(CONSUMER REPORTS) In the early days of video streaming services, your choice was simple: Get Netflix. It’s more complicated now, with Netflix battling other well-known subscription services, such as Amazon Prime and Hulu, as well as with upstarts including Acorn, DirecTV Now, and Sling TV.
If you only watch a few movies or shows each month, it probably makes more sense to opt for a pay-per-view service, such as Amazon Video, FandangoNow, or Vudu.
But if you do watch a lot of programs or movies, or you’re looking to cut back on—or cut off—your pay TV service, subscription services make the most sense. They offer up an all-you-can eat buffet of streaming content, often at a price well below what most of us spend each month for pay TV.
But it’s not always easy to untangle your choices. This guide of the major video streaming services should help. We’ll be adding new services as they emerge—we now have info on upcoming ones from Hulu and YouTube TV—so keep checking back for our updates:
Price: $5 per month or $50 per year.
Who it’s best for: Lovers of British TV fare. Goodies include TV dramas (“A Place to Call Home”), mysteries (“Agatha Raisin”), and comedies.
Latest news: Among the exclusives hitting the service are the classic ’80s comedy series “Alfresco,” which kick-started the careers of Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane, and Stephen Fry. Also in the mix: “The Witness for the Prosecution,” an original Agatha Christie movie with Kim Cattrall.
Amazon Prime Video
Price: $99 per year or $11 per month, with free shipping. A video-only subscription costs $9.
Who it’s best for: Anyone who’s already paying for an Amazon Prime membership. It now has a solid roster of original shows, including “Z-The Beginning of Everything” and “The Grand Tour.” Amazon Prime has some exclusive series, such as “Downton Abbey” and “The Americans,” plus HBO’s back catalog of shows. You can add HBO, Showtime, and other premium channels for $9 to $15 per month.
Latest news: Amazon just snagged the rights to a 10-episode anthology series, “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams.” Extra Prime perks include access to Prime Music and a free Kindle book each month.
CBS All Access
Price: $6 per month with ads or $10 per month ad-free.
Who it’s best for: Cord-cutters looking for major-network fare without using an antenna. The service provides full-length episodes of CBS programs, plus live programming streams of local CBS affiliates in 124 markets. CBS All Access also includes complete back catalogs of most of its current series.
Latest news: In December CBS All Access added NFL football games, including “Thursday Night Football.” New exclusive original series include “Star Trek: Discovery” and “The Good Fight.”
Price: $35 per month.
Who it’s best for: Anyone who wanted DirecTV but not the satellite dish. Right now you get about 60 channels for $35 per month, or 80 channels for $50 per month at any time.
Latest news: You can add HBO for only $5 more each month. Right now it lacks CBS and Showtime, and live TV from several other networks is available only in certain cities. A cloud DVR is promised but so far not delivered.
Price: $15 per month.
Who it’s best for: HBO fans who don’t want to pay for cable. Sign up to get all the network’s series, movies, specials, and documentaries. If you already get HBO through your cable package, remember that the HBO Go app lets you watch HBO on your phone, tablet, and other devices.
Latest news: HBO Now just hit the 2 million-subscriber mark, and it’s now available on more devices, including Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Microsoft Xbox, Roku, Samsung TVs, and PlayStation Vue.
Price: $8 per month with ads or $12 per month without ads.
Who it’s best for: Cord-cutters who don’t want to miss out on broadcast TV. Hulu has current shows from ABC, Fox, and NBC; older ones from CBS; plus the “Seinfeld” library. Original content includes “The Path” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Latest news: Hulu is reportedly close to launching a pay-TV alternative along the lines of Sling TV and DirecTV Now (see below). It recently signed an exclusive deal with Magnolia Pictures to stream the company’s films after their theatrical release.
Hulu Live TV
Price: $40 per month (not yet available).
Who it’s best for: Cord-cutters who want yet another option. The planned service will have the CBS, ABC, and Fox broadcast networks, plus cable channels such as A&E, Cartoon Network, CNN, Disney, Fox News, FX, TBS, and TNT, among others. It will also include ESPN and Fox Sports, plus some regional sports networks.
