For the first time in our history, watching your favorite content is as easy as it’s ever been. Sitting down to watch a movie can be as simple as opening Netflix on your phone or even renting the video from a service like Amazon Prime or Google Play.
These streaming services have made the process easier, but they’ve also made it a lot more confusing too. With different content, features, and price tags, a lot of people aren’t sure where to begin.
Price: $9 per month for one screen at a time in standard definition, $13 per month for two screens in HD, $16 per month for four screens in 4K Ultra HD (including select titles in high dynamic range (HDR) and Dolby Atmos audio).
Supported devices: Pretty much everything, from gaming consoles to streaming boxes to smart TVs and smartphones. Nearly every device and every app store have a Netflix app, and it’s even a quick key on most modern TV remotes.
Who it’s for: Fans of Netflix’s ever-growing library of original content, past seasons of hit TV shows, and to a lesser extent, popular movies new and old.
We’re starting off with the obvious here. Even if you were living in a cave for the past decade, you probably still had Netflix deliver DVDs to your stone mailbox. Back in 1997, that’s exactly how the company got its start, but it rapidly adapted its business model to focus more on instantly available streaming content. The company has been king of the streaming jungle ever since.
Netflix doesn’t specify the number of movies and shows available in its library beyond just saying that its numbers in the thousands, which is vague but accurate. Netflix has the most robust content library of any streaming service out there, including third-party movies and TV catalogs to go along with an increasingly massive collection of original content. The company spends billions each year to create original shows and movies in an effort to “become HBO before HBO can become us,” according to CEO Reed Hastings, including huge hits like Stranger Things, Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards, and The Witcher.
In the future, expect to see that library of original content grow even larger. The company announced in 2018 that it would release about 700 original shows and movies, including returning seasons of some of its biggest hits, so don’t expect to see this strategy changing any time soon.
In addition to adding content, Netflix has also been steadily adding features, with some titles available in 4K, some available with HDR, and a small handful supporting Dolby Atmos. The service has also gotten better for those who frequently watch on the go, with the ability to download select TV shows and movies so you can watch without an internet connection.
Price: $7 per month or $70 per year. Can bundle together with Hulu and ESPN+ for $13 per month.
Supported devices: iOS devices, Apple TV (tvOS), Google Chromecast, Android devices, Android TV, PlayStation 4, Roku, Xbox One, Select Amazon Fire TV devices, LG Smart TVs, Samsung Smart TVs.
Who it’s for: Those who are fans of all things Disney, including Star Wars and Marvel properties, nostalgic Disney classics, and National Geographic content among other things.
Disney+ is one of the newest names in the streaming business, and it’s already solidifying itself as one of the more successful. Considering the pure quantity of content under the Disney umbrella, this isn’t exactly a surprise.
On top of the famous space operas and superhero flicks you know and love, Disney+ has rolled out some impressive original content within those genres.
The Mandalorian, a story about a bounty hunter within the Star Wars universe, has been a well-received success and is already signed on for a second season. An Obi-Wan miniseries and a Rogue One prequel are also in the works. As for Marvel Studios, seven different TV shows (all set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe) are currently planned for the streaming service.
All of Disney’s beloved animated content, from Toy Story to Coco and everything in between, also have a home on the service. Joining them are selections from Disney’s purchase of Fox, like every single episode of The Simpsons, as well as National Geographic documentaries like Free Solo.
The most enticing part of Disney+, however, may just be the formats it supports. The service has a fairly impressive selection of content available in 4k with HDR, as well as select titles with both Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. All for $7 a month, a price point that no other service can currently compete with in terms of audio and video quality.
Amazon Prime Video
Price: $120 a year or $13 per month for Amazon Prime, which includes free two-day shipping on Amazon orders. For students, subscriptions cost $59 per year.
Supported devices: Most major set-top streaming boxes, including Amazon’s Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, as well as most major gaming consoles, tablets, and smartphones — with the stand-out exception being Chromecast.
Who it’s for: Frequent Amazon shoppers and those interested in the service’s award-winning original series.
Amazon started by selling books online, and now it’s the Walmart of the internet. A few years ago, the company broke into the media streaming market with Prime Video. There’s also free two-day shipping, so if you order a lot of stuff from Amazon, this streaming service is a no-brainer.
Amazon’s streaming site started off as a pay-per-view service but has expanded to include a large library of on-demand video streaming to Prime subscribers. Amazon has been using its industry clout to sign partnerships with companies like Epix, Warner Bros., and HBO, as well as create its own popular exclusives like The Grand Tour, The Man in the High Castle, The Tick, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Amazon puts pretty much everything at your fingertips — whether it’s instant streaming content, pay-per-view movies and shows, or digital media you can buy and own. And unlike Netflix, Amazon 4K Ultra HD and HDR content come at no extra charge.
Price: $6 per month with ads, $12 per month ad-free, $55 per month for live and on-demand TV with ads, $61 per month for live and on-demand TV without ads.
Supported devices: Virtually every set-top streaming box, internet-enabled TV, smartphone, gaming console, or tablet.
