Boasts quality originals like Ted Lasso, Severance and CODA
A good majority of US households have at least one streaming service, with 60% of us using four or more. More choices, more content and multiple bills. You may have a favorite, but you don’t need every platform.
Our comparative best list, which includes Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus and HBO Max, can help you decide which one’s right for you.
Some services offer cheaper options, while others come essentially free as part of a bundle (like ESPN Plus in the Disney Bundle). Kid-friendly Disney Plus now has an ad-supported plan, but Disney raised the price of the ad-free version. Meanwhile, Netflix with ads arrived at $7 a month. A revamped HBO Max is set to launch in May as Max, and you may have another buying decision to make with a starting price of $10.
Your choices probably depend on which original shows and movies you like, how important a back catalog of older titles is to you, who lives in your household — and what your budget is.
Watch this: Why Streaming Is Getting More Expensive
We’ve reviewed each of these streaming services individually and assigned numeric ratings based on content, app design and features and overall value. Certainly, some personal preferences regarding content mix influence our decisions, so note that if you love a specific show or style of show, you may have a different favorite.
With that in mind, here’s our list.
There’s a reason why Netflix has become shorthand for streaming in general. The former movie rental service evolved into the top-tier streaming app that’s a must-have in 2023. When big originals like Stranger Things drop, they grab the attention of millions of viewers along with critical praise and awards, giving us the closest thing we have to water cooler conversations these days.
The streamer offers a wide variety of familiar network shows and more original series, films, documentaries and specials than any of its competitors. New shows and movies arrive each week. And the company doesn’t mind catering to different tastes with gaming options and categories for kids, anime and foreign language titles from all over the globe.
Starting at $7 a month for a basic ad-supported account and $10 monthly for basic ad-free, its price is in the middle of the TV service pack. Its standard plan bumps that up to $15.50 per month, which includes HD and two simultaneous streams. The new ad-supported $7 subscription offers one stream for members who want to pay less. But for the variety you get, it’s still a top pick.
Simple interface that’s easy to navigate
Solid recommendation system
Abundant catalog of licensed movies, shows and originals including Stranger Things, Wednesday
Disney Plus is one of Netflix’s closest competitors — for good reason. It’s the only place where you can stream the vast majority of the Disney and Pixar libraries, along with every Star Wars movie, Marvel films and new original TV shows, National Geographic content and 30-plus seasons of The Simpsons. Shows like The Mandalorian, Loki, Andor and She-Hulk, have drawn millions of viewers, while features such as Turning Red and Encanto won rave reviews. Plus, there’s lots more Star Wars and Marvel original programming coming in the next few years.
At the current price of $8 a month for the ad-based plan, Disney Plus is still one of the least expensive streaming TV choices and a great value. We consider it a must-have if you have kids or are a fan of any of its other titles (and who isn’t a fan of Baby Yoda?).
The ad-free version jumped to $11 a month but Disney has three bundles, the cheapest of which is a $10-a-month plan that combines Disney Plus and Hulu (called Disney Bundle Duo Basic), both with ads. For $13 monthly, the Disney Bundle Trio Basic comes with Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus, all with ads. A $20-per-month Trio Premium bundle nets you all three streaming platforms, and only ESPN Plus has ads.
Huge library that includes Obi-Wan Kenobi, The Mandalorian and Encanto
Rebranded as Max for a May 2023 relaunch, HBO Max is a well-designed app full of popular TV shows and movies. It has HBO’s entire library, DC Universe titles, along with favorites such as Friends, the Lord of the Rings movies and almost every Studio Ghibli film. And it’s the primary destination for new Warner Bros.-owned feature films. It’s not Disney Plus, but HBO Max has a solid streaming collection for kids too, with the ability to control ratings on kids’ profiles better than most other services.
At $10 a month, it sits next to Netflix at the higher end of the streaming spectrum, and if you prefer the ad-free experience, the cost jumps up to $16 per month. HBO Max is ramping up its new originals, and we expect that to increase over time. With the addition of Discovery Plus unscripted content, there is more to stream. Though its 8.0 rating is neck-and-neck with Prime Video, HBO Max consistently drops new releases, possesses a large back catalog and offers smooth, user-friendly features.
