The Best Streaming Services

There are dozens of devices that let you stream audio and video content. It would seem to make sense, then, that there are nearly as many services for you to stream. But when you’re looking to subscribe to a new service, which do you choose?

Whether you’re a movie buff, TV junkie or all-around entertainment enjoyer, here are my picks for the best streaming services available on the market today.

For the All-Around Movie and TV Buff: Netflix ($8/month)

Netflix

Netflix is still the king when it comes to streaming movies. Other services will always have exclusive rights and deals with companies on movies that Netflix doesn’t offer, but that doesn’t make Netflix’s catalog any less impressive. With tens of thousands of movies available for instant streaming, and thousands of complete seasons of TV shows as well, it’s hard to run out of things to watch. One of the most important things about Netflix is its ubiquity. Just about every streaming device out there – iOS, Android, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Apple TV, Roku, etc. – can run Netflix. It almost seems to be a pre-requisite these days for creating a streaming device. Netflix also has a very user-friendly interface for every device, so you’ll be able to navigate easily. Netflix is quickly becoming one of the hottest places for new original content, and recently inked a deal with Facebook to add social interaction to your viewing habits. You can also add DVDs or Blu-ray delivery by mail to your account, starting at $8 per month.

For the Current Season TV Fanatic: Hulu Plus ($8/month)

Hulu Plus

Priced the same as Netflix, Hulu Plus offers thousands of hours of movies and television as well, but focuses more on TV than film. The major advantage it has over Netflix is its access to the current episodes of this season of television. While Netflix usually gets TV seasons just before or right as the new season begins, Hulu has deals with most of the major TV networks to host current season episodes. If you don’t have a DVR or don’t want to pay for cable, Hulu Plus is a great way to go. It also has tons of movies, including an exclusive partnership with the Criterion Collection, which is a big perk for classic film fans. Hulu Plus also has apps on most major streaming devices, which means you probably won’t be limited by your current device of choice. The major downside to Hulu Plus is the inclusion of ads. Sure, you watch ads when you watch live TV, but it’s still annoying to sit through ads when binge watching a TV season. (Netflix doesn’t have any ads in its programming.)

For the Media Junkie: iTunes

iTunes

iTunes will let you download or buy just about any book, song, movie, TV show, podcast… whatever you want. You can coast on the free content available to you and probably be entertained for the rest of your life. But if you want a new episode of a TV show ($2-$3), a new movie rental ($7+), a new movie download (prices vary), a new album or song, iTunes probably has it. In terms of streaming, the Apple TV is iTunes’ best buddy (of course). Everything works seamlessly over the network. But the downside to iTunes streaming is that you can’t do it on other devices nearly as easily, if at all. It’s not like Netflix or Hulu where every device comes with an app – it’s essentially Apple TV or bust. It’s got the most stuff available to you, but it stays contained in an Apple environment. Caveat emptor.

For the Trend-Setting Cord-Cutter: Aereo ($1/day or $8-12/month or $80/year)

Aereo is the newest entry to the streaming service world, and if it survives all of the litigation against it, it’s going to be a huge game changer. Currently available only in and around New York City (with Boston getting the service in the middle of May), Aereo is a streaming service for your computer that lets you watch live TV and acts as an online DVR. For $1, you get access to the full Aereo service for one day and 10 days to watch any TV you recorded that day. For $8 or $12 a month, you get full access to the service and DVR space for 20 hours ($8) or 40 hours ($12). You’re able to watch live TV on your computer or mobile device without paying a company like Comcast or Time Warner a monthly fee. While a judge recently ruled that Aereo doesn’t break copyright law, News Corp. is none too happy and has threatened to pull its channels from network television. It’s unclear how this will all play out, but Aereo is definitely a service worth keeping your eye on.

