Ever since Netflix took over the world with its innovative, industry-changing concepts — first with its DVD mail-order system 22 years ago, and later with video-on-demand streaming — the way we consume media has changed drastically. The rise of similar platforms had brought about the golden age of streaming, resulting in a downturn for cable television and the arrival of the cord-cutting phenomenon.
Now as more options are available than ever before, as well as two big players —Disney and Apple — launching services later this year, the streaming landscape is sure to change even further, with critics declaring this shift the end of the golden age of streaming. To help you navigate through the noise and figure out the best video streaming service for you, we’ve compiled a comparison between 10 of the leading platforms available in 2019, breaking down programming, price, and technical specs.
Key programming: Black Mirror, Mindhunter, Stranger Things, Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards, Roma, Chef’s Table, Dark, Narcos, Daredevil, Bojack Horsemen, Big Mouth, Ugly Delicious, Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé, Gaga: Five Foot Two
Monthly subscription fee: The Basic option begins at $8.99 a month for unlimited standard-definition streaming on one device, followed by the Standard plan for $12.99 where high-definition viewing is available on two screens simultaneously. The final Premium option costs $15.99 and allows four concurrent streams in high-definition or 4K Ultra HD when available.
Possible number of concurrent streams: Between one and four depending on which plan you’re on.
Offline viewing? Yes, select titles are available for offline viewing.
Bundle options? No
Netflix is the OG and still one of the best streaming services out there, ahead of the rest particularly when it comes to original content. Ever since its aggressive push to legitimize itself as a serious production studio earlier this decade, the quality of Netflix Originals has only gone from strength to strength, attracting bigger names and overall better productions. But that doesn’t mean its ignored the rest of its content lineup. A study by Streaming Observer compared various streaming content libraries using Rotten Tomatoes scores and found that Netflix has more Certified Fresh movies than Amazon Prime, Hulu, and HBO combined.
Besides being the king of content, Netflix still offers affordable pricing options, as well as high definition viewing, offline downloads on some of their catalog, no ads, and the ability to watch across a wide range of devices. The biggest drawback is that Netflix doesn’t offer live TV, which means unless it’s a Netflix Original show, you’ll have to find another way to watch new series as they air.
Key programming: Hulu Originals include The Handmaid’s Tale, the new season of Veronica Mars, PEN15, The Act, Shrill, Ramy, The Mindy Project, and Catch-22.
Monthly subscription fee: Starting at $5.99 a month for Hulu’s on-demand streaming plan, you can also opt for the ad-free version for $11.99. Hulu + Live TV offers more than 60 channels on top of on-demand streaming, with prices at $44.99 for the basic plan and $50.99 for the ad-free version of Hulu. At an extra cost there are a wide range of add-ons available including HBO, Showtime, and Starz, as well as viewing on unlimited screens and enhanced cloud DVR.
Possible number of concurrent streams: Hulu’s simultaneous streaming limit is up to two devices. However, with the unlimited screens add-on there’s no cap to how many can watch from the home network, while up to three mobile devices are allowed for viewing outside the house.
Offline viewing? Hulu announced last year that they would begin offline viewing in 2019, however that feature is yet to be implemented and no further mention of it has been announced.
Ads? Yes with the basic option and no with the ad-free iteration.
Bundle options? Yes, many. Besides Hulu’s pre-existing flexible subscription options, Disney recently announced that it will offer a bundle with Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ for $12.99 when it launches on November 12. A minor aside, Premium Spotify subscribers can opt for the ad-free version of Hulu at no extra cost.
Hulu excels in that if you’re after VOD and live TV, you can have both in an easy package. Hulu’s original content isn’t quite up there with Netflix’s, but a decent library of classic shows, as well as access to select channels mostly makes up for it. Where it has a leg up on Netflix is that Hulu often gets new episodes of shows right after they’ve aired, resulting in almost zero down time for its subscribers. Certain tech specs aren’t as strong as with other services, for example 4K streaming is limited and offline viewing isn’t available.
Disney controls Hulu as its majority owner, and while they’ve announced a bundle package together when the Disney+ service launches in November, it’s unclear if and how the two different services will be affected in the future.
Amazon Prime Video
Key programming: Original shows and films including Sneaky Pete, The Grand Tour, Jack Ryan, The Romanoffs, Transparent, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Bosch, The Man In the High Castle, Goliath, and Fleabag (co-produced with BBC Three) are available alongside a mass of other film and TV content from other networks and studios.
