Last Updated: Feb 18, 2018. Movie and TV streaming services seem to be everywhere these days, but which ones are right for you? The ones that everyone knows about, of course, are Amazon, Hulu and Amazon Prime Instant Video. But there are plenty more, many of them created by individual cable TV networks that are looking to get into the streaming game. It can all be a bit head spinning, which is why we’ve put together this guide to the best movie and TV streaming services of 2018.
For all of the major movie and TV streaming services, this guide breaks down the pros and cons according to the following factors:
The goal, of course, is to help you make the best possible choice based on your budget and viewing habits. If you prefer to watch movies, Netflix might be the right choice for you. But if you prefer to watch TV shows, then Hulu may be a more suitable option. And if you would rather watch live streaming sports, then you would have to consider several different options.
For each of the reviews that follow, we provide a recommendation about how to get the most out of each movie and TV streaming service. There are often multiple different price tiers, rules about how many devices can be connected at one time, and plenty of options for add-ons and extras. We’ll guide you through all the tough decisions and help you make the right choice. So let’s get started!
|Streaming Service||Pricing||Supported Devices||Features|
|1. Netflix||Starts at $7.99 per month||iOS, Android, Windows, set-top boxes, most smart TVs, Tivo, most gaming consoles||Excellent on-demand movie and TV show library, with exclusive and original content. All you need is an internet connection.|
|2. Hulu and Hulu Plus||Starts at $7.99 per month||iOS, Android, Windows, set-top boxes, most smart TVs, Tivo, most gaming consoles||Incredible selection of TV shows; soon will add live television service.|
|3. Amazon Prime Video||$10.99 per month, $99 per year||iOS, Android, Windows, set-top boxes, most smart TVs, Tivo, most gaming consoles||Great on-demand television and movie library on the web, with some original content.|
|4. Sling TV||Starts at $20 per month||iOS, Android, Windows, set-top boxes, most smart TVs||Features on-demand content and is currently the best live TV service, in comparison to cable television.|
|5. PlayStation Vue||Starts at $29.99 per month||iOS, Android, Windows, Roku, Sony smart TVs, Amazon Fire TV, Sony gaming consoles||Some on-demand content and a live TV section.|
|6. HBO Now||$14.99 per month||iOS, Android, most set-top boxes, most smart TVs, newer XBOX consoles||Vast library of HBO-original programming.|
|7. DIRECTV Now||$35 per month||Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick, Chromecast, Apple TV, iOS, and Android||Live TV streaming service with over 100 channels. Just starting out, and has a few bugs.|
|8. YouTube TV||Lots of free content; other content prices vary on popularity/release date||iOS, Android, Windows, set-top boxes, most smart TVs, Tivo, most gaming consoles||Tons of free, original media from online users; great movie catalog for new releases.|
|9. FuboTV||$19.99 first mo. - $44.99/mo. thereafter||Watch on your mobile apps and TV.||Stream 70 live channels.|
Netflix is easily the most popular and most recognizable movie and TV streaming service – not just in the United States (where it has more than 50 million subscribers), but also in the world (where it has another 50 million+ subscribers). Netflix is the company that is synonymous with the cultural phenomenon of “binge-watching”: watching an entire series in its entirety over a span of just a few days or a single weekend.
In late 2017, Netflix raised the prices for its three price tiers, but still remains remarkably affordable, given the wide range of the company’s streaming catalog. The three price tiers are the following:
By far, the most popular of these three price tiers is the $10.99 option (formerly $9.99 per month before October 2017). All price tiers are completely ad-free, and all enable users to create multiple profiles per account, meaning that a household of four could create four different “My List” playlists.
Here is where Netflix really shines. The company has always had the largest and most comprehensive selection of movies, and is now actively adding new Netflix Originals (TV shows created by Netflix to supplement the TV shows from cable networks) to its deep content catalog. Currently, Netflix has more than 4,000 movies and nearly 1,200 TV shows in its content catalog.
If there is any drawback here, it’s that Netflix has made a concentrated effort to focus more on Netflix Originals than on adding more movies and TV shows to its catalog. In fact, the size of the Netflix catalog has actually shrunk by more than 30 percent from 2014. Many people assume that once a movie or TV show gets added to the Netflix catalog, it’s there forever. But that’s simply not the case.
And, while Netflix does have a truly impressive array of films to choose from, it’s not necessarily the case that it has all the top movies – or even the movies that are widely available elsewhere. For example, one recent study looked at the Top 250 films in the IMDB database, and then checked to see how many of them Netflix carried. It turns out that only 31 of those films (just 12 percent) were actually available on Netflix.
This is another way that Netflix has established itself as the clear market leader for streaming TV. The company now spends several billon dollars each year creating new content, in just about every genre and category. Some of the most popular Netflix Originals include the following:
And then there are all the series that have gained cult followings, like “BoJack Horseman” and “Glow.”
However, what Netflix does not offer is the ability to add-on content from popular cable TV networks. For example, you can’t add on content from HBO or Showtime or Cinemax, as you can with other streaming services. If you are a fan of a show like “Game of Thrones,” this obviously presents a challenge: if you are already subscribing to Netflix, it means that you will have to either subscribe to a cable TV service that carries HBO, or subscribe to HBO as a standalone option for $14.99 per month. That’s right – you will be paying more for your HBO monthly subscription than for your entire Netflix subscription, and just for one show.
