castle Rock. The service also offers live TV streaming for those who want it.

  • Price: $5.99 – $70.99 per month
  • Streaming quality: Up to 4K
  • Simultaneous streams: 2 – unlimited
  • Free trial: 30 days
  • Also good for: Kids’ shows and live TV

Alternatives to consider

A lot of streaming services include TV shows, but some are better than others. If Hulu isn’t what you’re looking for, check out the two alternatives we recommend below.

  • Paramount Plus: This streaming service was previously known as CBS All Access and offers CBS programming on-demand, including great old and new shows like Twin Peaks, The Good Fight, Star Trek: Picard, Young Sheldon, and many others. The service also gives you access to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Late Late Show with James Corden.
  • Showtime: You’ll find a bunch of great shows on Showtime, including one of my favorite ones of all time — Dexter. Other highlights include Billions, Homeland, The Borgias, and the hilarious Episodes starring Matt LeBlanc. The selection of shows isn’t massive, but much of what’s there is of excellent quality.

HBO Max: Best streaming service for movies

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Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

If you’re a movie buff, HBO Max should be your first choice. The service doesn’t have as many movies as a few of its rivals, but there are more than enough of them available to keep you entertained for a while. Also, keep in mind that quality trumps quantity every time.

Whether you’re looking for old or new movies, HBO Max has you covered. The service includes content like the Lord of the Rings films, many DC Comics shows and films, and even the classic The Wizard of Oz. HBO Max is also the home of Warner’s 2021 collection of films, including Mortal Kombat and the Snyder cut of Justice League. Check out more great HBO Max movies at the link.

HBO Max isn’t all about movies, though. It also has a great selection of popular TV shows as well as a few great documentaries.

  • Price: $14.99 per month
  • Streaming quality: Up to 1080p
  • Simultaneous streams: 3
  • Free trial: 7 days
  • Also good for: Original programming

Alternatives to consider

More or less, every video streaming service has a movie selection, but some are better than others in this area. In addition to HBO Max, the two services we recommend for movie buffs are Amazon Prime Video and Netflix.

  • Amazon Prime Video: There’s a decent selection of great movies on Prime Video, although there are loads of those you should never watch as well. Regardless of your genre of choice, you should find several good movies on the service. The ones we like include last year’s Farewell, which is arguably one of the biggest Oscar snubs in recent years. Then there’s The Handmaiden that’s loosely based on the Victorian crime novel Fingersmith and many others.
  • Netflix: Best known for its originals, Netflix also has loads of great movies. We wouldn’t expect anything else from what’s arguably the best video streaming service overall. The movie selection includes gems like Bird Box starring Sandra Bullock and originals like The Irishman.

YouTube TV: Best streaming service for live TV

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YouTube TV gives you access to more than 85 live TV channels, including local ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox stations. It includes unlimited cloud DVR storage, so you can record your favorite shows while out and about.

A subscription allows for three simultaneous streams and six accounts per household. It costs $64.99 per month, but you can try it out for free for 14 days before parting with your money. You can also cancel anytime, just like with all the other streaming services on this list.

Related: Here are all the available YouTube TV channels

YouTube TV supports add-ons, which gives you access to additional content for a fee. The selection of add-ons includes HBO Max, NBA League Pass, Cinemax, Starz, and many others.

  • Price: $64.99 per month
  • Streaming quality: Up to 1080p
  • Simultaneous streams: 3
  • Free trial: 14 days
  • Also good for: Sports

Alternatives to consider

The number of live TV services available isn’t huge, but you still have a few great options. If YouTube TV isn’t for you for whatever reason, the two alternatives we recommend are Sling TV and Hulu Live TV.

  • Sling TV: If you’re on a budget, Sling TV is for you. It starts at just $30, making it roughly $35 cheaper than YouTube TV. However, you only get 32 or 45 channels — depending on your plan — instead of the 85+ offered by its main rival. The cloud DVR storage is limited to just 10 hours, and the free trial ends after three days.
  • Hulu Live TV: This streaming service gives you access to more than 65 live TV channels as well as Hulu’s entire streaming library. You can stream on two screens simultaneously, although you can get unlimited streams for an additional monthly fee. Pricing starts at $65 for the basic plan, with plenty of add-ons and other services available to increase the price.