Monthly subscription fee: Membership to Amazon Prime will cost you $12.99 a month or $119 per year, and on top of the shipping and shopping benefits, it includes full access to Amazon’s video streaming service. If you aren’t an Amazon Prime member but still want access to the streaming platform, it’ll set you back $8.99 per month. Additionally, you can rent or buy movies and shows that aren’t included in the main Prime Video service, as well as subscribe to over 100 premium channels for between $4.99-$14.99.
Possible number of concurrent streams: It’s possible to stream on up to three devices at a time, however the same title can only be streamed on two devices at once.
Offline viewing? Yes, you can download a range of titles for watching offline.
Bundle options? Yes, at an extra cost it’s possible to add on over 100 premium entertainment, sports, and lifestyle channels including HBO, Showtime, CBS All Access, AMC, Cinemax, Starz, NBA League Pass and more.
If you’re an Amazon Prime member for the shopping benefits, the VOD perks are a nice accompaniment, as well as access to Prime Music. On its own, Prime Video isn’t a bad option anyway – it’s original series have consistently gotten better, and there are a ton of movies available. That said, it’s not all up to scratch. As per Streaming Observer’s study, from a potential 17,000+ movies only 232 were Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s a measly 1.3% and the lowest of the services included. It’s not a dealbreaker but something to keep in mind.
Technically, Amazon’s offering is solid, supporting 4K streaming, offline viewing, access on many devices, and up to three simultaneous streams. Another thing to keep in mind is their generous student discount, which allows for a six-month free trial and discounted rate henceforth. All in all, Amazon Prime is probably the best streaming service if you’re after a wide range of lifestyle perks.
Key programming: Always known for its quality lineup of original programming, on HBO Now you can watch newer series such as Euphoria, Insecure, Chernobyl, Game of Thrones, and Westworld, as well as HBO classics like The Sopranos, The Wire, Sex and the City, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Deadwood, Six Feet Under and more. It also includes HBO original documentaries and a host of popular movies.
Monthly subscription fee: HBO Now is available for $14.99 per month.
Possible number of concurrent streams: HBO states that multiple devices in one household can watch at the same time, but for security reasons the number of simultaneous streams is limited. However, they don’t officially specify the maximum number of screens, with most reviews online suggesting its unlimited.
Offline viewing? No
Bundle options? Yes, and plenty of choices at that. HBO Now is offered as an add-on with Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Playstation Vue, Sling TV and AT&T TV Now. This allows for a streamlined payment plan, which means you’re better off subscribing through one of these other services.
Compared to other services HBO Now is light on the number of titles it offers, but considering the quality of these it more than makes up for it. And with so many other platforms offering HBO Now as an easy one-step add-on, it makes sense to bundle them together if you’re after a more thorough cord-cutting experience. It’s also worth mentioning that the service doesn’t offer many of the technical perks that others do, such as offline viewing and 4K or HDR streaming.
WarnerMedia, who owns HBO, announced in July that a new platform called HBO Max would premiere in Spring 2020. The direct-to-consumer service will feature HBO content alongside titles from Warner Bros. and other WarnerMedia properties like DC Entertainment, Turner Classic Movies, Adult Swim and many more. They’ve also announced a slate of original content that will go under the name of Max Originals. Effectively HBO Max will swallow up HBO Now, while offering a much wider array of content. We don’t know much more yet but keep that in mind for next year.
Key programming: YouTube TV focuses on live TV from over 70 channels including ABC, AMC, Adult Swim, Bravo, Discovery, E!, ESPN, National Geographic, BBC, The CW and many more. Additional packages including Showtime, Starz, and NBA League Pass. It also features YouTube Originals, which may be few and far between, but shows like Cobra Kai, Wayne, and Impulse have all shown promise for the budding studio.
Monthly subscription fee: At $49.99 per month, YouTube TV is one of the more expensive services, but considering it’s essentially a replacement for cable with the added perks of a cord-cutting service, the price is not unwarranted.
Possible number of concurrent streams: One membership gives you six accounts, of which you can stream up to three simultaneously.
Offline viewing? No
Bundle options? If you’re interested in adding on a select few premium channels such as Showtime or AMC Premiere to the main package you can do so.
YouTube TV is more like traditional cable in its offering of live TV from over 70 channels, rather than a video-on-demand service. It boasts “no cable box, contracts, or hidden fees” and is touted as a great cord-cutting alternative for those who prefer the live TV setup, with great sports and news channels, as well as entertainment offerings. If that’s not enough, you can also add on many of the common packages like Starz and NBA League Pass. Where it excels is in its unlimited DVR cloud storage, with recordings kept for nine months.