It’s hard not to find a device that supports Netflix. However you want to stream movies and TV shows is up to you. The list of compatible devices for streaming Netflix content includes the following:
This flexibility is very important, because it means that you can take your Netflix with you on the go. You don’t have to watch Netflix movies only on the couch in your living room on a TV. You could just as easily watch Netflix on your iPhone while commuting to work on a train. You could watch Netflix while on vacation – just stuff your tablet into your carry-on bag.
Netflix is known for making the same Netflix experience available across all platforms. Thus, once you learn how to make Netflix work on your desktop or set-top box, it’s very easy to get it to work on any other device. Moreover, the Netflix interface is clean, easy to use and intuitive. It makes finding the perfect movie to watch very easy.
One feature lacking in any Netflix subscription is the ability to watch live TV. Thus, even though Netflix has been adopted by the cord-cutting generation as a way to stream great content every night of the week, the fact remains that you can’t watch the news or a big sporting event with Netflix. For example, what happens when you want to watch the Super Bowl or Grammys or Oscars? You will need to be creative about how to access a live stream of the event, but it won’t happen via Netflix.
Thus, many people still prefer to use Netflix as a supplement or complement to their current way of watching TV. And rivals such as Hulu have started to add their own live TV streaming options as a way to woo away Netflix subscribers.
If you are new to the idea of streaming content, and primarily want to catch up on movies that you have not seen in the cinema, then Netflix is the perfect choice. The service is easy to use, affordable, and has a very vibrant community of fans. It’s very easy to see what’s coming to Netflix soon, and if you enjoy binge-watching TV shows in their entirety, then Netflix is an easy top choice.
If there is a close second to Netflix in the movie and TV streaming services space, it’s Hulu. Just as Netflix is known for its wide depth and variety of movies, Hulu is known for its commitment to bringing the best TV shows from the primetime networks to its users on the day after the show has aired. That has made it much easier for cord-cutters to get rid of their cable TV subscription. Who needs the big cable TV networks when you have Hulu?
Hulu has four main pricing tiers, each of them designed to appeal to a specific type of user:
As you can see at a glance, the first two price tiers are designed to be very competitive with Netflix pricing, while the next two price tiers are designed to be very competitive with the type of full-service streaming service available elsewhere.
In many ways, the first decision that you need to make is whether you want to watch ads or not with Hulu. And the next decision you need to make is whether you need or want live TV. The important thing to see here is that the $39.99 package is essentially a slimmed down version of a basic cable TV subscription. It’s designed for people who want to watch all the best primetime TV shows, in addition to news, sports and live events.
In the past 18 months, Hulu has made significant efforts to improve the range and selection of its catalog. Hulu is still the clear leader when it comes to watching network TV shows from ABC, NBC and Fox. However, you still cannot get CBS shows on Hulu because CBS has its own streaming TV option. And Hulu recently ended its five-year deal with The CW, so now these shows are no longer available to Hulu subscribers. (The CW signed a new deal with Netflix, so you can see the competitive nature of the streaming industry!)
And where Hulu has always been playing from behind is in the ability to order movies on-demand. If your primary reason to sign up for a new streaming service is to watch movies, you will most likely be disappointed by Hulu’s offerings. That has especially been the case since November 2017, when Hulu lost its Criterion Collection of 900+ art movies. Criterion decided not to renew with Hulu, and instead these movies will be available on a rival streaming service, Filmstruck (owned by Turner Classic Movies).
Hulu is still the exclusive streaming home of some of the most popular shows that have ever aired on TV – including “Seinfeld,” “South Park” and “Family Guy.” Hulu is also the new home of The Mindy Project, which is one of the most critically acclaimed TV shows in recent years.
And Hulu, taking a page from the Netflix playbook, has really been upping its game when it comes to original content. The first Hulu Originals – shows like “Casual” and “Difficult People” – won plaudits from media critics, but never really gained any traction in the cultural mainstream. However, Hulu may have found its version of “House of Cards” or “Orange is the New Black” in the form of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” This new Hulu Original has become the same type of defining show as “House of Cards,” and is symbolic of how much Hulu is trying to level the playing field with Netflix.
And here is one key area where Hulu differs from Netflix – it makes it possible to add on channels like HBO, Cinemax and Showtime. To get access to the entire show catalog from these premier entertainment networks, you would pay $14.99 per month for HBO, $9.99 per month for Cinemax and $8.99 per month for Showtime. While you don’t save anything by bundling in HBO with your Hulu subscription, you do save with Showtime. For example, the standalone Showtime cost is $10.99 per month. But with Hulu, it’s just $8.99 per month.
This new Hulu offering has the potential to be a game-changer. For just $39.99 per month (and $43.99 for the ad-free version), you get all local, regional and standard cable TV channels, together with the full on-demand library of Hulu shows and movies. Moreover, you get the option of 2 streams at one time. And you also get 50 hours of HD storage capacity on a cloud DVR. Critics have unanimously hailed Hulu Live as being the best live TV streaming option, and there’s a good reason why: it offers a clean, easy-to-use interface without a lot of complexity. It’s essentially cable TV without all the confusing options offered by a service like Sling TV. And it’s more affordable than options from rivals like DirecTV Now.