See also: Forget Netflix, watch these free movies on YouTube instead

Disney Plus: Best video streaming service for families

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Disney Plus has content for the entire family. There are loads of animated feature films available for kids, some shows teenagers will enjoy, and a lot of content for adults. So whether you’re into Mickey Mouse, Hannah Montana, or Star Wars, Disney Plus has you covered.

The service has many exclusive shows and movies you won’t find on any of its competitors. These include High School Musical, Muppets Now, Lady and the Tramp, Hamilton, and many others. You can check out the master list of movies and TV shows on Disney Plus at the link to learn more.

See also: Disney Plus vs Netflix

Disney Plus is a relatively new streaming service and is quite affordable. It’s definitely worth subscribing as well if you have kids, regardless of their age. Just keep in mind that the service doesn’t have a free trial available at the moment.

  • Price: $7.99 per month
  • Streaming quality: Up to 4K
  • Simultaneous streams: 4
  • Free trial: No
  • Also good for: TV shows

Alternatives to consider

If Disney Plus isn’t available in your location or you just don’t like it, there are a few alternatives to consider. The two listed below aren’t quite as family-focused as Disney Plus, but they do offer plenty of animated shows as well as other content.

  • Hulu: You get many 90s family comedies with Hulu, including Family Matters and Step by Step. Hulu also offers a bunch of other great binge-worthy TV series like Futurama, as well as cartoons like The Powerpuff Girls and Rugrats. Of course, there is plenty of action and other content available for adults to watch when the little ones go to sleep.
  • Boomerang: This streaming service is geared more towards kids than adults, although I can think of worse things than spending my nights watching Tom and Jerry. Boomerang has tons of cartoons, including classics like Scooby-Doo, The Jetsons, Looney Tunes, Popeye, and many others. It will set you back $4.99 per month.

ESPN Plus: Best streaming service for sports

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If you’re a sports fan, subscribing to ESPN Plus is the way to go. The video streaming service offers a great variety of sports content, including NHL and MLB games, college sports, soccer, and much more. It also has exclusive rights to UFC pay-per-view events.

ESPN Plus also has a bunch of originals like The Boardroom with KD, Peyton’s Places with Peyton Manning, NBA Rooks with Zion Williamson, and more. With that in mind, you should always have something interesting to watch on ESPN Plus.

One of the most significant drawbacks is that ESPN Plus doesn’t include either ESPN’s Monday Night Football or its live NBA coverage. So this video streaming platform is not a proper replacement for all ESPN channels, but it still offers plenty of great content at a reasonable price.

  • Price: $5.99 per month
  • Streaming quality: Up to 1080p
  • Simultaneous streams: 3
  • Free trial: No
  • Also good for: Sports-based original programing

Alternatives to consider

  • FuboTV: This live TV sports-focused streaming service offers up to 197 channels, including regional sports networks. However, you also get access to various news and entertainment channels, including ABC, CBS, and FOX. There are 500 hours of cloud DVR space included in every plan, so you can record the games you don’t want to miss. Regardless of which sport you’re into, FuboTV likely has content for you.
  • NBA League Pass: If you’re only into basketball, NBA League Pass is a great streaming service. It lets you watch NBA games live or on-demand. You can also get access to NBA TV so that you can check out popular shows like Inside the NBA with Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and the rest of the gang. There are different plans available to choose from depending on whether you want to watch all games or just the ones played by your favorite team.

Amazon Prime Video: Best value streaming service

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This category isn’t for the cheapest streaming service out there but for the one that gives you the most bang for your buck. Without a doubt, that title goes to Amazon Prime Video, but only if you regularly shop on Amazon.

