The Best Video Streaming Services of 2018 | Tech News

The Best Alternatives to Cable

Streaming services started as an add-on to DVD and digital download offerings with a trickle of second-run movies and TV shows. They were supplements to the programs you watched on their first (and second) runs on cable TV. But speedier internet connections, an abundance of dedicated streaming video devices, and an explosion of mobile video has allowed services like Netflix and Amazon to bulk up their streaming libraries, invest millions in original content, and give traditional pay TV providers a run for their money. These services have grown up from their days as cable TV adjuncts; they’re now full-fledged cable replacements for cord cutters.

Telecom giants are not blind to the threat; they’ve tried their own solutions with mixed results, from Comcast’s Xfinity Stream TV service and Watchable online TV app to Verizon’s go90 and AT&T’s DirecTV Now. That said, the media landscape is rapidly changing. AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner and all of its media properties (including HBO, CNN, the CW, DC Comics, and Hulu, among other things) is all set to close, while Comcast and Disney have both made bids for 21st Century Fox. Networks that were once only available with a pay TV subscription—HBO, Showtime, and Starz—also offer their own streaming services.

Differentiation is the name of the game when it comes to streaming success. Netflix is the leader in original programming, from the binge hit Stranger Things to the award-winning The Crown. But rivals are catching up; Amazon has Man in the High Castle and Mozart in the Jungle, while Hulu just won an Emmy for The Handmaid’s Tale. Netflix and Hulu have also saved previously dead broadcast shows. These days, services compete more on their original offerings than their resold broadcast content and post-theater-run movies. Check out our comparison of Hulu and Netflix if you are having trouble deciding between the two services.

Amazon went one step further in taking on Netflix by offering Prime Video as a standalone service for $8.99 a month. It’s an especially canny move for Amazon because longtime Netflix customers had their $7.99 subscriptions bumped up to $9.99 in 2016; top-tier plans got a price hike this year, too.

Smaller and sometimes cheaper options also exist. Crackle, for example, is still a reliable spot to find a movie or TV show to watch, particularly since it refreshes its content weekly. Mubi also has an avid fan base of film buffs who are disappointed by the selection on rival services. There are also niche options, like these anime-streaming sites. Although it is not what typically comes to mind, Vimeo also offers a small selection of indie films and video projects via its On Demand section. You have to pay for those titles of course, but Vimeo’s free-to-access library of high-quality creative content can also keep you entertained.

You should use a virtual private network (VPN) for all your internet-related tasks, but VPNs are particulalrly useful for streaming services, since they can grant access to region-locked content. For example, if you connect to a VPN server in the UK from a device in the US, you can watch free content from BBC TV. That said, streaming services are cracking down on VPN usage, so we recommend signing up for a trial to test your network setup before fully committing to a service.

But if you want to cut the cord, these are the most popular services. Which one is best for you? Here’s our rundown of what you can expect from each.

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Netflix


$7.99 per month

Netflix is the standard-bearer of streaming. There’s a solid selection at all times, with new titles exchanged for older ones monthly. And there’s Netflix original programming to take into account, too. It’s the only place to get your fix of shows like Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, and Jessica Jones.

Netflix

The $7.99-per-month plan is for one standard-definition stream. For two concurrent HD streams (two people watching from the same account at the same time), it’s now $10.99. For $13.99, you can get up to four concurrent streams and support for 4K content. Netflix is available on a variety of devices, from your PC and tablet to the Chromecast and game consoles. And you can now download content for offline viewing. The company’s DVD service still exists if you want newer releases, but Netflix has long said that streaming is its primary focus going forward.


Hulu


$7.99 per month

Hulu impresses as one of the best all-in-one options for cord-cutters, given its diverse set of streaming options. In addition to quality original programming, a strong library of classic shows, and a good selection of anime series and movies, Hulu now offers a robust live TV option. Still, Hulu trails some top competitors, given its limited HD and 4K selections. Hulu subscribers also cannot currently download content for offline viewing (an ad-supported solution is supposedly in the works.) However, unlike Netflix and Amazon, which typically get new TV series months or even a year after their TV debuts, Hulu gets some content almost immediately after airing on TV thanks to its big studio backers.