Loads of content for all audiences. Titles include Euphoria, The White Lotus and House of the Dragon
For $8 a month (with ads), Hulu is a perfect complement and counterpoint to Netflix. Its channel lineup has a huge variety of familiar shows from networks like ABC, Fox and FX that you can watch soon after they air (unlike on Netflix), as well as a growing catalog of its own critically acclaimed original series like The Handmaid’s Tale and Only Murders in the Building. If you have $8 a month to spare and don’t mind trading a few ads for a wealth of TV options, Hulu is a no-brainer. You’ve also got the option to upgrade to a no-ads plan for $15 a month, or add on live TV streaming for $70 a month for a full cable replacement.
Low monthly price
Access to network shows and originals including Abbott Elementary, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Kardashians, Love Island
Amazon’s Prime Video features lots of ad-free, quality original shows and movies, an impressive back catalog of older favorites (and B-movies you haven’t heard of) and NFL on Thursday nights.
It lacks the catalogs of Netflix and Hulu, and the star power of Disney’s streaming platform, and I found its menus more confusing since there’s some paid content mixed in with free content. Prime Video’s new redesign aims to cut down on that confusion with clearer labeling and menu updates for its global customer base. For millions of Prime subscribers, the Prime Video channel is already included at no extra cost. If you’re interested in checking out any of its originals like The Rings of Power or its large movie selection, it may even be worth paying the stand-alone $9 a month TV service fee (if you don’t have Amazon Prime).
Included in with Prime membership
Large selection of movies and TV shows including The Boys, The Rings of Power and Swarm
Priced below Netflix at $9 a month, Starz provides a unique but expanding library of films and original shows. With more than 800 movies in its bank that range from ’80s classics to Westerns to the hottest new Sony releases, the streamer houses every genre in its catalog. But Starz has been inching its way into the prestige TV market with a quality lineup of original programming.
It’s best known for the Power universe, Outlander and The White Queen. As a Lionsgate-owned company, Starz also airs the studio’s movies and shows — like John Wick and Saw. While you can’t stream feature films as day-and-date releases, Starz inked a deal with Universal to broadcast its 2022 and beyond lineup. That includes flicks such as Jurassic World Dominion, Minions: The Rise of Gru and Oppenheimer. For $9 a month, the Starz app gives you unlimited downloads, early access to new TV show episodes, and four simultaneous streams, all with no ads. Whether you want to stream blockbuster movies, documentaries, original series, or something for kids, Starz is worth the cost.
Quality TV shows including P-Valley, Outlander, Power Book II: Ghost, The Serpent Queen
ESPN Plus is a great streaming service for the tried-and-true sports fans, especially those who follow the NHL, MLS and UFC. This is because ESPN Plus is the new home of all out-of-market National Hockey League games, while also offering out-of-market MLS soccer matches, along with those from other soccer leagues around the world. It hosts exclusive UFC matches and pay-per-view events, such as UFC Fight Night and championship bouts (for additional fees).
Hockey and MLS fans who root for teams that aren’t based where they currently live need ESPN’s streaming service to watch their team’s action. The service won’t be of much use, however, to fans of the home teams. Local games are blacked out on ESPN Plus so you’ll need access to your regional sports network through cable or a live TV streaming service in order to watch them. However, golf fans can stream the PGA Tour live on the platform.
ESPN Plus doesn’t show live NFL or NBA games, however, and while its vast library of original programming is impressive, it’s difficult to navigate. While the year service is best suited for die-hard fans of the sports it covers well, more casual fans might find themselves with an ESPN Plus subscription anyway through the Disney Bundle, which also includes Hulu and Disney Plus starting at $13 a month. A standalone subscription for ESPN Plus costs $10, but some viewers may find it more cost-effective to pay for one of the Disney Bundles, which range from $13-$20 monthly.
NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock offers a premium ad-supported option for $5 a month, granting you access to more than 80,000 hours’ worth of content. Upgrade to Premium Plus to watch without commercials. The service no longer offers its free, ad-supported tier to new subscribers, but existing Peacock customers can downgrade their accounts to watch about 10,000 hours of shows, movies, news and live sports. Fan favorites on the platform include the TV series The Office, and viewers can also watch Premier League soccer matches, WWE events and originals like Poker Face. Keep in mind you need a premium account to watch full seasons of most shows.
New episodes of NBC shows stream exclusively on Peacock, and Premium Plus members can watch live local NBC channels in real time. Newer additions include a dedicated Hallmark channel that airs simulcasts and new movie premieres 45 days after their theatrical releases.
Peacock drops in the rankings due to its lack of mobile downloads for its non-premium plus tiers and limited 4K HDR streaming, which most of its competitors offer.