Hulu, just like Netflix, is available for just about every major set-top box, streaming media hub, smart TV and iOS or Android device. While it is easy finding shows on Hulu, one complaint is that the Hulu interface can differ markedly between platforms. For example, Hulu on desktop is very different from Hulu on a smart TV.
Hulu has always been the first choice of the cord-cutting generation. The thinking was that there are only a handful of TV shows on every week that people want to watch, and as long as all those shows are available to stream the day after airing on cable, what’s the need for a cable TV subscription?
Moreover, Hulu is great if you absolutely can’t stand ads with your TV shows. While some shows are contractually obligated to show “pre-roll” and “post-roll” ads, you can really streamline your viewing experience by getting rid of all the ads. Imagine turning a 30-minute experience filled with ads into just 20 minutes of pure entertainment.
And, finally, if you are looking for a live TV streaming experience, then it’s hard to ignore Hulu with Live TV. It really offers the best of both worlds, all at an affordable price.
Together with Netflix and Hulu, Amazon Prime Instant Video is one of the three biggest players in the movie and TV streaming services industry. The typical subscriber to Amazon Prime Instant Video is someone who is already part of the ever-expanding Amazon ecosystem. For example, if your go-to destination for books and music is Amazon, then Amazon Prime Instant Video is certainly worth consideration.
The first place where Amazon really differentiates itself from the competition is with its pricing plan. The goal at the outset was to make Amazon Prime Instant Video a perk of being part of Amazon Prime. For people who were then paying $79 a year (and, now $99 a year), the ability to stream free movies and TV shows became just one more reason to sign up for the one-year membership. You have two basic options if you want to sign up for Amazon Prime Instant Video:
With this subscription, you also unlock a number of useful features, including free 2-day shipping on items that you buy on Amazon.com, discounted prices on popular items (e.g. Amazon Fire TV), and access to features like Amazon Pantry and Amazon FreeTime Unlimited (a special selection of 13,000+ books, movies and TV shows for kids).
Amazon now offers a similar service, known as Prime Video, that is priced on a monthly basis ($8.99 per month) and is best seen as a competitor to Netflix. Since you are paying only $8.99 per month (and not $12.99), you do not get all the other perks of being a Prime member. It can get somewhat confusing, but all video content available on Amazon is usually tagged as “Amazon Prime” or “Prime Video” so that users can see at a glance what they have access to.
Amazon Prime Instant Video has always had a smaller catalog of titles than either Netflix or Hulu, and has never focused on being a place to go for the latest movie titles and newest network TV shows. That being said, Amazon Prime Instant Video does have an impressive catalog of movies and TV shows, as well as a growing selection of “Prime Originals” (movies and TV shows created by Amazon). While there are some big-name titles in the catalog that will be instantly recognizable (such as “Allied,” “Arrival,” “The Magnificent Seven”), it can sometimes feel like a patchwork collection of shows and movies.
Lately, Amazon has been aggressively promoting its own original content. This includes movies like “The Big Sick” (an Amazon Original movie) and TV shows like “The Man in the High Castle” and “Mozart in the Jungle.” If you are looking for the hottest new TV shows from the cable networks, then perhaps Hulu is a much better place to look. And for movies, too, Amazon really can’t compare to Netflix.
As noted above, Amazon’s Prime originals are starting to play a larger and larger role in the company’s content strategy. When you browse through the content selections in just about any genre, you can see this immediately - the top titles that are promoted the most are those that are Prime Originals. Sometimes these are shows that have picked up some buzz in the media - such as “The Tick” - but others are not as well-known. Current Originals being promoted by Amazon include “Brittania” and “Absentia.”
One interesting feature of Amazon Prime Instant Video is the ability to add on channels to your subscription. This is similar to the idea of adding a la carte channels to a cable TV subscription. For example, Amazon is currently promoting Showtime and Starz as channels you can add on to your Amazon Prime Instant Video subscription.
If you’re a student, you can access special “student rates.” Instead of paying $99 for an annual subscription to Amazon Prime Instant Video, you’d only pay $49. Presumably, Amazon sees this as a way to attract young Millennial viewers who are about to graduate, and who would like an affordable way to watch the best shows and movies.
Another interesting development to keep in mind is how Amazon Prime is going to work with Whole Foods. The initial indications are that Amazon will first start heavily discounting several popular items from Whole Foods, and then steadily lower prices across the board as more people sign up. As of February 2018, Amazon Prime is offering free 2-hour Whole Foods deliveries to Prime customers in four cities: Austin, Cincinnati, Dallas and Virginia Beach. So it will soon be possible to order popcorn from Whole Foods at the same time as you order a Prime movie, making Amazon the place to go for the whole home entertainment experience.
Just like all the major streaming services, Amazon is fully compatible with just about every single major platform - with one exception. That glaring exception is Google Chromecast (and Google Chromecast Ultra). This makes sense if you consider that Google Play is an obvious competitor to Amazon. But it might make Amazon Prime Instant Video much less attractive to Google ecosystem fans. For example, users of Google Chromebooks and Google Home may want to think twice before signing up.
Amazon Prime Instant Video may not be superior to Netflix or Hulu in terms of the overall content available, but it certainly offers a number of intriguing opportunities to get the best entertainment content at a low, affordable price. For many people already used to ordering from Amazon for just about anything, the chance to get free 2-day shipping might be all the incentive they need to sign up. If you place about an order a month, the service more than pays for itself over the course of a year - and all the streaming TV shows and movies become a nice extra. Going forward, it looks like Amazon is going to be investing more and more into Original content, so this could be shaping up as a future Amazon vs. Netflix battle for streaming supremacy.