Hulu (for Android)

Hulu’s free, ad-supported tier is long gone and for full seasons of current and classic TV series, as well as original content, you have to subscribe to its basic $7.99 per month plan. It does offer an ad-free tier at $11.99 per month, though some popular shows still have 15-second pre-roll and 30-second post-roll ads. If you want even more options, you can add HBO or Showtime for $14.99 and $9.99 per month, respectively.

Hulu supports an impressive range of gadgets, but you can only stream to one device at a time with the basic accounts. Make sure to check out Hulu’s latest redesign across all of its platforms; it features elegant navigation menus and a glossy aesthetic, though the new layout admittedly makes it more of a pain to discover content.

Hulu with Live TV costs $39.99 per month and includes a wide range of news, sports, and entertainment programming across about 60 channels (with local and regional options depending on location). This plan notably includes Hulu’s entire on-demand streaming library. You can add Enhanced Cloud DVR (increases the available DVR storage to 200 hours from 50) or the Unlimited Screens package (allows an unlimited number of concurrent device streams in your home and up to three outside of it) to your plan for $14.99 per month each or $19.99 for both.


Sling TV


$20 per month

Sling TV is probably as close to the traditional TV experience as you can get online. For $20 per month, Sling TV offers live access to channels like AMC, TBS, The Food Network, CNN, TNT, and more.

As you add more services, though, Sling TV can add up. There’s the basic Sling Orange plan with support for one stream at $20 per month, Sling Blue with support for three simultaneous streams for $25, or both with support for four simultaneous streams at $40.

Why would you want both? Some channels on Sling Orange are not available on Sling Blue and vice versa (here’s a breakdown). The Disney Channel, for example, is only on Sling Orange, while Fox Sports is only on Blue.

Sling TV Cloud DVR

Sling also offers extra add-ons for $5 per month each. A Comedy extra adds MTV, Spike, Logo, and more, while a Kids extra offers channels like Teen Nick and Disney Junior—none of which are available via Sling Orange or Blue.

Another $5 extra is cloud DVR, which supports up to 50 hours of content. You can record multiple programs simultaneously and watch on Amazon, Android, Apple TV, Roku, and Xbox One devices. Cloud DVR is not currently supported for Disney and ESPN or on-demand channels like Newsy and Local Now.


Amazon Video


$8.99 per month

Amazon Video will set you back $8.99 per month, but if you plan to stick with it for more than a year, you might as well swing for Amazon Prime. which includes Amazon Video—not to mention Amazon Photos, Amazon Music, and a number of other Amazon-centric perks—for $99 per year.

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon has about 40,000 titles to stream, but only a fraction of those are included with Prime streaming. Look for the “Prime” banner atop selections that stream for free. Everything else is available to purchase or rent (for Prime and non-Prime members).

Amazon also enables offline downloads, so if you haven’t finished watching Transparent or want to catch up on some older HBO shows for your next flight, download to your tablet and get watching.

In 2015, Amazon also launched the Streaming Partners Program, which lets you add networks like Showtime and Starz to your Prime account, sometimes for a slight discount (save $2 per month on Showtime via Amazon vs. buying on its own, for example).

Amazon Video does not work with Google’s Chromecast, but it’s available on Roku, as well as Amazon’s own Fire TV devices, smart TVs, and more. At WWDC, Apple announced it will soon arrive on Apple TV, too. Prime Video supports two concurrent streams, as long as you’re watching different videos.


DirecTV Now


$35 per month

The DirectTV Now streaming service offers dozens of channels of live TV without installing a satellite dish or running cables. The service features excellent picture quality and plenty of connectivity options, and subscriptions start at $35 per month. You won’t find DVR or rewind features, but you can get premium channels like HBO for just $5 extra per month.

DirecTV Now

There four plan tiers: Live a Little, Just Right, Go Big, and Gotta Have It.

  • Live a Little offers more than 60 channels for $35 per month, covering the big networks you’d get in a standard cable package.
  • Just Right is $50 per month and includes 80+ channels, adding more niche and spin-off networks.
  • Go Big costs $60 per month, but is available at a promotional price of $35 during DirecTV Now’s opening months, and brings the total number of channels past 100 by adding networks like BBC World News, Discovery Family, Logo, Oxygen, Sprout, and Sundance TV.
  • The $70 monthly Gotta Have It package gives you more than 120 channels, adding Boomerang, Chiller, El Rey, Univision Deportes, and eight Starz channels.

