You just got a new smartphone or tablet as a Christmas gift, or you may have received a big smart TV, or perhaps a streaming media stick or set-top box to connect to your standard television. So what do you watch on all of these devices?
The good news is that there isn’t a shortage of video streaming services to check out on your new TV or mobile device during the Christmas holiday season. That’s also the bad news; there are so many that you may want to take a minute to pick and choose from which services you want to sign up for. In this article, we offer our picks for the best video streaming services you can watch, not only during your long holday break but into 2019 as well.
Netflix is easily the biggest of the video streaming services in this list, and in the world, with over 150 million subscribers worldwide. The Basic plan will set you back $7.99 per month, which gets you access to the company’s entire library. The Standard plan costs $10.99 and offers video in HD quality as well as the option of using the service on two devices at the same time, while the Premium plan goes for $13.99 and bumps the resolution up to 4K and the number of devices to four. If you are a completely new customer, you can try out Netflix for free for 30 days.
Netflix is easy to use and not only offers a ton of classic and more recent movies and TV shows to watch commercial free, but it has the biggest library of original and exclusive TV shows and movies by far compared to its competition. That includes shows like Stranger Things, The Haunting of Hill House, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Lost in Space and many, many more.
Another advantage of the service is that you have the option of downloading videos for offline viewing on your smartphone or tablet. This comes in extremely handy when you’re on a bus or anywhere else where there’s no Wi-Fi.
However, Netflix does have its drawbacks as well. One of them is the huge difference in the amount of content available for US subscribers and those living in Europe and other countries. This also comes into play for US travelers, as they won’t be able to watch all of their favorite shows while abroad.
- Lots of original series
- Offline viewing mode
- An ever-changing library of shows and movies
- Very limited content in certain countries
- TV shows aren’t released until new seasons are out, instead of episode-by-episode like Hulu
Hulu has 20 million subscribers in the US, making it way less popular than Netflix but it’s still one of the most popular video streaming services. Its cheapest plans will set you back $5.99 per month for the first year, after which the price goes up to $7.99. It offers unlimited streaming and, unfortunately, contains commercials that you’ll have to watch before or in the middle of videos. The service also has a plan without ads, but it’s more expensive at $11.99 per month. Again, if you are a new customer, you can check out Hulu for free for 30 days.
Hulu’s biggest advantage is that it gives you access to some of the most popular shows a day or so after they air on TV. The company works closely with a number of major networks including Fox, ABC, NBC, and Disney, among others. If you sign up for its most expensive package ($39.99 per month) you can also watch more than 50 live TV channels such as ESPN, TNT, CBS, and CNN — on-demand streaming content with commercials is included in the plan.
In addition to the commercials you get with the cheapest plan, there are a few other disadvantages of Hulu. Although it produces its own original series, it doesn’t have as big of a selection as Netflix, although the shows it does have are excellent, including The Handmaid’s Tale, Runaways and Castle Rock. Additionally, the service is only available in the US and Japan.
- Popular shows available soon after they air on TV
- Live TV option
- A free option still exists, even if it’s pretty limited
- Cheapest plan has commercials
- Mostly TV, less movies — and typically movies that are less popular or older
- Only available in two countries
Amazon Prime Video
This is a great option for those who do a lot of shopping on Amazon. Amazon’s video service comes included with a Prime subscription that also offers free two-day shipping, access to Amazon Music Unlimited, and free unlimited photo storage. It costs $12.99 per month or $119 per year, with a 30 day free trial to check it out.
However, you don’t have to be a Prime member to use the company’s video service. It’s also available as a standalone product that will set you back $8.99 per month. This gets you access to a library of over 40,000 shows and movies including Amazon’s original series like Jack Ryan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Man in the High Castle and more.
Amazon Prime Video has a lot of comedy content as well as shows for kids due to its deal with Viacom, which owns Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, just to name a few. You can access the service from various devices including a PC, smartphone, and tablet, and can download videos for offline viewing.
As opposed to Netflix, not all content can be watched with your subscription. Your subscription only gives you access to content with a “Prime” banner, while the rest have to be rented or bought separately. However, there are still plenty of free movies and shows available to keep you entertained.
- Comes included with a Prime subscription
- A lot of content for kids
- Excellent original content
- Not all content is included with subscription
Sony Crackle has a big advantage over the other video streaming services on this list: it’s completely free of charge. However, it does contain ads you have to watch before and in the middle of videos.
The Sony-owned service has a number of classic and more recent shows and movies on offer, but the size of its library is a lot smaller when compared to the competition. There’s also no option to buy or rent content, which is something Amazon Prime Video offers. Video quality isn’t the best either, as it’s streamed in 480p resolution.
Crackle is following the footsteps of the industry’s big boys with exclusive content. They include comedies such as the stop-motion animation show SuperMansion, and dramas like the crime saga The Oath, along with StartUp, a show about trying to create, well, a startup company.
You can use Crackle on your PC or download the Android or iOS app. You can also access on your TV via streaming devices such as Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, and Apple TV, among others. Crackles is also available on some smart TVs.