For the Person Who Sees Streaming Service as a Nice Afterthought: Amazon Prime ($79/year)

Amazon Instant Video

The Amazon Prime Instant Video catalog is rapidly growing – inking deals with networks frequently in recent months, like one with FX to own exclusive rights to shows like Justified and The Shield (giving Walton Goggins fans one-stop shopping for streaming) – but the service has not ascended to the level of Netflix or Hulu just yet. Amazon is also digging into its own original programming, with the crown jewel right now looking like a TV series based on the film Zombieland, but has yet to have any of these shows come out. Prime is also found on many streaming devices, though not all, but also encounters weird limitations; for whatever reason, streaming on the Xbox 360 is limited to Stereo and doesn’t currently support 5.1 surround, even though it does on the PlayStation 3. The biggest reason to get Prime is its features that have nothing to do with streaming – free two-day shipping on any item sold by Amazon, discounted overnight shipping rates and even free monthly book rentals from the Amazon Prime Lending Library. Those sort of features are truly and uniquely Amazon, so if you want access to a pretty good streaming library but also want your online shopping dollar to go further, Amazon Prime may be for you.

For the “Best of Both the Digital and Physical Media” Person: Redbox Instant by Verizon ($8/month)

Redbox Instant

One of the newer services in the streaming market, Redbox Instant offers four physical DVD rentals from any of its kiosks as well as unlimited streaming for the same price that Netflix and Hulu just offer streaming. Redbox Instant is great for those of us who want new releases when they’re first available to rent, rather than waiting months for a service like Netflix to pick them up. As a new service, though, most of the titles you’ll find on Redbox Instant can be found on other services. The other downside is that the service isn’t supported on too many platforms.  While new platforms are being added all the time, it’s currently only available to stream on your computer, phone and tablet. No video game consoles, no standalone boxes. The biggest perk … those four DVD rentals per month — but it’s tough to stack this up against the bigger dogs in the streaming market.

So there you have it, my top streaming service picks.  What is the best streaming device?  That’s easy … it’s the one you have access to when you feel like streaming something.

Author:

Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is Fox 5 New York's On-air Tech Expert (WNYW-TV) and the host of Fox Television's monthly show Shelly Palmer Digital Living. He also hosts United Stations Radio Network's, Shelly Palmer Digital Living Daily, a daily syndicated radio report that features insightful commentary and a unique insiders take on the biggest stories in technology, media, and entertainment. He is Managing Director of Advanced Media Ventures Group, LLC an industry-leading advisory and business development firm and a member of the Executive Committee of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (the organization that bestows the coveted Emmy® Awards).

  • http://twitter.com/efobrien10 Ed O’Brien
  • Joshua Glowzinski

    I have amazon prime. My mom and step dad pay for fios. I got the trial of Hulu plus today. I already k ow I’m keeping it. I’ve yet to watch anything on prime, but there is a lot of shows I’ve wanted to see on Hulu. They also have a lot of anime. The fact that I do not have to sign a contract is great. I read people complaining about the ads. Really? Is that what we as a society have become? I mean, your sitting there, in your home, relaxed, getting all that stuff for $7.99 a month and you complain of adds? Just look around the room your in, think about something or just watch the adds. Haha

    • Jay Baker

      Spoken like someone that has had everything given to them for their entire life. Good humor. Since you obviously don’t understand the value of money, I’ll try to explain. Television is free, which is why there are advertisements. The whole point of paying for a streaming video service is to *avoid* advertisements. Netflix rules. Hulu Plus is a rip off.

      • Joshua Glowzinski

        Well, few things. When I was a kid we were poor. Could hardly live at
        all. My dad abused my mom, brother and I. I was picked on at school
        and had no friends. The first real friend I got died in 2001, the other
        put me into a coma in 03 from which I lost all but 8% of my vision and
        my smell. Many of the things I wanted to do, I can not now because of
        those things being gone. For the first 17 years of my life, I really
        lived in fear and sadness. The someone killing me thing saved my life.
        So as far as everything being handed to me, that is not true. But I
        was a kid. I am 28 now. I had one of the saddest lives you could
        imagine. Now I am free of it all and enjoying every second of my life.
        I understand some may think the adds are annoying. They do not bother
        me. They are short and they give you a timer thing so you can see when
        they are over. You should not judge someone my friend. If only you
        knew the pain I lived in. I used to sit in my room and run a knife over
        my throat. Maybe the next time I did it would end it all. But, things
        happened and I am forever at peace!!!!

      • pat.davis148@gmail.com

        My impression too of Hulu, everything I search for at that site I can’t find. Am I really that esoteric? :0) Guess so!. I plugged in the brit thriller, M1-5. Been on for ten years but they have not heard of it. Also no Breaking Bad. I didn’t know they ran ads, now that I know that, they are really on my sheit list.