Who it’s for: Those looking for current on-demand streaming mixed with a few originals, or those without cable who want to keep up on the latest shows, news, and sports.
Hulu was created in 2007 as a joint venture between veteran media broadcasters NBC Universal, Fox Broadcasting, and Disney-ABC. The media streaming service was originally completely free but rolled out a subscription-based version after the service gaining a respectable following. In 2016, Hulu moved to a fully subscription-based model and has been creating its own originals like The Path, Futureman, and Runaways to keep up in the streaming race
While Hulu has a modest selection of movies, no other streaming service can hold a candle to its library of newer TV shows. Original series aside, Netflix and Amazon tend to get TV shows after the season ends, or after they’ve gone off the air completely. By contrast, Hulu, in addition to having a solid list of older shows and programs, posts new episodes of shows currently airing just days (and sometimes hours) after broadcast. The only downside is that you’ll still be forced to sit through ads unless you upgrade — which we highly recommend.
Hulu has certainly had its hits when it comes to original content, but you don’t hear as many people talking about binge-watching The Path in the same mad dash as Stranger Things or Game of Thrones. Like Netflix and Amazon, Hulu also offers content in 4K, though so far it has yet to air any of its shows in HDR.
Price: $15 per month.
Supported devices: Amazon Fire devices, Android phones and tablets, Android TV, iOS devices, Apple TV, Chromecast, PlayStation 4, Roku, Xbox One.
Who it’s for: Those after all of HBO’s premium content, from Curb Your Enthusiasm to Game of Thrones, without wanting to pay for a complete cable subscription.
It’s a bit confusing at the moment; HBO has a nearly identical service called HBO GO for customers with cable subscriptions, and an upcoming service called HBO Max that will bring everything under a single roof. For now, at least, HBO Now is the version reserved for those who don’t need a regular TV package.
HBO Now features a decent catalog of popular movies, though the most popular features of the service before are its original content. Game of Thrones was one of TV’s biggest shows for years, at least until the final season, and Westworld has followed suit. You can’t get this content on any other service, which is part of what makes HBO Now such a compelling draw.
When HBO Now folds into HBO Max sometime this year, the renovated service will include all of HBO Now’s current content, plus a library full of classics like Friends, The Big Bang Theory, South Park and more.
Price: Free for user uploaded content; $1 to $3 for studio rentals; $10 to $20 for purchases.
YouTube Premium: $12 per month, allows ad-free viewing and adds features like the ability to download videos for offline playback.
YouTube TV: $49 per month for live TV streaming as a cable alternative.
Supported devices: If it has a color display and can connect to the internet, chances are good that it can stream YouTube.
Who it’s for: Those looking for a less traditional viewing experience.
YouTube hosts just about everything that’s legal, and likely a few things that aren’t, from children pondering existentialism while loopy on nitrous oxide to old movies and documentaries. Sure, there’s a lot of junk and downright weird stuff on here, but the site also boasts a healthy library of both free and pay-per-view movies. More recently, the service has used more revenue-friendly methods of streaming, including its YouTube Premium (along with the annoying offers to join YouTube Premium), as well as its live TV streaming service for potential cable cutters, YouTube TV.
There are going to be those nights when you can’t find anything to watch, so you just start YouTubing random topics that pop into your head. No matter how big the libraries of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon get, they’ll never have trampoline accident compilations or countless runs of POV roller coaster footage. For those reasons, YouTube will always enjoy a spot in our hearts, and on the video-streaming podium.
Price: Movie rentals — $5 for standard definition, $6 for HD; movie purchases — $10 to $20 in HD; TV shows — $2 to $3 per episode, with discounts for full seasons.
Supported devices: Android and iOS mobile, Android TV-powered smart TVs, Chromecast, Roku, and even Apple TV devices (streamed from iPhone over AirPlay).
Who it’s for: Android and Google fans who want to easily rent and buy digital movies.
The media hub has a great selection of newly released movies, while TV shows are often available the day after airing. Google Play’s on-demand format is similar to Vudu or iTunes and can be a great supplement to sites like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Like most of the other services on this list, Google Play supports 4K and HDR, and a handy update to the Google Play Movies & TV Android app now shows when a TV series or movie becomes available.
Google Play is great for new movies, but the fact that it isn’t available on every device (and likely won’t ever be) means it isn’t for everyone. The pay-per-content model is great for getting the newest releases but those rental fees will add up quickly. If you’re not an Amazon Prime member, Google Play is a good place to start if you’re looking for a movie, and the service often runs killer deals.
Price: Movies: $6 for HD movie rental, $20 for purchases; TV: $3 for HD rental, $25 for a season pass (on select shows)
Supported devices: Available on most mobile devices and computers, but generally missing from any streaming box that isn’t an Apple TV.
Who it’s for: Those looking to rent or buy movies who also prefer to remain within Apple’s ecosystem.