Keep in mind there’s also YouTube Premium (formerly YouTube Red) which is actually the superior version of regular YouTube that features no ads, download capabilities, and access to YouTube music. However, it is its own thing and not comparable to YouTube TV or the other services on this list.
Key programming: Playstation Vue offers so many channels depending on what package you go for, which means the possibilities for shows, movies, sports, news, and lifestyle content are virtually infinite.
Monthly subscription fee: Starting at $49.99 a month for the Access plan, which includes over 45 channels such as FX, ESPN, Disney Channel and major networks; $54.99 for the Core plan, numbering over 60 channels with the addition of several sports channels such as NBA TV and NBC Golf; the Elite plan with over 80 channels for $64.99, with extra sports and lifestyle channels; and lastly the Ultra plan for $84.99, which offers everything in the Elite package along with HBO and Showtime. Add-ons can be added to every tier, specifically the Sports or Español packs, as well as HBO and Showtime as standalone channels each.
Possible number of concurrent streams: Streaming is available on five devices simultaneously.
Offline viewing? No
Bundle options? Yes, there’s quite a bit of flexibility with Playstation Vue’s offering.
Another great cord-cutting alternative to cable, Playstation Vue is among the more expensive of the bunch, but not without reason. A broad scope of channels available in four different packages, as well as various add-ons, means you’ll find pretty much everything you need in one place. PS Vue’s DVR capabilities are also solid, allowing you to record an unlimited number of episodes of up to 500 different shows for up to 28 days. You can also set up user profiles which allows the recommendation feature to fine tune its preferences better.
AT&T TV Now
Key programming: You’ll find all of the usual suspects here in terms of channels and of course depending on which package you go for depends on which ones you’ll have access to. As with some other live TV services, AT&T TV Now also offers on-demand titles.
Monthly subscription fee: The scope in price for AT&T’s TV Now service is vast, starting at $50 a month for the Plus plan, which includes 40 channels, going all the way through to its Ultimate plan, which costs a hefty $135 per month for 125 channels. Between these two ends there are another five possible options, as well as many of the standard add-ons such as HBO and Showtime, and various international packages.
Possible number of concurrent streams: You can only stream on two devices at a time, however for an additional $4.99 a month you can up that to three.
Offline viewing? No
Bundle options? AT&T is offering a discounted internet bundle along with the service.
First off, an explanation of why you might have never heard of AT&T TV Now. It’s because only a few months ago the service was called DirecTV. Maybe you also heard that the service has been hemorrhaging subscribers since last year, losing 83,000 in the first quarter of 2019? Well AT&T (who owns DirecTV) just rebranded the service in a bid to quell customer dissatisfaction and further cancellations. Where it gets more confusing is that AT&T also owns HBO and plans to launch a completely new service called HBO Max next spring. At this point it’s unclear whether AT&T TV Now and HBO Max will both stay operating or if there will be a connection between the two.
In terms of what you get, AT&T TV Now offers all of the standard live TV channels and then some, but its price on the higher end makes it the most expensive of the bunch. It works on most devices, however not the Xbox One or Playstation 4, and offers 20 hours of DVR storage for free, however most other services allow more than that. AT&T TV Now isn’t the best deal out there, and the sheer number of recent cancellations cements that, but seeing as though there are big changes ahead for its parent company, it might regain some of its former glory in due time.
Key programming: Depending on which Sling package you opt for, you’ll find channels like ESPN, Disney, NBC, FX, Syfy and many of the usual cable networks, as well as a decent on-demand library.
Monthly subscription fee: Sling TV is split into Orange and Blue packages, both of which offer shared and exclusive channels. Sling Orange, which includes ESPN and Disney, offers 33 channels for $25 a month, limited to one stream at a time. Sling Blue features Fox and NBC (but not Disney or ESPN) in its 48 channel lineup for $25 and up to three simultaneous streams. For the best of both worlds, Sling Orange + Blue offers 51 channels for $40 a month and four simultaneous streams, however only one Orange-exclusive channel at a time. Extra channels are sold in additional packages for $5, each focusing on a theme ie. Sports, Comedy, Lifestyle etc, while premium channels including HBO, Showtime and more can be added on for between $4.99-14.99 each.
Possible number of concurrent streams: It depends which plan you go for but up to four simultaneous streams, where an Orange-exclusive channel is limited to one stream.