Latest news: Right now the plan doesn’t include Viacom (Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon). The service, expected to launch this spring, will have separate logins for family members and will include a cloud DVR for recording shows. It may also provide real-time alerts for shows you want to watch. It’s not clear how many users will be able to access the service at one time.
Price: $8 per month for standard-def video on a single screen; $10 per month for high-def video on up to two screens; $12 per month for 4K UHD video on up to four screens.
Who it’s best for: Everyone. Netflix is still the king of binge. It has a vast library of movies and TV shows, plus now-classic original shows (“House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black”) and new hits (“Stranger Things”). It even has original movies (“Beasts of No Nation”). A deal with Marvel has spawned “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones,” and Netflix subscribers will get exclusive access to Disney titles within a year of their debut, starting with 2016 releases.
Latest news: Netflix is luring Jerry Seinfeld away from Crackle, so in 2017 subscribers will get new episodes of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” plus two exclusive stand-up shows. New movies range from kid-friendly Disney fare to raunchier works.
Price: $40 to $75 per month, depending on package.
Who it’s best for: Those looking for a real cable TV-style programming package, and who are willing to pay for it. Packages range from basic channels (the $40-per-month Access plan) to a comprehensive package of about 90 channels that includes some premium channels (the $75-per-month Ultra plan). You also get local channels in many major markets—on-demand in others—plus a cloud DVR for recording shows.
Latest news: Late last year Vue added several channels, including BBC America, NBA TV, and Vice but lost Viacom stations such as Comedy Central, Spike, and MTV. It also added support for Apple TV last fall.
Price: $11 per month, or $9 per month when purchased through certain services, such as Amazon Prime and Hulu.
Who it’s best for: Showtime fans. Like HBO Now, this service lets you watch a cable network without the cable. You get all Showtime’s movies, plus original shows such as “Billions,” “Homeland,” and “The Affair.” If you subscribe to Showtime through your cable provider, Showtime Anytime lets you watch Showtime fare on your phone, tablet, and other devices.
Latest news: A new 18-part “Twin Peaks” is coming this spring. Also, Showtime Films is releasing an Eric Clapton documentary, “Eric Clapton: A Life in 12 Bars,” theatrically in 2017. It will hit Showtime in 2018.
Price: Sling Orange costs $20 per month; Sling Blue costs $25 per month; A combined package costs $40 per month. Add-on packs cost $5.
Who it’s best for: Cord-cutters. With Dish’s Sling TV you don’t get individual shows. You get channels. The basic Orange package comes with about 20 cable offerings, including A&E, Food Network, and TBS but not broadcast TV. It’s also one of only a few ways you can get ESPN without a TV service. Themed add-on packs cost $5 per month, and HBO costs $15 per month.
Latest news: Sling started beta-testing a cloud DVR feature in December, but only for Roku users. It’s now being rolled out to more platforms, including Amazon Fire TV, Android TV devices, and Android phones and tablets. Apple support is expected to follow. There’s now also a $100 AirTV box from Sling owner Dish that combines Sling TV channels and free over-the-air broadcasts in one device.
Price: $9 per month.
Who it’s best for: Like HBO and Showtime, you can now get Starz without a pay-TV subscription. Content includes shows like “Outlander” and “Power,” plus movies including “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
Latest news: The Starz streaming service is newly available on DirecTV Now for $8 per month. The much-anticipated series, “American Gods,” based on the Neil Gaiman book, is slated to debut in 2017.
Price: $35 per month
Who it’s best for: Cord-cutters looking for another option beyond Sling TV and DirecTV Now. It promises access to live TV from up to 50 providers, including all the major networks. It will also have a nice selection of cable channels—such as Disney, ESPN, FX, Fox News, MSNBC, and USA, and it’s adding AMC soon. It’s missing those from Time Warner (HBO) and Viacom (Comedy Central), though. It does have some regional sports networks, and Showtime and a few other premium channels can be added for an extra monthly fee.
Latest news: YouTube TV is now available in five major metro areas: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and the San Francisco Bay area. It will support up to three simultaneous users and up to six separate accounts. It also has a cloud DVR—a virtual recorder that stores programs for you on YouTube’s servers—that lets you record and save as many shows as you want for up to nine months before they’re deleted.