Prime Video is part of Amazon’s Prime subscription that gives you access to a ton of services. In addition to Prime Video with great originals and plenty of great movies and shows, you also get free delivery on most orders, access to the Prime Music streaming service, unlimited photo storage, and more.

Read next: The best original series on Amazon Prime Video

All of this will set you back just $12.99 per month or $119 per year if you pay up-front. You can get Prime Video as a standalone service for $8.99, but we think the full Prime membership is a much better value.

  • Price: $12.99 per month
  • Streaming quality: Up to 4K
  • Simultaneous streams: 3
  • Free trial: 30 days
  • Also good for: Originals and movies

Alternatives to consider

  • Disney Plus Bundle: The bundle includes a subscription to Disney Plus, Hulu (ad-supported plan), and ESPN Plus. This gives you access to a ton of content for the whole family — movies, shows, cartoons, sports, and more. The Disney Plus bundle will set you back $13.99 per month, saving you $6 compared to signing up for all three services individually.
  • Hulu (with ads): If you want to subscribe to a popular streaming service on the cheap, Hulu has you covered. Its basic plan containing ads will set you back just $5.99 per month and gives you access to the same content as the company’s more expensive plan that doesn’t include advertising. Sure, commercials suck, but that’s the price you have to pay to save money.

CuriosityStream: Best streaming service for documentaries

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CuriosityStream has thousands of exclusive and licensed documentaries on different topics, including history, science, and technology. It was founded by John Hendricks, who also founded the popular Discovery Channel cable TV network back in the day.

There are plenty of great documentaries to watch on the service. These include The History of Home that looks back at how shelters for humans have evolved, The Story of Maths that examines the history of mathematics, and many others.

The service is cheap, at least compared to Netflix and HBO Max, and you can try it free for seven days. However, the free trial is only available if you sign up for the service via a channel on Amazon Prime Video or the Roku Channel. You won’t get a free trial when signing up via CuriosityStream’s website.

  • Price: $2.99 per month
  • Streaming quality: Up to 4K
  • Simultaneous streams: Unlimited
  • Free trial: Seven days
  • Also good for: Really just documentaries

Alternatives to consider

More or less, every popular streaming service has a selection of documentaries, although some offer more in this area than others. In addition to CuriosityStream, the two alternatives we recommend are the Smithsonian Channel Plus and Netflix, both of which you can learn more about below.

  • Smithsonian Channel Plus: You get tons of entertaining documentaries with this service, including Mighty Trains, Epic Warrior Women, and many others. It’s relatively affordable at $4.99 per month and supports 4K streaming. There’s also a seven-day free trial available.
  • Discovery Plus: It’s great for originals and combines content from the History Channel, HGTV, and many more. Additionally, it also has a large selection of documentaries, making sure you’ll always find something to watch. Discovery Plus is also the exclusive home of Magnolia Network content if you want to immerse yourself in the Gaines family.

New and niche streaming services you should know about

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The streaming services listed above are the biggest and most popular ones, but there are plenty of others to choose from. We’ll focus on smaller ones that you may not have heard of in this section, as well as a few new ones that were released in the last year or so — excluding new services like Disney Plus and HBO Max that are already listed above.

Discovery Plus: Discovery launched its video streaming service back in 2020. It’s relatively new, but Discovery Plus has an extensive library of content thanks to its relationships with Animal Planet, HGTV, and History Channel. The service is also affordable, coming in at just $4.99 per month with ads or $6.99 without. And if you have a Verizon Unlimited plan, you get a free subscription for one year.

Peacock: Launched in July of this year, Peacock is a new streaming service run by NBCUniversal. It is home to classic and recent shows from NBCUniversal’s various broadcast and cable networks and films from Universal Pictures, Dreamworks Animation, and Focus Features. Peacock plans to launch several exclusive new TV shows and movies for the service, including reboots of well-known properties. The service starts at $4.99 a month. There’s a free plan available as well, but it doesn’t offer all the content you get when you pay up.