Offline viewing? No
Bundle options? Yes. Sling’s mix’n’match offering allows a host of different channel combinations, including premium ones.
Another live TV option, Sling is popular for its considerably lower cost compared with other services like it. For $25 you’re able to get some great channels, as well as a host of add-ons to customize your experience. That said, while the flexibility of adding on is great, it can quickly ramp up Sling’s cheap offering to something much more expensive. DVR is available, but you’ll have to purchase it as an extra.
Besides live TV Sling’s on-demand library is one of its highlights, supposedly hosting 10,000 hours of content. The service is supported across a range of devices, making it an easy choice for those after affordable live TV with on-demand perks.
Key programming: Disney+’s major drawcard is that it’ll be the exclusive home of the Star Wars franchise, Marvel and Pixar movies. It’ll also carry legacy content from Disney and Fox, including every season of The Simpsons, as well as new shows, movies and documentaries that are being developed for the service.
Monthly subscription fee: Starting off with an “initial” low price of $6.99 per month or $69.99 per year, Disney CEO Bob Iger explained that the low cost would reflect the “fact that it will have substantially less volume” than competitors like Netflix. However, as the service matures and broadens its catalog of movies and shows, its price will likely go up as well.
Possible number of concurrent streams: Up to four simultaneous streams.
Offline viewing? Yes, the service offers unlimited downloads on mobile, while content can be downloaded on up to 10 devices per account.
Ads? Technically yes. Although Disney sold their service as an ad-free direct competitor to Netflix and Apple TV+, they’ve since added a caveat to that promise in order to launch with select titles that are still licensed to other platforms, most notably Star Wars: The Force Awakens (currently licensed to Starz). The ad in question will be for Starz and supposedly seen only once after the initial signup.
Bundle options? Disney is offering a discounted bundle for those who sign up to Disney+, Hulu (ad-free), and ESPN+, for $12.99 a month.
It’s been rumored that Disney would create their own streaming service for a while now, ever since they began pulling content from Netflix, and the time is finally here. Content-wise it has a lot going for it – Disney has acknowledged that the lineup will initially be thin, but it’s certainly a case of quality over quantity. Upcoming titles include Star Wars spinoff The Mandalorian, as well as an Obi-Wan Kenobi series with Ewan McGregor, and three new live-action Marvel shows.
Debuting in the US, Canada, and The Netherlands, followed closely by Australia and New Zealand, what’s interesting is the UK is noticeably missing from the launch schedule. However, Disney has announced that they plan to rollout the service to “nearly all major regions of the world” over the next two years, clearly with the target of encroaching on Netflix’s space. Similarly, Disney+ is available on a wide range of devices and will offer 4K and HDR streaming, as well as offline viewing. One major difference between the two is that while Netflix has championed simultaneous big screen and VOD releases (or within a close timeframe), Disney plans to continue releasing theatrically and only make streaming available on Disney+ at a later date, once movies have run their due course in cinemas.
Key programming: Apple’s initial roster of original programs haven’t premiered with the level of success they hoped for, with Jennifer Aniston’s hotly anticipated The Morning Show and Jason Momoa-vehicle See both receiving mixed reviews. Dickinson and For All Mankind have fared better with audiences, but its the yet-to-be-released content from power players including Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams that we’re all eager for.
Monthly subscription fee: Coming in at USD $4.99 a month and £4.99 and AU $7.99, in the U.K. and Australia respectively (it’s also available in more than 100 countries), Apple TV+ is the the cheapest streaming deal on this list.
Possible number of concurrent streams: The service includes Apple’s Family Sharing feature, which allows up to six family members on one account.
Offline viewing? Yes, every original program is available for download and offline viewing.
Bundle options? Apple has launched TV+ with a few bundle options for the time being. First off, if you’ve bought a new Apple device since September 10th, you’re eligible for a free year’s subscription. Additionally, students are able to access TV+ for free alongside their Apple Music subscription for a limited time.
According to CEO Tim Cook, Apple TV+ is “unlike anything that’s been done before.” Up and running for barely one week, the service falls short of this lofty goal, but in due time it’s likely to improve its offering and functionality. One nice surprise is the range of devices able to access TV+ – alongside the expected iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Mac compatibility, the service is also available on Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and a number of new Smart TVs, including those from Samsung, LG and Sony.
Industry heavyweights are on board for Apple’s slate of movies and shows, however Cook also mentioned that it won’t offer licensed content, such as how Netflix and Amazon Prime Video do. Nevertheless, it seems Netflix and Disney+ will be Apple TV+’s main competitors.