The best streaming services are useful all year round, but in recent months, they have become even more present in many people's lives. Deciding what to watch on TV used to be just a case of choosing between a few channels, but now, there's a plethora of streaming services available. So how do you decide which is the best streaming service for you?
When choosing a streaming service, there are a few things to consider. The deciding factor for many will be cost, but there are also the variety and quality of content, number and type of devices available, quality of video – ie. is it in HD/4k or not (if you've got one of the best monitors and are using it to watch TV, you'll care about this one) and ease of use to consider. And then there's whether or not a particular show is on that service. (In our experience, the show that everyone is talking about is usually only available on the one streaming service you don't have.)
The good news is that free trials are available for most streaming services, so you can always test out all the platforms before committing to the one/s you like best. If you happen to have a lot of time on your hands, you might even be able to binge your favourite show before the trial runs out.
Here, we've rounded up the best services available right now, and outlined their pros and cons.
Netflix has seeped its way into popular culture for a reason. It's got tons of content, both in terms of TV shows and films, is affordable and the chances are, your friends or colleagues have got it too and are likely to be talking about its latest 'trending' show. Recent hits include Sex Education, Stranger Things and Queer Eye. We also love the Netflix 'N' credits when it starts a show.
While we think it is a fantastic start as a streaming service, it doesn't offer everything, and some content is already being pilfered from Netflix for other networks. What you get does also vary quite widely depending which country you are in. You've also got to wonder who's in charge of Netflix's categorisation and descriptions, it frequently mislabels hard-hitting dramas as 'comedies', and the descriptions manage to make most of the content awful. It's not that easy to browse either, so finding something you actually want to watch can be tricky.
Saying all that, we still love it. You just need to check out recommendations of what you want to watch (see our best Netflix shows) before you log on, or prepare to lose an hour scrolling.
Disney Plus has stormed onto the streaming scene and made a huge impact. It's great value for money and has, as you'd expect, an array of classic and new Disney content. There are also all the Star Wars films, and content from the Marvel universe, National Geographic and Pixar. That's an awful lot of films and shows.
On top of that, Disney Plus' mix of original content is already proving incredibly popular, The Mandalorian is just one of Disney Plus' offerings (and okay, we're maybe just mentioning it because we can't get enough of Baby Yoda), there's also High School Musical The Musical series and The World According to Jeff Goldblum.
There's plenty more in the pipeline too, plus you can download any of the service's offerings for watching without WiFi. Overall, we think that Disney Plus is well worth the money, and has something for a range of ages and tastes. At the moment, there's a seven-day free trial on all of Disney Plus' content.
Lots of people have Amazon Prime Video as part of their Amazon Prime package, as it is automatically included. But it is possible to buy just Amazon Prime Video if you want to. Should you bother? Well, Amazon Prime Video is similar in its offering to Netflix, there's a vast array of films, including hot new releases, often very soon after they've been in the cinema, and plenty of TV shows.
Amazon doesn't have as many Originals as Netflix, but some of the ones it does have are well worth watching, including The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Good Omens. Where Amazon Prime Video differs from Netflix is that not everything that you see within its somewhat confusing UI is included in your package, so just because a film appears when you search for it, doesn't mean that it is free.
But if you're not too bothered about having the latest films, or don't mind renting or buying them occasionally, then Amazon Prime Video should suit you nicely. And if you've been considering signing up to Amazon Prime for a while, then the Video services could be the thing that convinces you. It's worth trying a free trial, at least.
Hulu has a wide range of content, including shows from ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, and one of the best things about it is the variety of plan options. You can have Hulu + Live TV, or add Disney Plus or ESPN Plus, for example. Like Amazon and Netflix, Hulu also does a pretty neat line of its own original shows – The Handmaid's Tale is just one.
The most basic Hulu subscription is incredibly cheap for what you get, the only downside is that there are adverts. If you don't mind having scheduled snack breaks then this is fine, but if you want to watch TVs and movies without the commercials, then you'll have to pay for a slightly pricier plan. Even then, some of the most popular shows still have ads before and after they start. Saying that, it's still pretty cheap overall, there's a one month free trial, and the range of content that Hulu offers should satisfy most.
Sling TV isn't like the other services on this list in that it isn't a Netflix-style approach to content, that is, collecting together lots of shows and films for people to watch from one place. No, Sling TV is a different way to watch TV, providing an alternative to cable channels. You can use it to watch live TV without having any cables or satellite dishes or any of the other stuff that you used to have to faff around with. It allows you to pause, rewind and fast-forward live TV on some (but not all) channels, and you can watch TV after it has aired.
There are various options and add-ons available, depending on what channels you like. You'll have to have a pretty good internet connection for it to work, though and the user experience varies across devices. It's definitely worth giving the free trial a go though, because if it works for you, it's brilliant.