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What is the Criterion Channel? What you should know about the prestige streamer
The streaming space is getting more crowded, and it’s hard to pick a single service that covers all the bases. Netflix isn’t alone out there anymore. Of course, some of the most exciting players in the game don’t even try to compete with the bigger services. Instead, they carve out a specific niche and cater to it hard. The Criterion Channel is one of the best streaming services among these more targeted options. So, what is the Criterion Channel? Why should you subscribe to it? How does it compare to the competition? Is it the same thing as the Criterion Collection?
Read on for a complete breakdown of the Criterion Channel, a prime streaming hub for indie, arthouse, and international cinema that might be exactly what you’ve been looking for.
What is the Criterion Channel?
The Criterion Channel is an independent, subscription-based streaming service.
It offers a curated selection of classic and contemporary films from Hollywood and around the world, emphasizing titles not available anywhere else.
The selection includes titles from the Criterion Collection and Janus Films archive, along with many more titles from various international distributors.
How does the Criterion Channel work?
The Criterion Channel works like most streaming services. Once you sign up, you’ll have access to a huge library of titles available to stream at your convenience.
The service organizes films into different categories and collections, so you can easily find things to watch based on filmmaker, theme, country, and plenty of other search options. Or scroll through the entire library alphabetically. Some titles also come with audio commentaries and other extras, allowing you to dig deeper into what you’re watching.
How do I sign up?
You can sign up directly on the Criterion Channel website, or download the app onto your device of choice and sign up there.
You’ll need to input your credit card information before starting a free trial, but you can always cancel within the free trial window to avoid getting charged. More on that, a bit lower down.
Is the Criterion Channel the same thing as the Criterion Collection?
The Criterion Channel is owned and operated by the Criterion Collection, but the two are not the same. The Criterion Collection is a film distributor specializing in “important classic and contemporary films.” The company restores older films and provides lots of extras for home media.
The main question is whether Criterion Collection titles are available to stream on the Criterion Channel. Some of them are, but not all. You’ll have to go looking for your favorites to see. If you don’t find them there, though, don’t worry, they might be added at a later date, as titles come and go periodically.
How much does the Criterion Channel cost?
Criterion Channel subscribers can choose between an annual subscription costing $99.99 and a monthly subscription costing $10.99.
The yearly subscription represents $31.89 in savings annually. Otherwise, the two options are identical. You’ll get the same access to the Criterion Channel library. In both cases, users get up to three simultaneous screens, and image quality options remain the same.
Can I get the Criterion Channel for free?
When you sign up for a monthly or annual subscription to the service, you will automatically get a 14-day free trial. Make sure to cancel before the 14 days are up if you want to avoid getting charged.
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There aren’t really any other ways to get the service for free beyond piggybacking on someone else’s account. Ultimately, someone is paying for your access beyond the free trial.
What devices does the Criterion Channel support?
You can use your subscription on a wide variety of screens, including any computer web browser via criterionchannel.com.
The complete list of devices that support the Criterion Channel app is as follows:
- Roku (excluding “legacy” models)
- Apple TV 4 and newer
- Amazon Fire TV Cube
- Amazon Fire TV (3rd Generation)
- Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
- Xbox One Game consoles
- Select 2018—2020 Samsung Smart TVs with Tizen OS
- iPads and iPhones running OS 10.0 or later
- Select Android devices running OS 4.3 and up
- Gaming consoles
Can I download Criterion Channel content?
All Criterion content can be downloaded to watch on the go when you can’t rely on a stable internet connection. When you download a title, you have up to 30 days to start watching it and 48 hours to finish it after hitting play.
Where is the Criterion Channel available?
You can subscribe from the US and Canada. At the moment, Criterion doesn’t have any plans to expand the Criterion Channel’s reach, due to complexities likely related to existing agreements with third-party distributors and streamers.
What can I watch on the Criterion Channel?
The Criterion Channel selection changes regularly, but it is curated in the same spirit as the Criterion Collection. It features “important classics and contemporary films.”
You can watch films by film heavyweights like Agnes Varda, David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock, and so many more. There’s plenty of newer and more mainstream content, too, though. The Criterion Channel garnered some attention in 2021 when it briefly played host to Karyn Kusama’s 2009 cult hit Jennifer’s Body, starring Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried. You can also watch films by Wong Kar Wai, Wes Anderson, and many more.
As mentioned earlier, the streaming selection includes some titles from the Criterion Collection and audio commentaries, and other extras that take you behind the scenes and offer insights into classic and contemporary films.
How does it hold up against the competition?
The Criterion Channel is hard to compare to other services. Its closest competitor is Mubi, a cinephile-centric streaming service that similarly curates a selection of classics and contemporary films from Hollywood and around the world.
Other niche services have some overlap, including Shudder, which often features classic and independent horror films from around the world, including some Criterion Collection releases.
Check out: The best indie movies on Netflix
For a one-stop streamer that offers a mix of original and third-party content, services like Netflix and HBO Max continue to dominate the field, with massive libraries. But of course, they’ll charge accordingly. HBO Max’s ad-free service will set you back $14.99 per month, and a premium Netflix account costs almost $20. Those prices are a fair bit higher than the Criterion Channel’s $10.99 price tag, which is the same price as the more similar Mubi.
The Criterion Channel, like Mubi, isn’t really trying to measure up to the big guys, so in that sense, it’s a solid niche streamer that stays in its own lane.
Is the Criterion Channel worth it?
With a crowded field that includes the above streaming services as well as Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, Peacock, Britbox, BET Plus, and seemingly more new options every day, the Criterion Channel is a great option if you’re looking for the titles and extras it offers. Your final choice will likely come down to the individual titles you’re looking for, and Criterion hosts films that you won’t find anywhere else.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a one-stop shop to catch the latest new releases all your friends are talking about, you should definitely look elsewhere. Criterion has a fairly specific, niche appeal, although you’ll find a pretty wide spectrum of content there.
If you’re like me and want to make sure your subscriptions cover a few bases, Criterion adds plenty of value to your home streaming ecosystem.
Some titles are available to stream in 4K.
Yes, all Criterion Channel titles can be downloaded for offline viewing.
The Criterion Channel is entirely supported by subscribers and does not run any ads when you stream.
Yes, the service is available on various streaming platforms, including Roku. See our system requirements section for more details.
The service allows you to stream on up to three devices at any given time.