  • That guy

    Its not the fact that there are adds but your paying to still see ads and the increasing amount of them for a paid service. Netflix is by far the best especially after teaming with disney but I can see amazon prime making them work to stay on top

  • D Castillo

    Where’s Youtube??

  • Kevin Schumacher

    Not that it has much of a chance, but Blockbuster is still an option. It has streaming and video rental. Google play/YouTube are also streamers.

  • pat.davis148@gmail.com

    They all have drawbacks, Netflix for instance has a great film library but I’ve seen all that matters, what I don’t get from them are the new seasons. I.E., Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy are about to begin their final legs, but does Netflix have them? No, and probably won’t until next year. So that’s when I run over and pay per item from Amazon, who rented me last weekend the first portion of Breaking Bad. The money is a little more, but the access is so far ahead of Netflix that the few dollars more is well worth it.

    For my money, I would join Amazon Prime, but it requires a year commitment. You must have lots of catching up to do at that rate. Netflix on the other hand lets you come and go, but lately it’s been lots of “going” because Netflix doesn’t cut the deals the Amazon guys do to get the sooner screenings. Really a shame. I would pay a little more for Netflix if they would GET that last big of Breaking Bad and the Sons.

  • mike

    what about sony video unlimited ??

  • cyberqat

    Netflix has an awful lot of crap and are slow to add anything new, Im hard pressed to find anything to watch on it these days. Amazon prime has the same problem only worse.
    Hulu only lets you watch a small, rotating set of episodes of any show which makes it not much more convenient then live TV.

    I havent tried the others you mention yet.

    • Leslie E. Henry

      I agree. i have netflix streaming and i dont see whats so great about it. everytime i go to their streaming library under each category (horror, drama, comedy etc) most of it is really old movies from 70s – 90s or what i used to call “the straight to dvd” crap aka the movies not good enough to be shown in a theater first. i cant hardly find new releases on my netflix streaming. the only place i can find new releases is via my att uverse cable tv’s “video on demand” feature and that costs me around $7 for a 2 day viewing on a new relase in HD. i think all these people that talk about how great netflix streaming are bc they’re only interested in watching the tv shows or older movies. i have yet to find any decent streaming service that shows a decent quantity of new releases. yes, in some ways places like blockbuster went of out of biz because of their late fees and inconvenience of driving there and returning the movies but at least the new release selection was great. you could always find a few and have weekend entertainment for a decent price. i have to pay $7 for a 2 day viewing on my uverse video on demand for just one movie! that’s only slightly cheaper than a movie ticket. streaming may be wave of the future and all that but until streaming companies improve their new release selections or the prices for per movie streaming come down, dvd’s will still be around. Ive been putting it off but i guess i have to bite the bullet and sign up for netflix’s dvd service too because i am sick of their craptastic streaming selection.

  • mjdawlv

    All I want is a streaming site to replace the video rental store.
    I want to stream the newest available & most current movies like at the vid store.
    It doesn’t sound like netflix is capable of full streaming or keeping current.
    And I won’t deal with snail mail.
    I can always watch hulu for tv shows so I really don’t care about anything but movies.
    If anyone can suggest a video-store-rental-schedule, streaming-only movie site I would sure appreciate it.
    For my needs it seems to me the vid store has not yet been replaced.
    I anxiously await when the industry ca live up to it’s potential.

    • Jason

      Vudu

  • Kaliris N Roque

    i had red box instant and is awful!!! the good movies you can get at the kiosk paying for the rental! Most of the good movies you get with netflix, if you would like to watch them you have to rent them. The selection of movies its poor, so i rather have netflix, i don’t really watch movies its better for kids, the parental control its way better and quality of the movies its good “not the best”

  • UniversalDancer

    For anyone who likes British TV, especially their detective shows ( Lewis, Morse, Midsomer Murders, Vera, Foyle’s War, etc…), AcornTv is available for $5.00 per month on the Roku player with the first month being free. I subscribe to the service and really enjoy it, and the only downside is that there is no Android app for the service, however, I believe that I read on the AcornTV site that they are working on creating mobile apps for Android and the iPad.

  • CosmicKamikazi

    http://www.homestream.me

    they’ve posted every movie i’ve requested within 48 hours. works for me.

    netflix, hulu? really? umm, nah, i’d rather not pay for another executive’s 4 month retreat, yacht and summer homes (plural)