Sling TV was the first streaming service to offer a cable TV-like experience delivered entirely over the Internet. The service was designed specifically for cord-cutters who wanted to end all the hassles of cable TV (like annoying long-term contracts and expensive equipment), and who also wanted plenty of choice in which channels they received. And, of course, the real selling point of Sling TV is the price: you simply can’t beat the price of $20 per month for some of the best cable TV networks delivered live to your TV or mobile devices.
Just about anywhere you go on the Internet these days, you’ll see the price of “$20 per month” advertised for Sling TV, together with a 7-day free trial. Just keep in mind that the $20 price is the minimum price that you will be paying each month, because Sling TV is based on an a la carte content model.
You have two choices – Blue ($25 per month) or Orange ($20 per month) – and then are able to customize your channel lineup with $4.99 “Extra” packages in a specific genre (such as sports, news, comedy, lifestyle, kids). In addition, you are able to add on premium entertainment channels like HBO (for an extra $15 per month), Cinemax ($10 per month), Showtime ($10 per month), and Starz ($9 per month).
Here’s what the pricing for Sling TV looks like:
This is where you have to do a little bit of math. Even if you sign up for the least expensive basic package (Orange), and add in the Sports Extra package and HBO, your monthly bill is going to be $39.99 per month, not $20! In fact, if you have a large family, and need to add in the Kids Extra package and the News Extra package, you’re starting to approach the price that you’d pay for cable TV in the first place.
Since Sling TV advertises itself as “a la carte cable TV,” you can think of Blue and Orange as the “main entrée” selections and then you are probably going to add in a few side dishes and probably a drink at the end. As a rule of thumb, if you are the only person in the household, you should start with Orange, because Orange is only available for 1 device at a time. So if you have multiple family members in your household, then you will need to upgrade to Blue, which is designed for multiple users on them.
One thing to keep in mind in making the choice between Blue and Orange is that Orange includes all Disney-owned channels (e.g. ESPN, Disney Channel), while Blue does not. However, Blue includes all Fox, NBC and Viacom-owned channels, while Orange does not. This is perhaps the single most confusing aspect of Sling TV. Most people assume (mistakenly) that since Blue costs more than Orange, it will include all the Orange channels, plus a few extra.
The following channels are examples of those found only on Blue and not on Orange:
Thus, if you depend on CNBC for your daily business news, or want to watch as many NFL football games as possible during the season, then you really need to get Sling Blue and not Sling Orange.
You will also need to consider which of the following Extra packages you need to complete your a la carte “live cable TV” package:
As you can, there is a lot to consider about how best to customize your Sling TV.
Since Sling TV is a live cable TV service, the focus is not on creating original content (as you might expect from Netflix or Hulu). Instead, the focus is on creating plenty of Extra add-ons for Blue and Orange. Also, while many people may not realize it, Sling TV also offers a limited amount of on-demand movies and TV shows. Moreover, Sling TV gives you the option to rewind and pause “live” TV. You also have access to older TV shows for a few days after they have aired.
This is perhaps the biggest drawback to Sling TV – the sometimes uneven performance that you get if you are trying to get live TV over a very bad Internet connection. An unfortunately far-too-common complaint among users is that Internet streams have trouble on slow Internet connections. It’s one thing to have a movie stop in mid-stream as it buffers, but what if you are watching the final minutes of a live sporting event, and your connection stalls out? That would be incredibly frustrating.
Moreover, Sling TV is working on ways to make its overall interface and user experience more intuitive. For example, users note that the search function on Sling TV is unhelpful at best, and that simply finding what they want to watch feels much less intuitive than with other streaming movie & TV providers.
One of the best parts of Sling TV is that you don’t need any additional equipment. Sling TV works with every major device and platform, including the following:
Remember – Sling TV is really designed for the cord-cutting generation, so Sling TV makes every effort possible to be available on every major platform or streaming device.
When Sling TV first appeared in 2015, it seemed revolutionary and disruptive. And it came with a slick marketing campaign pitching the service as the future of streaming TV, without all the hassles of cable. If you wanted live TV over an Internet connection, you chose Sling TV, and worried about figuring out all the Orange and Blue content bundles later.
However, there are now several competitors to Sling TV in the live streaming TV space (including DirecTV Now and PlayStation Vue), and that has really muddied the waters for consumers. It can be very hard to compare apples with apples and oranges with oranges when it comes to pricing, due to all the extras and add-ons involved. If you are looking for a live TV experience, though, Sling TV is still one of the best – but it is not the slam-dunk choice that it once was just 18 months ago.
Ever since Sling TV pioneered the idea of live streaming TV, the number of competitors continues to grow. And perhaps the most notable of these new entrants is PlayStation Vue, a live streaming TV service for sports, news, and TV shows. Don’t be put off by the name – PlayStation Vue is not just for gamers with a PS4 or PS4 gaming console. This live streaming service can be used with just about any platform or streaming device.
Unlike Sling TV, which starts pricing at just $20 per month, PlayStation Vue’s lowest price tier (Access) is $39.99 per month. However, you get a much fuller configuration of TV channels for that price. Whereas Sling TV is much more of an a la carte experience where you can personalize and customize your TV networks by adding packages, PlayStation Vue offers many more channels for that baseline $39.99 price.