You can add HBO or Cinemax to any package for $5 each, which includes all live HBO or Cinemax channels and access to the respective networks’ on-demand library. Local affiliates include ABC, Fox, and NBC, and their availability depends on your location. CBS and The CW, meanwhile, aren’t available on the service.


fuboTV


$44.99 per month

fuboTV is a great option for any cord-cutting sports fans. This “sports-first, but not sports-only” service offers extensive live sports and entertainment content for all your devices. Whether you want to watch NFL games on Sunday, catch up an MLB game that aired during the day, or even stream a movie on-demand, fuboTV has you covered.

fuboTV

Its flagship subscription plan, fubo Premier, does cost $44.99 per month, but it grants you access to 85 television channels. For the national sports events, there’s NBC, CBS, FOX, NFL Network and NBA.TV. For international sports, you get channels from the beIN network and Univision. And if you’re ever not in the mood for sports, fuboTV offers a wide variety of entertainment channels such as AMC, BBC America, CNBC, The Food Network, FX, National Geographic, SYFY, and USA, to name just a few. You not only get to watch live events and programs from these channels, but also a ton of on-demand shows and movies.

fuboTV offers some cheaper plans aimed at international markets, including fubo Latino for $17.99 per month and fubo Portugues for $19.99 per month. You can also supplement any base plans with add-on content, including the Sports Plus ($8.99 per month) and Adventure Plus ($4.99 per month) options.

To top it all off, fuboTV offers excellent DVR capabilities and Lookback, a feature that lets you watch anything you may have missed up to 72 hours after it first aired. fuboTV also recently introduced Startover, which enables viewers to watch currently airing events from the beginning no matter when they tune in. Enjoy solid streaming performance via its web interface or dedicated apps for Android, iOS, Apple TV, Roku, and Fire OS devices.


PlayStation Vue


$39.99 per month

If you’re a PlayStation fan who’s cutting the cord, Sony’s PlayStation Vue live-streaming service is a good way to ditch your cable company while keeping plenty of channels. Plans start at $39.99 per month for live TV with 45+ channels, including Disney and ESPN. Add sports, movie, and premium packages and prices will range from $45/month up to $75/month.

Sony PlayStation Vue on iOSPS Vue started in only a few markets, but went national last year. Channel availability varies by market, though, so check your location before signing up. “In some cases where a live local broadcast channel isn’t available, an alternative On-Demand channel will be available in its place,” Sony says.

You can DVR PS Vue content, except HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax, though “almost all programs” from the live feed of those channels are available on demand. DVR and on-demand content can be watched inside or outside the home, except CBS shows, which are only accessible inside the home.

The service supports up to five streams at once, but there are exceptions, like only one PS4 or PS3 can stream at a given time (you can’t stream from a PS4 in the living room and the bedroom at the same time) and only three streams at once on mobile devices. You can watch on a variety of devices, like your web browser, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Chromecast, and iOS or Android devices—provided you have internet access.


CBS All Access


$5.99 per month

While it might seem rather limiting to pay for on-demand access to just one broadcast TV channel, CBS does have a popular lineup of TV shows, and CBS All Access is the only place you can watch The Good Wife spin-off The Good Fight and Star Trek: Discovery. You can also watch NFL games that are broadcast in your local market, including Thursday Night Football on CBS (though you can’t watch on a mobile phone because of a deal Verizon has with the NFL).

CBS All Access

For $5.99 per month, you can tap into 8,500 episodes; stay up to date with shows currently on the air or catch up with old favorites like The Twilight Zone, Taxi, and every Star Trek you could hope for. New episodes are available the next day, and it supports live TV streams in 185 markets.

Like Hulu, the $5.99 plan includes commercials, but you can ditch the ads with CBS All Access Commercial Free for $9.99 per month (with the exception of live TV and select shows). TV classics are ad-free on both plans.

Watch on your mobile device (iOS, Android), PC, or Android TV, or stream to your TV via Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, PS4, Xbox 360, or Xbox One.


ESPN+


$4.99 per month

ESPN+, ESPN’s new streaming service, offers a respectable lineup of live and on-demand sports programming for only $4.99 per month (or $49.99 per year). It’s not a replacement for ESPN’s regular channels, but it might be just enough for cord-cutting sports fans. With the service, you can watch a selection of live sports events on a daily basis, including many from the MLB, NHL, MLS, PGA Tour, and various college sports leagues. Unfortunately, neither ESPN’s Monday Night Football nor its live NBA coverage are part of this subscription.