Stream Yellowstone, Real Housewives, Chicago Fire, live sports, Bel-Air
Paramount Plus brings together live news and sports with on-demand shows and movies, including originals, leaning on parent company Paramount’s brands like CBS, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and Paramount Network, plus its Paramount Pictures movie studio. Now that Showtime series and movies have merged into the Paramount Plus app, you can upgrade your subscription to watch content from both services in one place.
The service has a ton of content: 30,000 episodes of TV and 2,500 movies, plus dozens of original series arriving this year, for either $5 a month (with ads) or $10 a month (ad-free). Two of its biggest draws include the Star Trek catalog and new originals like Star Trek: Discovery and Picard, and the series The Good Fight. Buzz-worthy originals include two Yellowstone spinoffs (though Yellowstone itself is on rival Peacock), a Star Trek animated show, Rabbit Hole with Kiefer Sutherland, and new movies like Mission: Impossible 7 arriving 45 days after theaters.
But much of its value lies in nostalgia: You can watch just about every old Nickelodeon show, Comedy Central stand-up specials and popular series ranging from Frasier and Cheers to SpongeBob SquarePants and Young Sheldon. Additionally, Paramount Plus has a Live Channels feature which enables subscribers to watch curated content in special categories. Check out channels for Star Trek, CBS Sports HQ, Paw Patrol and more with either subscription plan.
Currently, new subscribers can receive a seven-day free trial.
Large selection of reality shows including RuPaul’s Drag Race, kids’ titles from Nickelodeon, and access to CBS hits NCIS, Young Sheldon
Streams major movies such as Scream 6 and Top Gun: Maverick soon after release
Live NFL games
Inexpensive monthly price
Ability to watch Showtime titles
Few originals outside of Evil, Yellowstone: 1883 and Star Trek
Despite the price jump to $7 a month, Apple TV Plus stands as the lowest-priced premium, ad-free streaming service available, with high-end features like 4K resolution, HDR and mobile downloads. However, it’s also the only service on this list that includes only original content, and no back catalog of shows or movies to explore. While it now has more than 50 exclusive, big-budget original programming shows and movies, only a few have captured widespread attention, such as Ted Lasso and Severance, while CODA won 2022’s Best Picture. Though the service is branching out with additions like live MLB baseball on Fridays, its library is far smaller than any of the others on this list.
The app is also confusing because it’s housed in the larger Apple TV app with other content. However, Apple TV Plus has one big advantage: There are a lot of ways to get it for free, at least for a while. If you’re a degree-seeking college student, a new purchaser of an Apple device, or someone who subscribes to the Apple One bundle, you can snag a long-term free trial of Apple TV Plus.
Ted Lasso, and prestige shows such as Pachinko, Foundation, The Morning Show, Severance
All originals stream with 4K, HDR, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos
Chances are you’re already pretty familiar with most of the names on this list, but it’s by no means comprehensive. There are plenty of other ways to stream and hundreds of other choices out there. As we evaluated these particular streaming options, we kept certain things in mind.
This list is ordered based on the numerical value I assigned to each streaming service in their individual review, which I determined by design (i.e. ease of use across different TV and mobile platforms), features (like 4K HDR, mobile downloads, recommendations, watch lists and number of streams), content (number of shows and quality of originals and back catalogs) and value (price compared to these other factors). Click through to the full reviews for more details.
Streaming services FAQs
Are there any tips for internet speed or the best hardware?
To watch any of the services on this list you’ll need a solid internet connection, a compatible device (like a Roku, Amazon Fire TV or Apple TV, a smart TV, phone, tablet or computer) and a valid username and password. CNET offers tips on how to optimize your internet speed for streaming Netflix and these other services.
Which streaming service is the most cost effective?
Ultimately, you can choose any streaming service you want based on price, content and who watches what in your household. But if you’re looking to pare down costs, opt for free platforms or ones that offer the most value for $10 or less. CNET offers tips on how to trim your streaming budget, and we keep up with the latest streaming service deals and discounts. You can always have multiple subscriptions and cancel a service whenever content feels dry.
What about live TV streaming and niche services?
This list includes major on-demand streaming services only. It does not include live TV streaming services for cord-cutters (think Sling TV, YouTube TV, which offer live channels intended to replace cable), free streaming services like Tubi or Crackle or smaller, niche services like Crunchyroll or PBS Kids or regional sports networks. You can check out our other best lists for streaming services that cater to anime, kids and more.