Here’s a look at the four current price tiers for PlayStation Vue:
As you can see by this pricing, PlayStation Vue is much more of a “cable replacement service” than a “cable alternative.” In other words, PlayStation Vue is promising a superior live streaming experience that does everything cable does, only better and slightly more affordably.
For many people looking for a live TV streaming experience, Access offers what PlayStation Vue refers to as “popular live TV.” This basically translates into the most popular news, sports and entertainment channels – including the broadcast networks of ABC, NBC and Fox. But note one channel that’s missing here – CBS. That’s because CBS has its own streaming TV service, and does everything possible to get people to sign up for it. Other live streaming TV options – including Sling TV – also suffer from this glaring omission, so it is not unique only to PlayStation Vue.
All of these popular live TV networks are included with the basic Access tier:
If you are looking for premium sports, movie and entertainment channels, you can check out Core, Elite and Ultra. For example, Core offers some must-have sports networks like ESPN News, ESPN U and NFL Network, while Elite adds on more news and sports channels, in addition to Epix Hits and Machinima. Finally, Ultra distinguishes itself by also including HBO and Showtime.
And if you are looking for additional channels, PlayStation Vue makes it very easy to add on additional ones. For example, say that you sign up for Access ($39.99 per month). It is very easy to add on a Sports Pack for $10 extra that will include top sports networks like NFL Red Zone and NBCSN. You can also add on Epix Hits for an extra $2.99 per month, or the Espanol Pack for just $3.99 per month.
Since PlayStation Vue is a live TV streaming service, it does not focus on creating original content. However, it does offer the opportunity for plenty of add-ons and extras. In many ways, it feels like ordering premium channels from a cable TV provider. For example, here are all the stand-alone channels currently being promoted on the PlayStation Vue website:
Of course, if you are already signed up for PlayStation Vue Ultra ($74.99 per month), you don’t need to worry about this as much, because you are already getting HBO and Showtime as part of your package. What’s interesting here is that PlayStation Vue is getting into the business of offering standalone channels for people who don’t want the full Access package.
The biggest misconception is that PlayStation Vue is for gamers. And, admittedly, it does feel rather strange checking out TV offerings on a website that has the PlayStation logo everywhere. One way to get past this notion is to understand that Sony is the creator of PlayStation, and Sony is one of the world’s great entertainment companies. And, as such, it wants its content on as many devices as possible. As a result, all of these devices, platforms and streaming devices offer support for PlayStation Vue:
Plus, you even have the option of streaming live TV on the PSVue.com website: www.psvue.com/watch
One important offering from PlayStation Vue is a powerful cloud DVR capable of storing up to 500 programs at one time. All the streaming content is stored “in the cloud,” so you don’t have to worry about any extra equipment or trying to extract movies and/or shows from your PS4 gaming console!
PlayStation Vue also gives you the option to stream TV content on up to 5 devices at one time. Thus, if you have a growing household, this could be a great option to make sure everyone in your home has a chance to stream content. And, to make this as easy as possible, PlayStation Vue gives you the option to create up to 10 different profiles. For each of these profiles, PlayStation Vue is able to deliver customized recommendations tailored to your viewing habits.
When PlayStation Vue originally launched, it was only available in select markets, but it is increasingly becoming mainstream across the nation. Sony (the creators of PlayStation) bills Vue as “TV on your terms.” And that’s exactly what it is. It’s a cable TV alternative for those people who want all the choices and variety of live TV, but who don’t want to deal with the local cable company. There are no contracts, and it’s easy to switch service at any time. If you are looking for a way to watch live streaming TV over the Internet, PlayStation Vue is a top choice.
As one of the most popular premium entertainment channels, HBO has always stood out from the pack as offering the very best in entertainment content. And so it is perhaps no surprise that HBO now offers a way for cord-cutters to get this award-winning content without the need for a cable TV subscription: HBO Now. Once you sign up, this streaming service offers instant and unlimited access to all HBO content, including every episode of every season of every show and live HBO shows as well.
The price of HBO Now is $14.99 per month. Currently, HBO is offering a “stream free for one month” special. But after that 30-day period, the price will be $14.99 per month. While other movie networks – like Showtime and Cinemax – offer discounted versions of their subscription content if you sign up via a live TV streaming service like Amazon Prime Instant Now or PlayStation Vue, it is almost impossible to find anyone who can offer HBO for a lower price than $14.99. As a result, HBO creates every incentive for TV viewers to sign up directly via the HBO website.
HBO has always offered the very best in original shows, and it could easily be argued that Netflix is now following the HBO model of content creation. HBO is best known for its award-winning dramas – and especially “Game of Thrones” – but also has a very extensive library of comedy specials, news shows, talk shows (e.g. “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”), and documentaries. All of this can be considered HBO’s “original” content. But then there are all the movies and documentaries that appear on HBO each week – these are also included in your HBO Now subscription.
Here are some examples of the movies, shorts and documentaries currently being promoted by HBO Now:
Here are some of the all-time HBO classics that are most popular with viewers:
And here are some examples of the new shows that HBO is promoting:
Finally, just like Netflix and Hulu, some shows and movies leave HBO (potentially to return later). HBO does a much better job than Netflix of alerting subscribers to movies that are leaving. For example, movies like “The Princess Diaries,” “Serendipity” and “Sister Act” are leaving soon.