Acorn TV: If you love British programming, Acorn TV is for you. It’s home to several British shows and movies, including Midsomer Murders, George Gently, and Doc Martin. There’s also content available from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and a few other countries. A monthly subscription will set you back $5.99, but you can get a discount if you pay up-front for a year. There’s also a 30-day free trial available, so you can test out the service before parting with your money.

Shudder: This streaming service is aimed at fans of the horror genre. It has many classic, obscure, indie, and more recent horror films and TV shows. It also has a small but growing list of exclusive movies and TV series. That includes the recently launched Creepshow, the new series based loosely on the 1982 anthology film written by Stephen King and directed by George Romero. Shudder is currently available in the US, the UK, Ireland, and Canada and will set you back $5.99 per month.

Sundance Now: For $6.99 per month, Sundance Now gives you access to loads of original and exclusive dramas, comedies, and true crime series. Some of the content worth highlighting include the thrilling McMafia and the documentary about the chess master Magnus Carlsen, among many others. No matter the genre you’re into, you’ll find something to watch on Sundance Now. You can also try out the service for free for seven days and then opt for an annual subscription that will save you a few bucks.

BritBox: Similar to Acorn TV, BritBox is focused on British programming. You get loads of shows to choose from, including the popular EastEnders, MI-5, and The Victim. Created by the BBC and ITV, the service boasts the most extensive collection of British TV in the streaming world. It costs $6.99 per month and can be used for the first seven days free of charge.

Fandor: This one is for all you movie buffs out there. Fandor is home to more than 4,000 movies from different genres, including comedy, crime, drama, and more. There’s a large selection of international films, which you can sort by country. The company is very generous regarding its revenue model, giving a 50% share to the films’ rights holders. A monthly subscription goes for $5.99, but there’s also an annual plan available that will save you money.

The 5 best free video streaming services

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If you don’t want to pay a monthly subscription for a video streaming service, you’ll be happy to hear there are a few great ones available that are free. One of them is Peacock, which I’ve already mentioned in the previous section, while five other great options are listed below. They don’t offer as much content as the industry giants, but there’s still plenty to watch.

Crackle: This free streaming service includes cult classics, critically acclaimed Hollywood films, and popular TV shows. These include the hilarious 3rd Rock From The Sun, among many others. It is ad-supported, meaning you’ll usually have to sit through a 30-second commercial before your movie or show begins, followed by up to three additional ads for shows and nine for films longer than an hour and a half.

IMDBtv: Owned by Amazon, IMDBtv has an impressive library of movies. There are a lot of great TV shows available as well, including Mad Men, White Collar, and Psych, just to name a few. It’s a great service, but it’s not available globally.

Tubi: Arguably one of the highest quality free movie streaming services available, Tubi will not disappoint you. There’s content available in all the major genres, including action, comedy, and romance, among others. There’s even a category named “Not on Netflix” that includes movies not even the most popular video streaming service has. There are more than 20,000 movies and TV shows on the platform, which are ad-supported.

Pluto TV: Pluto TV has a section where you can stream content on-demand, but it also features more than 250 channels that you can tune in to watch at previously scheduled times. Naturally, that comes with a few downsides, but if you are looking for a free replacement for your existing cable service, Pluto TV has you covered. You can watch live news coverage from several outlets. There are also channels for sports fans, kids, and Spanish-language audiences. The best part is that you don’t even need to create an account to get started.

Vudu: Best known as a digital marketplace for buying or renting movies and TV shows, Vudu also gives you access to a lot of free content. There are more than 10,000 movies and TV episodes available that are supported by ads. A lot of them are older, but they are still worth watching. They include gems like Roseanne, Hell’s Kitchen, Scary Movie, and many others. You don’t have to spend a dime using Vudu, but you need to make an account to access its content.

These are the five best free video streaming services we recommend, in addition to the already mentioned Peacock. There are a few others worth your time, all of which you can check out in our dedicated post here.

Do you need a VPN for streaming?

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Video streaming services offer different content in different regions due to licensing rights. For example, Netflix offers a much bigger library of movies and shows to users in the US than those based in most other countries. The difference in the amount of content available is massive in some cases.