We’ve already covered services from Google, Amazon, and major TV broadcasters, but iTunes is ideal for those wrapped in the Apple ecosystem. Apple realized long ago that physical media was dying, and it was among the first companies to create a digital music storefront for MP3’s. Over the years, it did the same for movies and TV shows.
iTunes has pretty much all the rental and for-purchase content you’ll find on other services, including both new releases and older flicks and TV series. Apple scores big points for content selection and purchase options but gets demerits for not being readily available on every device. The pay-per-content scheme also gets expensive if you consume a lot of movies and TV, so we suggest using iTunes to fill in the gaps left by Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu.
Like the other services on this list, iTunes offers movies in 4K and HDR, including Dolby Vision, but due to the relatively limited hardware support, you’ll probably only find this useful if you have an Apple TV 4K. Still, this is great to have if you’re using your Apple TV as a HomeKit Hub.
Price: $5 for standard definition movie rental, $6 for HD; $15 for SD movie purchases, $20 for HD, and $25 for 4K Ultra HD (where available).
Supported devices: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Roku, Nvidia Shield, and Chromecast streaming devices; LG, Samsung, and Vizio smart TVs; Blu-ray players from LG, Samsung, and Sony; PlayStation 4 and Xbox One game consoles.
Who it’s for: Movie buffs who want rentals and purchases that will make the most out of their home theater setup.
Amazon may be the Walmart of the internet, but that’s not stopping Walmart from getting in on the online streaming game. Vudu is Walmart’s pay-per-content store, and the brick-and-mortar behemoth is giving all it has to make sure that Vudu becomes a household name.
Vudu has content comparable to what you’ll find on the Google Play or iTunes video marketplace. It’s a hodgepodge of movies and TV shows, but overall the content veers toward more feature-length movies. Walmart does a good job of offering new releases at around the same time that they come out on Blu-ray, and Vudu will also host any Movies Anywhere digital copies that may be available with the movies you buy with a free digital locker service.
The streaming service also features Movies On Us, a rotating selection of movies and TV shows that are ad-supported, but free to watch. You’re not going to find the most recent movies here, but the selection is decent, and a good way to kick back and watch something while saving a buck.
Vudu might be the best rental service when it comes to sheer streaming quality, as many of its 4K Ultra HD titles support HDR, including Dolby Vision, and sometimes Dolby Atmos for immersive sound.
Price: $5 for standard definition movie rental, $6 for HD, $7 for 4K Ultra HD; $15 for SD purchases, $20 for HD or 4K Ultra HD.
Supported devices: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Roku, Chromecast, Xbox One; smart TVs from LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio.
Who it’s for: Users of Fandango’s movie ticket service who want to use one service for all of their movie needs.
FandangoNow was initially known as M-Go but changed names shortly after it was acquired by movie-ticket sales company Fandango in 2016. Like some of the above services, this is a rental service, and as such, offers similar features and pricing to the offerings from Google, Apple, and Vudu. But it also has its own features to offer.
Due to Fandango’s existing deals with theaters, FandangoNow can sometimes get access to movies long before other rental services. Last year, two Disney movies, Moana and Jackie, were available via the service while they were still in theaters. This isn’t limited to movies either: The first season of the CW series Riverdale was available for purchase on Fandango before it even aired.
One other advantage of the service is its pricing for 4K Ultra HD titles. While Vudu’s UHD offerings are frequently priced $5 higher than the HD version, we’ve seen UHD titles going for the same price as the HD version on FandangoNow. Along with a few other services on this list, FandangoNow is part of the Movies Anywhere service, which we’ll get to next.
Price: N/A (see below)
Supported devices: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Amazon Kindle Fire tablets, Amazon Fire TV devices, Roku devices, Xbox, and Apple TV.
Who it’s for: Movie fans who want to consolidate all of their purchases in one place.
If you’re reading through this and realize you might want to buy movies from more than one service, Movies Anywhere is for you. Originally a Disney-only service, Movies Anywhere lives up to its name, carrying movies from Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., and Universal Pictures, bringing the total number of films available to around 7,500.
Even better, Movies Anywhere lets you watch movies from the above studios bought from multiple services, including Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, FandangoNow, and most recently, Microsoft Movies & TV. This also includes Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs for films from the above studios via digital download code. Just connect the various accounts to your Movies Anywhere account and you’re good to go — this even includes past purchases.
It’s tough to say what the future holds for Movies Anywhere in terms of content, but it seems likely that more studios will join up at some point, expanding the service’s catalog even further. For more information, see our guide to Movies Anywhere.
Which services are best for you is going to have a lot to do with what you want to watch and how you want to watch it. If you’re looking for original content and movies, Netflix plus one of the digital rental services might be your best bet, while those looking for a TV fix from recently broadcast series will likely want to opt for Hulu — that’s especially true if you’re looking for live TV, since Hulu has its own live TV service, too. In the end, your best bet is to mix and match a few services to settle on a combination that works best for you.
- Cut the cord: How to quit cable for online streaming video
- Netflix vs. Amazon Prime Video
- HBO Max hands-on impressions: A rough start, but plenty of potential
- I’m not mad, HBO Max, I’m just disappointed
- HBO Go vs. HBO Now vs. HBO Max