The basic premise of HBO Now is “Watch anytime, anywhere.” And you also get access to the full HBO catalog as soon as you subscribe. Thus, there is nothing along the lines of “HBO Gold” or “HBO Silver” to designate how much HBO content you can watch. Basically, if you have an Internet connection and a TV or any digital device, you can start streaming HBO shows and movies immediately.
One common misconception is that HBO Now and HBO GO are exactly the same thing. Technically, both offer unlimited access to HBO content (all episodes of all shows), so it is easy to assume that they are the same. However, HBO Now is a streaming version of HBO delivered over the Internet while HBO Go is content for your mobile phone or tablet if you already have a cable TV subscription that includes HBO. Another way of thinking about this is that HBO Now is for cord-cutters, while HBO Go is for cable TV subscribers who are active on the go and want to take HBO TV with them on their mobile devices.
HBO Now is available for every platform and every digital device. For example, it is supported by every major smart TV platform:
It is also available for every major gaming console:
It is also available for every major phone/tablet platform:
And there is one more place that you can stream HBO content, and that’s via the website HBONow.com. If you prefer to use a laptop or desktop to view movies, this might be the best way to view them with a large (non-TV) screen.
In general, HBO Now offers a very clean, intuitive user interface in which it is very easy to find the shows or movies that you want to watch.
What’s interesting about HBO Now is that even though it is a way to watch “live” HBO at any time of the day or night, it still feels very much like an “on demand” service for HBO. And, in fact, some people often describe HBO Now as a “video on demand” service. This is probably a reflection of HBO’s cable legacy days, when the only way in the world to watch HBO was by signing up for a cable (or satellite) TV subscription. You then had the option of ordering HBO shows “on demand” or getting them free if you were already paying extra for HBO. But make no mistake about it – HBO Now is a streaming service delivered over the Internet.
There are probably two types of people who will derive the most value from HBO Now – those who are addicted to HBO shows like “Game of Thrones” but don’t have a cable TV subscription and those who are looking to add the final piece to their streaming TV solution. For example, it’s quite likely that someone who already has Netflix would also sign up for HBO Now as a complementary piece, just to get the best HBO shows.
Maybe it’s because HBO has spent years educating consumers that HBO was a “premium” channel, HBO Now still has a “premium” feel to it. The only live TV you get is HBO, and the only original shows you get are HBO shows, so you really need to be an HBO fan to sign up. But, if you’re like millions of others who are addicted to HBO series like “Game of Thrones,” there’s just about no price that’s too high to enjoy every episode from every thrilling season of this HBO favorite.
In November 2016, communications giant AT&T launched a brand-new TV subscription streaming service that includes the best of live TV and a huge selection of on-demand titles. The service, known as DIRECTV Now, is positioned as the “cord-cutting alternative” for people who might have formerly signed up for DIRECTV satellite TV service or a rival cable TV provider.
From the outset, AT&T made a commitment to keep prices as low as possible in order to encourage the migration of as many people as possible to DIRECTV Now. The base advertised price is still just $35 per month, which makes it very competitive (from a price perspective) with rival services such as Sling TV and YouTube TV.
However, AT&T has subsequently introduced three other subscription tiers, ranging in price from $50 per month to $70 per month. Here’s a look at the four different subscription tiers that AT&T DIRECTV Now currently offers:
So, as you can see, you will now pay anywhere from $35 per month to $70 per month, depending on how many channels you would like to watch.
AT&T is constantly running promotions to make it as enticing as possible to make the switch to DIRECTV Now. For example, one current promotion makes it possible to get an Apple TV 4K for $0 when you prepay at least 4 months in advance. And AT&T also gives you the option of a 7-day free trial. That might not be as nice as a 30-day free trial, but it’s still noteworthy.
The basic $35 per month package actually includes all the most popular news, sports, entertainment and kids programming networks, so it’s entirely possible that users will be content with this combination of price point and content selection. The best comparison for this “Live a little” package, in terms of price and content selection, is the Sling TV Orange package – which is available for just $20 per month but includes far fewer channels (25, compared to 60). Here’s a partial list of what is included in the $35 DIRECTV Now package:
At a glance, it’s possible to see that you get all the major networks (ABC, NBC, Fox, CBS) plus CNN and ESPN. As you move into the other content tiers, you begin to gain access to some more of the premium entertainment and sports channels.
As part of DIRECTV Now, AT&T also offers access to over 25,000 on-demand titles. This is far more than you will find on other live streaming TV services, and could be one reason to choose DIRECTV Now.
However, where DIRECTV Now and Sling TV differ the most is in terms of the add-ons and extras that are available. For example, Sling TV now offers close to 30 different “Extra” packs (such as packs for sports, news and lifestyle), while DIRECTV Now only offers four possible add-ons:
That being said, the pricing for HBO ($5 per month) is a real bargain. Consider that you would pay $15 per month for HBO with Sling TV. That’s a real cost savings, and yet another reason to consider DIRECTV Now.