As you can see, Crackle has many disadvantages and can’t really compete with other streaming networks in terms of content, video quality, and other features. Nevertheless, it’s still a great option, mainly because it won’t cost you a dime. It has a great selection of older movies, which many people (including myself) enjoy.
- It’s free
- Some original content
- Only 480p video quality
- Less content than the competition
HBO has two video streaming services available. HBO GO is for those already subscribed to the channel via their cable provider and is available free of charge. HBO Now, on the other hand, is for those without a subscription and will cost you $14.99 per month.
Both options give you access to HBO’s content that includes popular shows like Game of Thrones, Westworld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Veep, among many others. You can stream the shows and movies in up to 1080p quality and can watch them on a PC, smartphone, or smart TV. The service can be used on multiple devices at the same time, although its support page doesn’t specify the exact number.
Although there’s lots of great content to choose from, the service doesn’t give you access to non-HBO shows that you would otherwise get on Netflix and Hulu, for example. It’s also expensive and only available in the US. As with the rest of the video streaming services on this list, you can try out HBO Now free of charge for 30 days to see whether or not you like what it has to offer.
- Great content
- Can be used on multiple devices at the same time
- Only available in the US
CBS All Access
CBS wants to get in on this steaming media trend, so it launched CBS All Access a couple of years ago in the US. It costs $5.99 a month, with ads, or you can choose to spend $9.99 a month to go ad-free. You can try out the ad-based version of the service for free for 30 days.
In addition to watching most of CBS’s current shows on demand the day after new episodes air on the broadcasts, it allows customers in some cities to watch live shows on the network. You can also watch a ton of classic CBS and Viacom-based shows. However, the biggest draw for CBS All Access is its growing list of original content. That includes Star Trek: Discovery, the sixth and latest TV series in the long-running sci-fi franchise. The first season of the show, which takes place 10 years before the events of the original Trek series, is available to watch in full now, and its second season will begin streaming on the service in January 2019.
Two more Star Trek series will make their debut on CBS All Access in the future. One is a half-hour comedy animated series called Below Decks, while the other is an unnamed live-action series that will star Sir Patrick Stewart, reprising his role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation. In addition, the service will be the home to a new version of The Twilight Zone, the acclaimed sci-fi anthology series. It will be produced and hosted by Jordan Peele, the writer-director of the hit horror movie Get Out.
CBS All Access also has other original series to check out, including The Good Fight, the acclaimed legal drama, and Strange Angel, a “based on true events” drama about the start of rocketry in the US.
- The place to go for new Star Trek shows
- Other original shows are good as well
- Expensive for what you get
- Only available in the US
If you are an anglophile, or just want to see if you can become one, then one of the best ways to learn and enjoy British culture is to watch their television. BritBox, a streaming service co-owned by the BBC and ITV, is made for US and Canadian users who want to check out both classic and current British TV. It costs $6.99 a month after a 7-day free trial.
BritBox not only has tons of classic BBC and ITV shows to stream and watch (for example, it’s the exclusive home to the “classic” Doctor Who series before its 2005 reboot), it also shows current episodes of many popular UK series, including their daily soap operas like EastEnders, and even their news, reality and panel shows. Best of all, none of these programs have ads.
- Tons of new and classic British shows
- Relatively inexpensive
- No ads
- UK shows may not be for everyone
- Only available in the US and Canada
Live TV streaming services
If on-demand content isn’t your thing and you find cable too expensive, live TV streaming services might be more up your alley. There are quite a few of them available including Sling TV, YouTube TV, and the already mentioned Hulu Live TV.
These services are similar to cable, as they give you access to a number of live channels in exchange for a monthly fee. However, they are cheaper, don’t require a contract, and can be used on multiple devices at the same time (smartphone, tablet…).
YouTube TV includes more than 40 popular channels including ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and ESPN. It’s available in select US cities and will set you back $35 per month, although you can try it out for free first.
Sling TV is cheaper at $20 per month but offers fewer channels — around 30. However, there are a number of $5 add-on packages available that include additional content.
Although cheaper than cable, live TV streaming services are more expensive than Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and similar offerings. They are a great option for those who still prefer changing channels over selecting the content they want to watch, and those who love sports, as they allow you to watch live games. In addition to the ones mentioned above, other popular live TV streaming services include FuboTV, PlayStation Vue, and DirecTV Now, among others.
- Cheaper than cable
- Live sports content
- No contract required
- More expensive than on-demand streaming services
- Add-ons can significantly increase the price
On-demand and live TV streaming services are a great alternative to cable. When choosing which one to get, the most important thing to consider is content. If you’re into live sports, a subscription to a live TV service is the way to go, while Netflix, Hulu Amazon Prime Video, and other on-demand options are great for shows and movies.
The best course of action is to take advantage of the free trial every provider offers to get familiar with the available content. Only after you try out various services will you be able to say that one is a better option for you than the other.
The problem is that you might find loads of shows on Hulu you enjoy watching which aren’t available on Netflix, and vice versa. This makes it harder to opt for one over the other, so in a case like this subscribing to both is a good idea — if you can afford it. You can combine two or even more services to get all the content you would like to watch, which might still cost less than cable in some cases.
Which of the video streaming services is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.