ESPN+

You can also dive into ESPN’s on-demand archive of premier shows such as 30 for 30, E:60, and SC Featured. It doesn’t, however, include flagship ESPN shows, such as Around the Horn, First Take, NFL Live, Outside the Lines, Pardon the Interruption, SportsCenter, and SportsNation.

ESPN+ is available via the web or via the ESPN app on Android and iOS. App performance is solid, and you won’t have any trouble streaming from your mobile devices. Chromecast, FireTV, tvOS, and Roku users can also join in on the fun and take advantage of ESPN+’s generous support for up to five concurrent streams.


HBO Now


$14.99 per month

HBO Now delivers an impressive catalog of new on-air original content, including Westworld and Game of Thrones, in addition to beloved older series such as Curb Your Enthusiasm, Deadwood, Girls, The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, and The Wire. On top of that, HBO’s on-demand streaming service includes a collection of popular movies across a wide range of genres including action, comedy, drama, family, horror/sci-fi, Latino, romance, and suspense. That said, HBO Now works best in conjunction with another streaming service that offers a live TV component or a larger and more diverse content library. In fact, many other streaming services offer HBO Now as an add-on, which helps streamline the billing and account management process.

HBO Now

In testing, all of HBO Now’s apps look modern and streaming performance is excellent across the board. In addition to the web, HBO Now is available on Android, Chromecast, Apple TV, iOS, PS4, Roku, and the Xbox One, just to name a few. Still, HBO’s service costs more than many competitors without being as technically advanced. For example, HBO Now does not feature any 4K or HDR content, nor does it let subscribers watch shows offline. These omissions are not deal breakers, though, and HBO Now could still be a valuable addition to your streaming lineup based on the quality of its content alone.


Philo


$16 per month

Philo is a highly affordable video streaming service that offers a good mix of live and on-demand content. For just $16 per month, you get a total of 40 channels including AMC, Animal Planet, BBC America, Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, Food Network, HGTV, and the Travel Channel. If you opt for the more expensive $20 per month plan, Philo adds nine additional channels such as BET Her, Cooking Channel, Discovery Family, and MTV Live. Philo focuses on entertainment and lifestyle content, so consumers who primarily want to watch news and sports should look elsewhere.

Philo

Philo takes a novel approach in a few different areas. For example, although Philo’s sign in process is not a true two-factor authentication set up, it is very convenient. Users sign in with their phone number and a six-digit verification code sent via text, which is easier than typing in an email and password. Furthermore, Philo allows users to save the entire available catalog of a show for on-demand viewing, instead of just a single episode. Philo keeps saved shows for 30 days but does not impose any storage limits. Philo also plans to integrate social features, such as synchronized streaming, in future updates.

Despite some layout issues on the web and its lack of a dedicated Android app, Philo is still highly usable and performs well on the platforms we tested it on. Both live and saved content stream without any lag. Philo allows up to three concurrent streams.


YouTube TV


$40 per month

YouTube TV also provides live TV streaming, but check to make sure it’s available in your city.

With YouTube TV, you get unlimited cloud DVR storage. YouTube will keep your recordings for nine months, and you can stream your content from anywhere in the US, if you’re connected to the internet (and you sign in from a home network once every three months to verify your location).

One YouTube TV membership supports up to six accounts, so you can share with family or roommates, though you can only stream from three accounts at once.


Showtime

$10.99 per month

In 2015, premium service Showtime went solo with a streaming service of the same name. It’s hoping the popularity of hits like Billions, Homeland, and The Affair will persuade fans to pay $10.99 per month to watch live streams or catch up with episodes on mobile devices.

For now, you can sign up on Amazon, Android, or Apple devices (iOS or Apple TV) as well as Roku and Samsung smart TVs. Amazon Prime, Hulu, Sling TV, YouTube TV, and PlayStation Vue customers can also add Showtime to their accounts.


Starz

$8.99 per month

Starz has launched a new standalone streaming app for $8.99 a month, giving you access to Outlander and other Starz content without the need for a pay TV subscription. That includes series like Power, American Gods, plus movies like The Good Dinosaur. As mentioned above, if you have Amazon Prime, you can add Starz streaming to your account, but it doesn’t save you any money. Both options are $8.99 per month.

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