DIRECTV Now is available for all major platforms and streaming devices, with two notable exception: Xbox One and PS4. However, DIRECTV Now is available for the following platforms and devices:
Thus, if you plan on streaming DIRECTV Now via a set-top box (or stick), you shouldn’t have any problems. However, if you are a serious gamer and were planning on streaming via your gaming console, you would need to consider another streaming TV provider, such as PlayStation Vue or Sling TV.
As much as DIRECTV Now has attempted to respond to feedback from customers, the service has been clouded by service and performance issues ever since it launched in November 2016. For example, even with strong Internet connections, the service can be buggy. Some users complain of random error messages (such as the infamous “Error 40”) and black screens that appear when they try to do too much. Other users complain about interruptions to the stream and lower-than-expected streaming quality (after all, this is AT&T, not some upstart company!).
And there is another issue that users often bring up, and that’s the lack of a cloud DVR. So, even though AT&T makes available more than 25,000 on-demand titles, there is no way to record them and save them for later, such as when you are traveling on the road and would like to watch a show. This cloud DVR might not immediately be a deal-breaker, but in contrast, Sling TV always plays up the fact that it has a cloud DVR for users.
Finally, no discussion of DIRECTV Now would be complete without a mention of the ads. Users are fully expecting ads to appear on live streams, however, one common complaint is that the ads appear everywhere on DIRECTV Now – even on on-demand content that is typically ad-free on other services.
DIRECTV Now is essentially a streaming Internet version of DIRECTV. While you are unofficially “cutting the cord” by moving to a streaming service, it still feels very much like a traditional satellite or cable TV offering. For example, instead of “skinny bundles” of just 25 channels and small “extra” packs of 5 channels, DIRECTV Now assumes that users want “fat bundles” of at least 60 channels at a time. While there are some “add-ons” available (such as HBO and Showtime), it still feels very much like a traditional cable experience where you add on a premium channel like HBO to your basic package.
The good news is that AT&T appears to be listening. That means that the company could be introducing a cloud DVR soon, which would be a big move for many potential subscribers. And it is noteworthy that AT&T is doing everything possible to keep prices at the $35 per month mark, which is quickly becoming a streaming industry benchmark. If you are looking for a slightly more affordable version of cable TV, this could be a good option.
In late 2017, YouTube launched a new streaming TV option known as YouTube TV. While the offering was initially met with a great deal of skepticism, it has actually become a critical darling due to its ability to create the best combination of live TV, on-demand TV and recorded TV, all in the same interface. And you also get access to YouTube content, which is included as part of the overall user experience. YouTube TV currently bills itself as “cable-free live TV.”
Unlike other streaming services, which attempt to segregate users into various price tiers and then “up sell” them to the next higher tier, YouTube TV has always offered a “one-size-fits-all” package of 50 channels for just $35 per month.
As you might expect from an entertainment giant like YouTube, YouTube TV has a very robust selection of the most popular TV channels – just about everything you would expect from a full-fledged satellite or cable TV provider. For example, here’s just a partial rundown of the 50 channels available with YouTube TV:
As you can see, this channel lineup includes all the major TV networks for news, sports, entertainment and kids programming. As a rule of thumb, if a channel lineup includes all the major networks plus ESPN and CNN, then it’s going to be highly competitive. YouTube TV goes one step further by including some of the best movie channels – like IFC, TNT and TBS – with this basic package.
All together, there are 50 channels included for the base price of $35. It’s a lot less confusing then some of the a la carte content options from rivals such as Sling TV. With YouTube TV, you know exactly what you are going to get, and you know exactly how much it is going to cost.
When the service first launched in 2017, there were concerns that YouTube had not yet inked content deals with Turner (TNT, TBS), Scripps Network (HGTV, Food Network), Discovery, and Viacom (MTV, Comedy Central). Since that time, though, YouTube TV has added TBS and TNT.
The other major concern of viewers (from a content perspective) is that this 50-channel lineup does not include any of the sports networks for the major sports, such as NFL Network or NBA TV. However, YouTube TV does offer a number of sports channels as part of the 50-channel lineup, including Fox Sports, FS1, FS2 and ESPN.
Moreover, YouTube TV offers some on-demand content. As the company points out, this is really at the discretion of the networks – some networks do choose to make recent episodes of shows available one-demand.
YouTube TV provides a handful of ways to add on to your basic 50-channel lineup. For example, here are the four add-ons currently being promoted on the company’s website:
TV viewers looking for HBO content, though, would need to sign up separately for the HBO streaming service, HBO Now. The same thing is true for premium entertainment channels like Cinemax or Starz.
YouTube TV is designed to work for as many phone, tablet, computer, and TV platforms as possible, including the following:
It’s clear that YouTube has been listening to users, since when the service first launched, it did not offer full device compatibility with either Apple TV or Roku. But now Apple TV and Roku are both listed on the company’s website as being device compatible.
In terms of the overall user experience, one point that gets brought up a lot is the presence of ads. This is a live TV viewing experience, and as long as you are watching, you can expect to see ads. The one exception is if you are recording content to the free cloud DVR that comes included with YouTube TV. If you are playing back recorded content that has already aired, then you can avoid the ads.
From the outset, YouTube TV has faced questions about its availability in every viewing market. For example, it originally launched in just a select group of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. Since then, it has expanded to all major metropolitan areas. However, here’s the thing – it’s not available everywhere. In fact, as of the end of 2017, YouTube TV was only available in 50 percent of all U.S. households. As a general rule, YouTube TV needs to be able to carry at least 3 live broadcast channels in an area before it can expand there.