Here’s where a VPN comes in. By using it, you can get access to a lot more content on streaming services like Netflix. All you have to do is connect online using a US VPN, which will trick Netflix’s website into thinking you’re based in the US. The result is that you’ll get to watch the same movies and shows as users who live in the US.

Another example is a streaming service that’s not available in your country. For example, if you live outside the US and want to access a service like IMDBtv that’s only available in the states, you’ll have to use a US VPN. A VPN is helpful in many cases, although it’s not required for streaming.

Also read: What are the best VPNs for Netflix?

While a VPN for streaming does come in handy, there are a few drawbacks you have to know about. The first one is that it costs money. There are free ones available, but we generally don’t recommend them, especially when streaming. Then there’s the fact that using a VPN takes its toll on your internet speed, which may or may not be a big deal depending on how big the drop is.

VPNs’ biggest drawback for streaming is that services like Netflix and others don’t like it when you use them. They are working hard on blocking as many of them as possible, so a VPN that works today for your streaming service of choice may not work tomorrow.

In case the drawbacks don’t turn you away, we recommend one of the three VPNs below. All of them are packed with features, have a no-logging policy, and offer incredible speeds.

What is the best streaming device for my needs?

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David Imel / Android Authority

You can watch Netflix and other streaming services on your smartphone, tablet, PC, laptop, smart TV, and Chromebook. But if you want to watch it on your regular TV, you’ll need a streaming device.

There are a bunch of them available, the best of which you can check out in our post here. However, the three we want to highlight here are the Google Chromecast with Google TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick, and Roku Streaming Stick Plus.

Google’s Chromecast with Google TV allows you to stream 4K content with its Android TV-based operating system. The Google TV UI brings together content from other streaming services on one home screen.

Amazon’s Fire TV Stick has an interface and doesn’t need to be paired with a phone to work. It comes with a simplified remote control, making it easy to use. It also works with VPNs that have an app for the platform, like NordVPN. This device is perfect for those who are subscribed to Prime Video.

The Roku Streaming Stick Plus has more in common with the Fire TV Stick than the Chromecast, as it has a UI and doesn’t need to be paired with a phone to work. It supports 4K streaming and has a more advanced Wi-Fi receiver than the cheaper Roku models. That means it has up to four times the wireless range.

Alternatively, you can also use a gaming console like the PlayStation 5 or 4, Xbox One, or Xbox Series X/S.

Frequently asked questions

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Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

Q: Why are video streaming services so popular?
A: Because — unlike cable TV — they allow you to watch what you want when you want it and where you want it. There are also no ads in most cases, although this depends on the service.

Q: Which streaming service has the most subscribers?
A: Netflix is the biggest premium video streaming service in the world, boasting around 193 million subscribers globally.

Q: Do streaming services offer the same content in all regions?
A: Depends on the service, but the answer is usually no. For example, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video offer different movies and shows in other countries due to licensing rights. Users in the US typically have the largest selection of content available.

Q: Are all streaming services available globally?
A: Streaming services aren’t available in every country globally, although Netflix, Prime Video, and HBO are present in loads of countries across North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Others, like Hulu, for example, are only available in the US.

Q: Do I need to sign a contract to use a streaming service like Netflix?
A: No, you don’t. You can cancel your subscription to any streaming service whenever you want. You’re not locked into a contract for a specific period like with mobile carriers.

Q: When I cancel a subscription to a streaming service, do I lose access to it right away?
A: No, not usually. You lose access at the end of your billing cycle. So if you signed up on August 15th and you cancel your subscription on September 2nd, you’ll still have access to the service until September 15th.

Q: Can I watch Netflix and other video streaming services on a TV?
A: It’s possible, but you may need additional hardware. If you have an Android smart TV, you can download the service you use and start watching it. You can do the same if you have a gaming console and the app is available for it. Alternatively, you can use a streaming device like Chromecast, Roku, or Fire TV Stick.

Help readers out

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