Another quirk of this streaming service is that regular YouTube videos are sprinkled in throughout the interface. This is a fun way to see what types of videos are popular on YouTube right now, but somewhat jarring if you are used to slick, professionally produced content for a streaming TV service.
The cloud DVR that comes as part of YouTube TV universally draws acclaim, mostly due to the reason that there are no DVR storage space limits. However, all content will expire 9 months after it has been recorded, so there is some incentive to watch the content you’ve recorded sooner rather than later. It is possible to personalize this DVR for 6 different accounts.
If YouTube TV is available in your geographic area, it’s certainly worth a closer look. YouTube TV has a slick, easy-to-use interface and a very enticing “one-size-fits-all” approach to content. It’s easy to see how young Millennials who grew up watching viral YouTube videos would be ready to make the switch to this streaming service. In fact, as part of its marketing collateral, YouTube TV often refers to “roommates” sharing the service, whereas other streaming services usually talk about “kids and family members.” For anyone thinking about cutting the cord forever, YouTube TV offers a fun, affordable way to experience streaming TV.
Of all the major live TV streaming services, the only one that is entirely sports-centric is FuboTV, a streaming service that launched to much fanfare and acclaim in early 2015. The goal of FuboTV is to fill the need of sports fans for the best international, national and regional sports action. FuboTV now includes shows and movies from some of the most popular TV networks in addition to live sports action.
FuboTV offers introductory pricing of $19.99 for the first month, and then $44.99 per month after that. For that price of $19.99, you receive 75+ live channels, almost all of them exclusively dedicated to sports.
In addition, there are plenty of add-on channel packages at prices ranging from $5.99 per month to $14.99 per month. These packages are primarily designed around specific sports interests (e.g. Portuguese sports, soccer, cycling) that aren’t covered by the major sports networks. Here’s a list of the most popular add-on channel packages offered by FuboTV:
FuboTV is also regularly adding new channels and packages, such as a new Cycling Plus option and a new Kids Plus option. In many ways, then, FuboTV takes the a la carte pricing concept of Sling TV and applies it to sports programming. If you enjoy watching Portuguese football (soccer) matches, for example, you would sign up for Portuguese Plus.
If you’re a big sports fan, it’s hard to argue with FuboTV. You literally have access to all the best sports networks, including international, national and regional networks. Most importantly, you get access to the major networks covering the biggest professional sports:
You get all of these networks, live and in HD. Plus, you get access to international content, such as Premier League football action and Champions League football action. And, on top of all this, you also get access to regional and college sports action, including networks like Big Ten Network and Pac-12 Network. As you can see at a glance, every single major sport is covered with that $44.99 monthly charge.
And, here’s the thing – FuboTV is now much more than just the best live sports content. It also includes a number of the most popular TV networks for movies, shows and live entertainment. For example, FuboTV includes all of these networks:
While this selection of channels might not be as extensive as found on other live TV streaming services, it’s clear that the primary priority of FuboTV is serving the needs of sports fans everywhere, and not as much for the casual viewer who only wants to catch up on a few TV shows every week.
While it might not be as well known as some of its live streaming TV competitors, FuboTV offers full support for every major live streaming device or platform (with the exception of some of the most popular gaming platforms). For example, FuboTV is completely compatible with all of the following:
This means that, as long as you have a set-top box or mobile digital device, you are good to go in terms of watching FuboTV live streams. Just like the most popular live TV streaming services, FuboTV is meant to be enjoyed anywhere, on any device.
Importantly, FuboTV offers cloud DVR functionality. Odds are, you’ll be watching a lot of games, but you might not have a chance to watch all of them live. That’s not a problem with FuboTV, however, because you have access to 30 hours of cloud DVR storage. That’s good enough for about 10 full-length football or baseball games. If you need more storage than that for the cloud DVR, there are options to upgrade to an astounding 500 hours of cloud DVR storage!
And, to make the user experience as streamlined as possible, FuboTV makes it possible to use the “72-hour lookback feature.” This means that you can watch any game, show or movie within a 72-hour period of it airing. Thus, say that you miss a big New York Yankees baseball game on a Saturday night. You could just use the 72-hour lookback feature to watch it the next day without worrying about recording it earlier with the cloud DVR.
It is also important to note that FuboTV makes it possible to sign up for live streaming TV by ordering standalone packages on a monthly basis. For example, you can sign up for Fubo Latino for $17.99 per month or Fubo Portuguese for $19.99 per month. However, it’s cheaper to get these packages by getting the entire FuboTV live streaming package. For example, the FuboTV add-on package (for people who are already FuboTV subscribers) is just $12.99 per month (as compared to the pricier $17.99 per month if you are ordering on a standalone basis).
FuboTV has received glowing recommendations from sports fans, who have found a very convenient way to get all the best sports streaming action, all in the same place. While there are plenty of options to add on channels, you basically have all that you need with the basic package. With most cable TV or satellite TV providers, you might have to hunt around for the best NFL channels or sign up for all kinds of premium services just to watch live NHL hockey action. But not with FuboTV – you get all the major sports, all in the same place.
For that reason, FuboTV is hands down the top choice for serious sports enthusiasts. However, if you really want to watch movies and news and kids programming, FuboTV is not as strong, and you might want to check out one of the other popular live streaming services.